The Prince George's County Council yesterday launched a second legislative attempt to establish a system of criminal background checks for child-care workers, a system that would impose $25 licensing fees on thousands of volunteers and employes at county day-care centers.
Council member James Herl introduced a measure yesterday that would require workers to obtain permits with their pictures on them, a move that he said would help protect children from the threat of physical and sexual abuse.
Herl said the bill would satisfy objections raised by County Executive Parris Glendening in vetoing an earlier version of the regulation in December. Glendening said at the time that the measure would cost too much, affect too few child-care workers and be impractical to enforce. The earlier legislation did not establish licensing fees and would have cost the county nearly $300,000 just to implement, health officials said.
Herl said yesterday that he has worked with Glendening's office on the legislation and anticipates that there will be no problem getting it passed by the council and signed by the executive.
The problem of abuse is still prevalent enough to require local action, Herl said, despite the rejection by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year of a similar bill.
"It's not getting as much public attention in the media, but I believe the problem is still there," he said.
The new legislation would deny child-care worker permits to anyone convicted of charges of child abuse, rape, or any other criminal or sexual offense involving children. It would also deny permits to persons who have pleaded no contest to those charges. Herl said his bill could affect up to 3,000 persons currently involved in child-care work in the county.
Flora Pristoop, the president of the Prince George's Child Care Association, said that the bill will unfairly penalize workers in day-care centers because it does not call for licensing in other professions that deal with children.
"I'm glad they're passing something, but I don't think it's enough," Pristoop said. "It's unfair to have a finger pointed at day care."
Pristoop also said that the $25 licensing fee and $15 renewal fee would place an unfair regulatory burden on child-care workers.
"With the shortage of qualified staff that exists in day care now, that's something else that will stand in the way of attracting people to the field," she said.
But Eugene Lauer, the director of the Department of Environmental Resources, the county agency that oversees licensing regulations, said that the fees will help to offset the cost of hiring new employes to process the background checks. The checking will be done by the State Police; the county health department will be responsible for enforcement.
In other business, the council yesterday agreed to consider legislation that will require companies to post signs when lawns are being sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides. The bill, introduced by Frank Casula, is patterned after similar action taken in Montgomery County.
Also, council member Floyd Wilson introduced a bill that would create a commission to investigate the possibility of pay increases for the county executive and County Council members.
The measure was sent out of committee with no recommendation. Other council members made it clear that they are not anxious to tackle such a bill the year before they run for re-election.