In-home daycare licensing will be drastically revamped if lawmakers give final approval to a bill Wednesday.
The issue has been hotly controversial at the 1998 Legislature, with amendments to SB26 flying furiously one after the other Tuesday afternoon. So many amendments were made on the House floor, some lawmakers asked legislative leaders to halt the discussion so the bill could be printed with the changes."We were all so confused," said Rep. Trisha Beck, D-Sandy, who urged her colleagues to kill the bill before it was finally approved 43-27. "This was a political thing that just happened. It was all politics."
The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, a man many lawmakers aren't willing to offend. Child advocates, who have opposed the bill since it was raised in committee, were furious by the action.
"This demonstrates how little legislators understood the issue," said Rachel Fisher with Utah Children. "I guarantee most of the legislators who voted for this don't understand what they voted for."
The bill was intended to deregulate licensing, a process Blackham and others have called intrusive and overwhelming for the more than 2,000 Utah providers caring for children for pay in their homes. In its original form, SB26 would have exempted in-home providers who care for fewer than nine children from any state licensing.
Citing the need for some health and safety standards, lawmakers amended the bill to create a three-tier system for licensing: Those caring for four or fewer children require no license; those who care for five to eight must undergo a background check, record immunizations and go through an initial evaluation; and those caring for nine or more children must get a license under the current standards.
Fisher said the legislation doesn't deregulate, it merely shifts who gets regulated based on the number of children being cared for and puts more children at risk.
"This was just sloppy legislation," she said.
The House further amended the bill so providers do not have to count their own children in the total number for licensing and deleted language that required new providers to undergo five hours of training and learn CPR and first aid.
Beck said she is "very, very concerned" that lawmakers are jeopardizing Utah children by approving the bill.
"We're going to bring the children to Sen. Blackham's door when they get injured," said Kay Fox, an attorney and activist with the Salt Lake Community Action Program.
But Rep. Loraine Pace, R-Logan, said the bill was needed so the state would stop losing good providers who were tired of all the regulations. Other lawmakers agreed, saying the responsibility for regulating should be left to parents who select their children's providers.
The bill now returns to the Senate. If the Senate concurs with the changes made in the House, the bill will be sent to Gov. Mike Leavitt and will become law if he signs it.