Before the year is out, there should be a national child day-care law, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the major players in the legislation, believes.

There are four main child day-care bills pending in the U.S. Senate. Hatch sponsors or co-sponsors all of them. He expects the bills to be debated in May or June, to pass and be approved by the House before the year is out.Each bill would allocate about $2.5 billion on day care but differs in how the money is spent, who gets it and who regulates it, among other things.

Hatch has pushed for better child care for years and has been criticized by right-wingers for compromises he's made with Democrats and approaches he's used.

Phyllis Schlafly, who led the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, has been one of his severest critics, saying the Republican senator is a turncoat to conservative ideals.

"Schlafly doesn't want any child-care bill," Hatch told the Deseret News editorial board Thursday. "The fact is the president, anyone, needs a conservative (supporting the issue) to get a child-care bill (through Congress), either me or some other conservative."

Hatch admits he's had to educate people in Utah, too, about his child care efforts.

"Yes, the dominant religion (the LDS Church) would like to see (all) mothers in the home, but that's not reality," he said.

A greater percentage of Utah mothers work than the national average, Hatch said. Single-parent households where the mother has custody of the children, and two-parent households where the father makes low wages, require that the woman works.

"Five million to 15 million children across the nation are latchkey kids; no one's home when they come home from school. We have youth gangs (in Utah). We have drug lords. Do we forget about these children? Or do we do the next best thing - the family thing to do - try to take care of them?" he said.

Hatch favors a family-earned income tax credit - which would lower federal income taxes for low-income families with children under six (some may even qualify for a government check in excess of their tax liability). The extra money would be spent for child care, food, health care, anything the family decides is best for it's well being.

A number of Democrats in Congress want a voucher system, where a single, low-income parent goes to state social services and gets a voucher good at a state-approved day care center for her child. The single parent either uses the state-approved day care center or gets no other help.

"It costs $2,000 to $3,000 a year to keep a child in day care. How can a poor family afford that? They can't.

"We in Utah who are more pro-family than anywhere need to do what we can. People are really hurting out there. I've had mothers and fathers come to me and say they don't want to lose their dignity, they don't want to go on welfare. They want to work. We have to help them out" with child day care.