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Latest push for day care regulations dies

BOISE – Legislation to impose at least minimal regulations on all Idaho day cares, including those caring for four or more unrelated children, died in committee Monday for the fourth straight year.

“It’s frustrating, but the issue is not going away,” said Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene. “People still care about their children’s safety. We’re going to keep working on it.”

This year’s bill was scheduled for a hearing – but no vote – in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, after committee members and Chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, raised concerns about some provisions of the bill. Lodge said the measure failed to adequately account for the cost of inspecting smaller Idaho day cares, which now go unregulated if they have fewer than seven unrelated children.

“My only promise to my constituents was that I would be mindful of their tax dollars,” Lodge said, adding, “especially this year.” She said the bill as written imposed an “unfunded mandate” on public health districts to conduct additional inspections.

Last year, the House Health and Welfare Committee rejected the bill after members said mothers should stay home with their children.

Sayler and Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, sponsored the bill this year along with a dozen legislative co-sponsors. It would have required criminal background checks, set a minimum age of 18 for day care operators and set basic health and safety requirements, such as banning smoking, drinking and loaded guns on the premises during day care operating hours. It also would have required that pools or ponds be fenced, set minimum child-staff ratios, and required one person on the premises to be CPR certified.

“I honestly think it’s a good bill,” Sayler said. “It has some philosophical opposition, but realistically it will do a much better job of protecting children without imposing much of a burden on anyone.”

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said he wanted the bill to include adequate enforcement. “I was a single parent with two preschoolers,” he said. If the state sets standards but doesn’t adequately enforce them, he said, “How much have we really achieved by that other than that you’ve given me a false sense of security?”

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, said he wanted proof that there are problems in small day care centers. Backers of the bill brought lists of complaints, injuries and incidents from around the state, but said there’s no central source for such data, because there’s no licensing.

“This is a chicken and the egg thing,” Corder told the committee. “We need the data before we can license, but we need licensing before we can get the data.”

A half-dozen Idaho cities, including Coeur d’Alene, have passed their own local day care licensing laws. Corder noted that when the city of Ammon, in eastern Idaho, recently enacted a day care licensing law, 19 people applied – and four were rejected because they couldn’t pass criminal background checks.

“They can’t pass background checks, and yet we allow them to take care of children, we allow that,” he told the committee.