Not just Virginia: Five states that have grappled with day-care regulations

How much regulation is enough? Virginia lawmakers have debated day-care licensing for decades, but they are not the only ones to tackle the issue. Across the nation, state lawmakers have tried to balance the safety of children with concerns about excessive intrusion by government.

Here are a handful of states that have had their own battles:

1. Maine: Day care has been a hot topic in Maine this year, largely driven by an investigation by the Portland Press Herald that revealed questionable oversight of day cares across the state. The stories, published in January, focused on a day-care center that was allowed to stay open with a conditional license despite evidence of abuse. The paper also revealed shortcomings in the state’s searchable online database and detailed concerns from former inspectors. After the reports, a state legislative committee voted to investigate the child-care licensing division of the Department of Health and Human Services. And in mid-August, a federal audit flagged some deficiencies within Maine’s day-care centers.

2. Idaho: In 2007, debate about child-care regulations reached a fervor in Idaho. That year, a House committee nixed a proposed bill to overhaul the way the state regulated home day cares. During the discussion, some started to question whether the real issue was women in the workplace. State Rep. Tom Loertscher (R), was quoted by the Spokesman Review as saying, “What can we do to keep mom at home?” In 2009, after much maneuvering, a new licensing bill cleared a Senate committee. The bill required a license for caregivers keeping four or more children. But after it was stripped down in the House, the number changed to seven or more. In 2011, lawmakers voted to rework some of the new rules.

3. Minnesota: In Minnesota, a different sort of child-care debate took place. In 2011, some home day-care providers began pushing for unionization. At the time, Lisa Thompson, a day-care owner who supported the effort, told Minnesota Public Radio that most caregivers’ frustrations “are at the regulatory level, and the people that regulate us.” In 2013, after a 17-hour debate, the unionization bill cleared the Senate. Republicans largely objected, saying that it made no sense for small-business owners to unionize and that the movement could drive up costs for parents. The debate was equally hot in the House, where it passed by a vote of 68 to 66. More than a year later, the movement is still controversial.

4. Missouri: Over the past few years, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has chronicled the shortfalls within home day-care operations in Missouri, where caregivers can watch four or fewer children without a license. A state bill to implement new rules, dubbed “Nathan’s Law,” was proposed annually from 2009 to 2013 without success, according to reports by the newspaper. In January, the paper told the story of an infant who died in an unlicensed rural day-care home and whose family has fought to obtain records detailing the death. In mid-August, the newspaper revealed that some subsidies are going to illegal, unlicensed day cares where caregivers watch too many children.

5. South Dakota: South Dakota has one of the most lax child-care laws in the nation. Caregivers are allowed to watch up to 12 children at home with no license. The number is more than double that of Virginia’s, which allows up to five children in unregulated care. In 2012, state Sen. Larry Tidemann (R) proposed that anyone keeping seven or more children must register with the state. The bill was defeated 4 to 3 in a committee vote. “I said that we were leading the nation in the wrong way,” he told The Washington Post in a recent interview. Tidemann pointed out that regulations for hunting lodges in South Dakota faced little opposition, while proposed changes for child care have routinely stalled. “The main thing that got it killed was that the people in the rural areas felt like they were going to be put out of business,” he said.

Amy Brittain is a reporter for The Post's investigative team.
David S. Fallis is a staff writer on the Washington Post’s investigations unit.
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