Saturday, March 28, 2009

Legislature Fails to Protect Kids

Senate Bill 1112, aka the Daycare Licensing bill, was held in House Health & Welfare Committee on Thursday, despite having cleared the Senate Health & Welfare Committee and then having received overwhelming support in the Senate on a 30-5 vote. This action by the House Committee may very well mean that the effort to put in place minimum protections for the children and families who use daycare facilities in this state will once again fail to garner enough support, for the fourth year in a row.

I testified at the Committee hearing on Thursday, offering the voice of a business owner who would be subject to such regulations. Of course, because our school is operating in Boise city limits, we are subject to municipal code, which already requires us to do what this legislation would require of operators in places where such ordinances do not exist.

Opponents of the bill argue that it represents excessive government regulation and could hurt businesses owners. Nonsense, I say.

I argued that for those daycare operators who do the right thing to ensure the safety and health of children, this bill actually offers a level-playing field so that we don't have to compete against unscrupulous operators who disregard the health and safety of our children. It's convenient to think that the marketplace sorts these things out, but it doesn't. Parents can't always know if a teacher is a convicted sex offender. Parents can't know if fire alarms have been properly installed and tested. Parents can't necessarily know if facility owners are observing strict standards of hygiene and cleanliness when it comes to food preparation and diaper changing.

If I owned a restaurant, I wouldn't want to have to compete against other establishments that deliberately cut corners when it came to refrigerating food, disinfecting countertops, washing dishes, etc. It would be unreasonable for consumers ("the market") to make those sorts of determinations as they simply aren't transparent elements of that business. That's why we have health inspectors.

Many professions (barbers, podiatrists, scrap dealers, landscape architects, and many more--see Title 54 of Idaho code) have come to the Legislature to ask to be governed by a Board, regulated, certified, or licensed, sometimes at significant costs to themselves. Why? Because it gives honest and ethical practitioners legitimacy and validation and weeds out the bad apples so that market forces can then function appropriately. For that reason, SB1112 is a pro-business bill.

Of course, on a certain level, it pains me to have to reduce the argument to dollars and cents when it comes to talking about protecting children, though I took that tack because I know that the majority of the Legislature is worried, above all else, on how legislation will financially impact business owners.

We have 67 pages of regulations for the operator of an assisted living facility. What does it say about us that we have virtually no regulations for places where so many of our children spend their days?

I'm disheartened, and even angry, that the Committee took the position it did. I'm hearing that House leadership pressured committee members to kill it.

For the life of me, I can't see how this issue does anything but tarnish the Republicans who oppose this legislation. It's one thing to say you're anti-regulation, but when you take it to the extreme of failing to protect kids from sexual predators--perhaps because you fundamentally believe that dropping your kids at daycare represents a moral failing anyway--you put yourself squarely at odds with the wishes of the majority of Idahoans.

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