March 7, 2014

Bill to tighten child care regulations advances in Senate

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A bill to improve safety for children who receive taxpayer-funded child care vouchers has advanced in the Indiana Senate.

The Senate Health and Provider Services Committee amended and passed HB 1036 by a 10-2 vote on Feb. 27. The bill now moves to the full Senate for approval. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the legislation.

Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, author of the proposal, has worked with Sen. Greg Walker (R-Columbus) and Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis), Senate sponsors of the proposal, to address safety concerns and improve the overall quality of care for children who receive the voucher from the state’s Child Care Development Fund (CCDF), which is a $5 billion federal program that is block granted to states for administration.

According to Mahan, the goal of the bill is to address legitimate safety concerns and improve care by tightening the facilities’ regulations that receive CCDF dollars while not burdening churches who in some cases also run a ministry day care operation.

The legislation addresses group sizes of children including staff-to-child ratios, and requires ongoing staff training. It also requires reporting of injuries of children where a licensed medical professional is involved. The Senate removed several of the components of the original bill which passed the House last month by a 71-24 vote.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director for the ICC, who serves as the official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Indiana on public policy matters, said the provisions which were removed in the Senate include the rulemaking authority of the Division of Family and Children on how nutrition and daily activities would be implemented. Tebbe noted that the child care providers must establish policies regarding nutrition and daily activities, and submit them to the Bureau of Child Care (BCC), a division of the state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA).

Tebbe said the amended version of the bill is an attempt to address some concerns of potential government overreach and, at the same time, begin to help providers and the Bureau of Child Care to prepare for new federal requirements that will require the FSSA to establish rules regarding these and other areas of child care providers.

“The United States Health and Human Services Department (HHS) is trying to promote child care affordability for low-income parents, and to create child care development schools and instruction for improving the quality of child care in anticipation of public education,” Walker said. “The federal government is going through the rulemaking process, and is very significantly changing the rules for the CCDF providers, in particular, those that are not licensed.”

He added that these are a comprehensive package of reforms that deal with everything from fire codes and building designs that address safety and emergency preparedness plans to matters such as safe sleep practices. Walker said that HB 1036 will be the beginning of preparing CCDF child care providers for “what’s coming down the pike” in terms of federal regulations effective in October of 2015.

Walker said that, if passed, HB 1036 goes into effect in July of 2015, giving CCDF providers four months of lead time before the national regulations take effect. Walker added it is his intention to use those child care policies that providers establish for themselves, in conjunction with the rulemaking process, to determine best practices rather than locking them into certain practices now through more stringent legislation that may not be practical.

Taylor said that he and Walker have been working to create legislation that “will substantially enhance the safety and welfare of all the children that we provide CCDF dollars to, and the facilities that they are in.” Taylor said that the major change to the current statute regarding child safety would be in the area of child ratios and training for the staff.

Walker also agrees that a key component of this legislation is the group size and child ratios. “If you are a vendor under a federal CCDF voucher program, the providers should be required to provide the same staff-to-child ratios that licensed providers must adhere to.”

Indiana law currently allows at least three types of child care providers: 1) a licensed child care center; 2) a licensed child care home; and 3) an unlicensed, registered child care ministry.

Under current law, each type comes with certain requirements. Currently, there are 1,055 unlicensed day care providers in Indiana that receive CCDF dollars.

When asked if Walker thought the bill would get changed again or go to conference committee, he replied, “I’ve had a couple people approach me about a second reading amendment, but I’ve said ‘no.’ I think I’ve found the sweet spot now with this bill.

“Rep. Mahan hasn’t decided if he is going to accept the Senate amendments or not,” he continued. “He’s still thinking about it. So at this point, I don’t know if the bill is going to conference committee.”

The Indiana General Assembly only has a week left to conduct legislative business as it must adjourn by March 14.
 

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. To explore the ICC’s electronic public policy tool and join the ICC legislative network, go to the ICC website and click on “Legislative Action Center.”)

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