The Prince George's County Council took steps yesterday to loosen local laws governing in-home, child day care and, in separate legislation, to screen potential day-care facility owners and their employes for possible criminal records.
Both measures, introduced by James M. Herl, are aimed at giving the county more direct control over an industry that has come under fire locally and nationally following increased reports of child abuse in such facilities.
Under the provisions of the in-home, day-care bill, so-called "family" day-care operators would not be allowed to care for more than nine children -- including their own -- in their homes. Current county zoning regulations limit the number of children to five, but state law allows six children to be cared for in private homes, a number that does not include the operator's own children.
The difference between the current state law and current county zoning regulations has left providers like Evelyn Larsen, 37, of Riverdale, in an enforcement limbo. Larsen, who cares for 10 children in her Queensbury Road home, is awaiting the outcome of her appeal of a zoning board decision that ordered her to stop providing day-care services in her home by Oct. 28. The action followed a complaint against her operation lodged with county officials.
Until her hearing is held on Nov. 28, Larsen said, she will continue to keep her home open for day care, in spite of the county law, because, she said, she meets state standards.
Herl's bill will not necessarily solve Larsen's problem, unless she applies for a special exception to the zoning law, because it stops just short of adopting the state Department of Human Resources' licensing regulations on issues such as the number of children allowed and the amount space needed.
Herl said yesterday that the county must place a limit on the number of children in such homes to prevent the creation of a possible public nuisance.
Since Larsen's plight was first made public at the beginning of this month, several of the estimated 400 members of the Prince George's County Day-Care Association have complained that the state will no longer renew licenses for local day-care homes that do not meet the county zoning standards.
Emma Banks, who handles state day-care licensing through the county Department of Social Services, said that the state has begun to deny license renewals for home day-care operators who do not meet local zoning requirements. She added that the state will continue the practice until the County Council acts on the new legislation.
Herl's other bill would outline a process by which anyone applying for a license to operate any child-care facilities that operate in homes as well as in larger day-care centers would be checked to exclude anyone convicted on charges of child or sexual abuse or violent crimes.
Prospective day-care employes would have to complete a form, which would be given to police and county health departments to be investigated.
In other business, the council yesterday accepted three separate bills for consideration that are differing versions of a plan aimed at awarding at least 30 percent of the county's procurement contracts to minority businesses.
The bill would increase the county's current 10-percent goal, which has been in effect since 1982.
The different versions presented yesterday provide the council with the options of limiting the priority ranking for minority firms to county-based firms and also of establishing an annual review date to monitor the law's effectiveness.