February 27, 2007 in Idaho

Panel rejects day-care rules

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 

The bill

House Bill 163 originally would have set minimal health and safety standards, training requirements, and staffing levels, and required criminal history checks for day cares caring for as few as two unrelated children.

BOISE – With some members saying mothers should stay home with their children, members of a House committee on Monday killed legislation to require minimum safety standards and criminal history checks for Idaho day cares.

“It’s gut-wrenching for me,” Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said before the 6-5 vote against the bill. “What can we do to keep mom at home?”

Loertscher said he “cannot imagine” ever taking a child to a day-care center and said, “There is no substitute, there is absolutely no substitute for families taking care of children.”

Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “Being separate from your mother … there’s reason to believe this could be harmful.”

The House Health and Welfare Committee kept backers of the day-care licensing bill waiting until long after 5 p.m. for a hearing that was scheduled to start at 1:30 – after it was put off last week – then limited them to three minutes apiece to testify in favor of the bill.

A stunned Cathy Kowalski, a Coeur d’Alene early childhood consultant who has worked on the bill for three years, said, “I think it is a committee whose members are definitely out of touch with the needs of their constituents, and I think the working families in their districts need to let them know.”

Sylvia Chariton, who testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the American Association of University Women of Idaho, said, “It’s ridiculous – those men live in a time warp, when 60 percent of all mothers of children under 6 years of age take them someplace to be cared for.”

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the committee, “For working parents it is a vital concern.”

His bill, HB 163, originally would have set minimal health and safety standards, training requirements, and staffing levels, and required criminal history checks for day cares caring for as few as two unrelated children, but he offered amendments to raise that to apply only to those caring for six or more children. “We’re not trying to be burdensome,” Sayler told the committee.

Karen Mason, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, told of complaints her group has received about children being locked in rooms at day cares with no escape, infants never taken out of playpens, and unqualified caregivers with criminal backgrounds.

Elena Rodriguez of Idaho Voices for Children said, “The current lack of adequate standards for child care puts children at risk. … That’s what we want to correct.”

More than 70,000 Idaho children under age 5 are in day care, Rodriguez told the committee.

All the testimony was in favor of the bill, except that of one state representative, Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. Wood testified that when she served on the Health and Welfare Committee 25 years ago, “we had almost the same information brought to us.”

At that time, she said, the panel opted against state licensing for centers with fewer than 13 children. “I would plead with you … I think it’s working well,” Wood told the committee. “We just don’t see the problems there in the rural area where I am.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician who serves on the committee, disagreed. He said he’s seen terrible cases, including a toddler who drowned in a horse trough that wasn’t separated from the day care and other children with severe injuries suffered in unsafe day cares.

Nine Idaho cities, including Coeur d’Alene, have stricter day-care licensing rules, but operators who run afoul of city regulations can move outside city limits.

Boise businessman Bill Ziegert told the panel, “Our world has changed, and we no longer live in a society where all preschool children stayed at home or were left with relatives.” He said for his employees day care is essential, and he called the bill “important and necessary.”

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said he thought that if the committee agreed to amend the bill, the backers would only try to remove the amendments in the future. “They only submitted the amendments to try and get us to buy off on this,” he said.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, urged support.

“When I first saw this bill I was not in favor of it, but with the amendments I am more supportive of it. Because in our society, it’s different than it was 15 or 20 years ago,” he said.

Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, said, “It’s a tough one for me, because my district has some large communities that it will be a positive thing, but I also have way more communities that it will be detrimental. … I don’t see why we need to address it.”

Wood told the panel, “I think you’re going to put a lot of young women that babysit out of business.”

In the final vote, the committee’s three Democrats and two Republicans voted in favor of the amended bill. In addition to Rusche and Luker, they included Sharon Block, R-Idaho Falls; and Boise Democrats Sue Chew and Margaret Henbest.

Six Republicans voted against the bill even as amended: Reps. Nielsen, Loertscher, Thayn and Shepherd; Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls; and Jim Marriott, R-Blackfoot.

Sayler said afterward, “What can I say – it’s disappointing. I’ll tell you, frankly what I heard was not concern for children – it was concern about regulation. … Our society has changed.”

Ziegert, the Boise businessman, said, “It was amazing to me, that you could have all of the testimony in support of it, people with facts and so forth,” and still the committee rejected the bill.

Kowalski said, “The problem has not been solved. … The issue will not go away.”


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