A Prince George's County Council committee yesterday approved a bill that would eliminate a legal discrepancy threatening hundreds of persons who provide child day care in their homes. The committee's 6-to-0 vote virtually assures the bill's passage by the full council next week.
The bill would put county zoning regulations in accord with Maryland law, allowing day-care providers to take into their homes six children, in addition to the providers' own children. There would be some restriction on the number of children under the age of 2. County zoning regulations currently limit the total number of children to five, including the provider's own children.
The restrictions for in-home day care are different than those for group day-care centers, where more than seven children are cared for in a facility other than a home.
Hundreds of the 625 registered "family" day-care providers in the county meet state requirements but are in violation of the county regulations, according to the Prince George's County Family Day Care Association.
The discrepancy first drew public attention last month when a Riverdale woman who runs an at-home day care business was told she must comply with the stricter county guidelines within a few weeks. Evelyn Larsen, who takes care of six children in addition to four of her own, has since been granted an extension until Nov. 28, the day after a public hearing is scheduled on the bill. The council is expected to act on the bill the day of the hearing.
If the bill is not approved at that council meeting, Larsen must either close her business or discontinue taking in five of the six children now in her care.
Yesterday's action by the council's Fiscal and Planning Committee represents a significant victory by the day-care association and parents who lobbied to change the county law. A similar law was rejected by the council last year.
"Everyone in family day care can breathe a sigh of relief," Larsen said after the hearing yesterday. "I was the one under fire, but it threatened everyone in family day care."
Advocates of the change argue that the county regulations encourage caretakers to work without state approval. "What will happen to the children if family day-care providers are driven underground? We are short thousands of spaces," said Barbara Miller, head of the county's Commission on Women, who testified at the hearing.
Councilman James Herl originally introduced a bill that would have raised the maximum number of children from five to nine and established space requirements for outdoor play areas. But yesterday he amended that version, which was opposed by the day-care providers, eliminating the cap and restrictions.
Herl said he originally submitted the more restrictive bill in light of the opposition that killed council Chairman Floyd Wilson's bill last year. But Herl agreed to the amendments after learning of the careful screening employed by state officials before a provider is licensed, he said.
"There are plenty of safeguards there," Herl said. "So we don't need to worry we'll have some kind of haphazard zoning situation there."