Senate votes to ease regulations to help child care providers

The children sit down for a moment.
The children sit down for a moment, but that moment didn't last long at the Little Ducks Daycare in Blackduck, Minn., March 22, 2018. There's not enough daycare in rural Minnesota.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News File

Updated: 7:50 p.m. | Posted: 4:34 p.m.

Julie Seydel runs a home daycare in Andover, Minn. She's also the public policy director for the Minnesota Association of Child Care Professionals. So she has a pretty good pulse on a shakeout that's been occurring in her field in recent years.

"We went from 11,000 to 8,000 providers," Seydel said. "That's over 30,000 child care slots."

Seydel spoke Monday, hours before the Senate approved a trio of bills that would pull back some regulations that fellow providers find onerous. She said a survey by her group found many more providers are planning to quit or have at least considered it. She said the flight is driven by a sense that care center owners are under siege from new regulations and diminishing financial returns.

"Most of the regulation that has come down in the last eight years has nothing to do with the safety of the children in our care, it's additional paperwork and additional training not dealing with the safety of the children," she said.

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Child care shortages are most acute in rural areas, where families are struggling to find openings or struggling to pay for care. The Legislature hasn't been discussing changes to state reimbursement rates that help low-income families pay for care. Some providers see those rates as too low to cover costs and have declined to enroll children eligible for the subsidized care.

Instead, lawmakers have focused on reeling in regulations. Legislators tackling the topic say they've been working closely with the Department of Human Services so they're confident the proposals will become law.

At a time when the labor force is tight, Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said immediate action is critical to prevent people from having to choose between working or being stay-at-home parents.

"We don't have until next year to deal with this crisis," he said. "We need to deal with it today in order to keep our daycare options available to working families of Minnesota."

To that end, Weber shepherded a bill through the Senate that provides more leeway on staff qualifications. It would also allow more flexibility with care ratios if providers have some infants or toddlers only part of the time. And it would direct state officials to study additional changes.

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said the targeted changes are appropriate.

"This bill essentially makes it easier for child care providers to do their job," Frentz said. "That's what we want."

The bill passed unanimously.

So did another bill to provide child care centers an exemption from a training rule that was intended to apply to facilities that care primarily for the developmentally disabled.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services opposed this bill, saying in a statement Monday that, if passed, it could put the state out of compliance with the Jensen Settlement Agreement.

"We understand that child care providers want to be able to comply with Minnesota rules and statues to ensure safe and nurturing environments for children. We remain committed to providing support and resources to the child care community," the statement read.

A third bill did attract a handful of no votes. It alters a law enacted just last year that made teenage children of in-home care providers undergo background studies.

"But that would include fingerprinting, and what would you call, a perp photo," said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who called it intrusive for the minors involved and degrading to their families.

"For young children who are minors between the ages of 12 and 17 that is frightening to them," she said. "It is 'Why am I being treated as a criminal when I'm not?'"

Her bill would limit the information that needs to be supplied to a date of birth and legal name, which she says would still satisfy state and federal rules.

Seydel, the Anoka County provider, said that change is the top priority for her group.

"The minor fingerprint bill will reduce the percentage of loss of providers greatly," she said. "That's one of the number one problems we're having."