THURSDAY, MARCH 12, 2009, 1:51 P.M.

Idaho Senate passes day care licensing bill

BOISE - Idaho’s state Senate voted strongly in favor of requiring basic licensing and safety standards for all the state’s day care operations on Thursday, passing the licensing bill by a 30-5 vote.

The bill, SB 1112a, now moves to the House, where it’s been repeatedly rejected in past years by a House committee dominated by social conservatives.

“It’s not our policy to interfere in family business, but it is our policy to be providing safe businesses that families will use,” Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, the bill’s Senate sponsor, told the Senate on Thursday.

Idaho currently requires no criminal background checks, no smoke detectors, no minimum staffing requirements, or anything else for small day-care operators; it licenses only those with 13 or more unrelated children. Idaho ranks last in the nation for its oversight of child care.

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, has pushed for the licensing bill for five straight years. This year is the first that the measure made it out of committee in either house.

There still were objections in the Senate, but only a few. Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said, “To me, this adds to the list of extremely well-intentioned bills … that add government intrusion in an area where it doesn’t belong.”

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said, “We’re sending the wrong message here to the parents of the state of Idaho. … I think we’re sending the message, ‘Parents, we’re going to guarantee you a safe place to put your child.’ You know, I think that’s wrong. I think the parents are in charge and I think they should make those inspections. …. The reality is our parents are responsible, and somehow we have raised children for thousands of years without this bill.”

But a longtime opponent of day care licensing, Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, joined the majority in voting in favor of the bill. Darrington said earlier that things have changed, and he expects the measure to pass this year.

Corder said Idaho licenses an array of other occupations, from mortgage lenders to grooms for racehorses. “Today we have no less an obligation to protect our children,” he said.

The other three “no” votes came from Sens. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian; Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls; and Melinda Smyser, R-Parma. All other senators voted in favor.

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