February 18, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: Idaho needs statewide day care regulations


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Idaho state Rep. George Sayler deserves a merit badge for perseverance. This is the fifth year in a row the Coeur d’Alene Democrat has sponsored legislation to expand the regulation of day care operations in the state.

Putting it a different way, unfortunately, the effort has failed for four years running.

Still, Sayler has reason to believe he’s making headway. For one thing, a Senate committee voted unanimously this week to have the bill printed, a critical step in the Boise legislative process.

Probably more important in Republican-dominated Idaho, Sayler picked up a GOP ally last year in Mountain Home Sen. Tim Corder. The two lawmakers have consulted with interests who had objections in the past and are optimistic that they might now guide Idaho into the 21st century on this issue.

In a state-by-state ranking of how much oversight day care gets, Idaho stands at or near the bottom. Operations that care for fewer than 13 children are not covered by the state, although Coeur d’Alene and a few other cities have their own regulations.

City-only regulation is of limited value, since providers who don’t want to submit can relocate short distances and still appeal to the same customer base. A statewide approach would be a more effective way to protect children.

Sayler and Corder have work to do in the Legislature, where opposition to state regulations is a core value. But they have support from day care operators, educators, businesses and others who champion children’s well-being. A survey circulated in 2006 was signed by 1,300 parents who wanted more oversight, including criminal background checks and first-aid training for providers and staff.

Health and fire-safety inspections should be a part of the package, too. To head off some of the resistance, Sayler and Corder have pragmatically streamlined the licensing procedure and negotiated with the National Rifle Association to revise problematical requirements for firearm storage.

If enacted, the proposal would apply to day care providers who accept four or more unrelated children. Grandparents and next-door neighbors with whom parents have little more than baby-sitting arrangements wouldn’t be touched.

Responsible working parents should insist on checking out the facilities where they leave their children in others’ care, but it’s impractical to think they can do as thorough a job without access to the resources at the state’s disposal.

Overreliance on government ought to be avoided, but that’s not what’s being proposed. Sayler has diligently tailored his legislation to accommodate the Idaho Legislature’s conservative instincts. There’s a point at which one must ask, on behalf of protecting Idaho’s children, if not government, then who?

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