February 16, 2009 in Idaho

Day care licensing bill introduced in Idaho

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, presents day-care licensing legislation to the Senate Health & Welfare Committee on the final day for bill introductions in non-privileged committees in the Legislature. The small meeting room was packed, with a whopping 12 bills up for introduction before the deadline. The panel voted unanimously to introduce the day-care bill, which sets minimum standards including criminal background checks for day-care operators statewide. Such legislation has been proposed and killed every year for at least the last five years.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Minimal licensing requirements for every Idaho day-care with four or more unrelated children - including criminal background checks - were introduced in the Idaho Legislature today for the fifth straight year, and sponsors are hopeful that this time, the bill will pass.

“I think it’s a very good piece of legislation at this point,” said Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene. “I think we’ve done everything we can to fine-tune it.”

The measure would require licensing of all day-care operations that care for four or more unrelated children. It would set minimum standards including criminal background checks, health and fire safety inspections, and child-staff ratios.

Lawmakers have been leery, however. Two years ago, a House committee killed an earlier version of the bill after several members said mothers should stay home with their own kids. Last year, the measure was introduced but never got a hearing.

“This is a much better piece of legislation than last year, by far,” said Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, the bill’s Senate sponsor. Corder and Sayler said they worked with an array of groups, from health districts to the National Rifle Association, to fine-tune the bill over the past year.

Sayler said the NRA objected to wording in the bill last year on storage of guns at home day-cares; this time, the bill includes the NRA’s own suggested language. “We’re turning over every stone to try and meet these objections,” he said.

This year’s version also streamlines the licensing system, allows the state Department of Health and Welfare to contract for day-care inspections rather than requiring public health districts to perform them, and includes sliding-scale fees based on the number of children.

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, said he’d vote to introduce the bill, but still has doubts. “This is a comprehensive, bureaucratic, liberal day-care licensing bill not unlike what half the people wanted in 1986,” Darrington said, during what he called the “day-care wars … It was utter warfare.” But, he said, “I recognize times are changing a little.”

Sayler and Corder were upbeat after the Senate committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill.

“We are looking forward to an actual hearing and a lot of good debate on the issue,” Sayler said.

He’s brought the bill back, year after year, with backing from day-care operators, early childhood advocacy groups, the business community, educators and more. More than a half-dozen Idaho cities, including Coeur d’Alene, already have their own child-care licensing laws, but operators who run afoul of those can just move outside the city limits and operate with impunity. The state licenses only day-care centers that care for 13 or more children.

“To me, this issue is still a major issue in Idaho,” Sayler said. “It’s probably even more important now, with families being stretched economically, that when you do work, they have a safe place for the kids to go.”

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