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Day care bill gets another shot

Tue., Feb. 17, 2009

Measure would set minimum standards

BOISE – Minimal licensing requirements for Idaho day cares – including criminal background checks – were introduced in the Legislature on Monday for the fifth straight year, and sponsors were hopeful that this time the bill would 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 in the past. Two years ago, a House committee killed a version of the bill after several members said mothers should stay home with their own children. Last year, the measure 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, including health districts and the National Rifle Association, to craft the bill.

Sayler said the NRA objected to wording in last year’s bill on storage of guns at home day cares. This time, the bill includes the NRA’s 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 licensing 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.” 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 others. More than half a 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 only licenses 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.”

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or

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