Push for day care bill on session’s last day

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers could decide Friday whether to bring some state oversight to faith-based day cares.

Calling it a critical issue for child safety, advocacy groups urged senators to bring the stalled legislation up for a vote on the session’s final day.

“What we want today is an up or down vote on this piece of legislation that will protect the lives of children,” Melanie R. Bridgeforth, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children.

Alabama’s number of unlicensed facilities has swelled as more day cares claim to be related to a church, to take advantage of a longstanding law exempting faith-based day cares from state licensure and regulations such as maximum child-to-worker ratios.

About half of the state’s day cares are uninspected, according to the Department of Human Resources. Alabama has 998 licensed centers and 943 exempt centers.

“We are looking at, by 2025, at having 75 percent of childcare in this state unregulated, uninspected. No other industry allows that. We even require tattoo parlors to be licensed for safety. This is the care of our most valuable resource,” Bridgeforth said.

Eighty-six children fell sick at an exempt Montgomery day care in 2015 after eating food that had been left out overnight. The operator of the facility had opened several day cares that came under scrutiny for neglect allegations but was exempt from state licensing because she claimed an affiliation with a church.

The House-passed bill has been stalled in the Alabama Senate since early May.

The proposal would require state licensing of any child care facility taking government subsidies; that’s a concession to some churches that opposed an initial version that would have required licensing of all child care facilities. The bill also would allow a single yearly state inspection of otherwise exempt facilities.

At least one senator has voiced skepticism about the bill, which could doom the legislation if it ends up on a calendar with limited debate. Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said in committee that he wanted to see data showing whether or not licensed centers are any better.

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