Get the facts on HB277!  It is important for Alabamians to learn more about the significant role of religious and private child care providers in Alabama. A large portion of Alabama’s families rely on these providers to care for their children on a daily basis.  These are predominately church operated ministries to church members and outreaches to the community. A smaller number are affiliated with religious schools. Many prefer private facilities which are licensed exempt over state controlled facilities. In October 2016, there were 998 licensed and 943 license exempt child care centers in Alabama, according to Alabama DHR. The number of licensed exempt child care centers in Alabama is increasing because many families our choosing licensed exempt centers.

Families already have a choice between licensed exempt and licensed by the state child care providers. Yet many decide to not attend licensed child care providers and purposely go to licensed exempt child care options. Even the grandchild of the sponsor of HB277 attends a license exempt child care provider in Alabama.  Opposition to HB277 is about protecting children by protecting some of the best, safe, and positive child care options for children in Alabama. If hard working Alabamians no longer have high quality and low cost options, it harms children.  Many families will no longer have the opportunities and options they rely on for their families.

No one is exempt from child safety laws or regulations

  •   Licensed exempt day care providers are not exempt from child safety laws and regulations. All child care providers in Alabama are either licensed exempt or licensed. To become licensed exempt the provider must file appropriate paperwork with DHR including immunization records.
  • Criminal behavior is already outlawed in the state of Alabama regardless of where the crime occurs whether in a private or public setting. There are many state laws which directly address child abuse and neglect. The appropriate state agencies already possess the authority to investigate and punish criminals.
  • Just as public school employees those at licensed exempt child care facilities already must pass full criminal background checks. (AL Code 38-13-3).
  • In addition, the State of Alabama already places an affirmative duty on child care employees in private and public settings with the responsibility to report suspected child abuse.
  • Child care providers are regulated for health and safety standards by multiple state agencies already. License exemption for child care providers in Alabama does not mean they are exempt from child safety laws and regulations.

What is currently required of licensed exempt facilities

DHR provides a list of requirements that involves their agency here http://dhr.alabama.gov/services/Child_Care_Services/license%20Exempt%20Centers.aspx

1)      Notice that the child care program is an integral part of a local church.

2)      Notice that intent to operate a child care program has been given to the appropriate health departments so that facilities will be inspected to meet standards.

3)      Inspection by fire department at least once a year.

4)      Inspection by the Alabama Department of Public Health at least twice a year.

5)      Notice to the department certifying health inspection reports, immunizations, and medical forms for all staff and children.

6)      Notice to parents of staff qualifications, pupil-student ratio, discipline policies, type of curriculum, religious teachings, and type of lunch program.

7)      Parents required to sign affidavits about licensed-exempt status.

8)      Church/facility must submit affidavits of notification to DHR.

9)      Must follow all state and federal laws.

What are the thirteen agencies who currently regulate license-exempt providers in Alabama?

1)      Alabama Department of Human Resources

2)      Alabama and Local Health Department

3)      State Fire Marshall

4)      State Building Commission

5)      Alabama Department of Revenue

6)      Alabama Department of Labor

7)      Alabama Law Enforcement Agency

8)      Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration

9)      Federal Transportation Administration

10)  Local Codes (zoning, safety requirements)

11)  Safe States (enforce asbestos laws)

12)  County District Attorney

13)  The Alabama Code governing numerous aspects of caring for children

Licensed care does not ensure safety

DHR and other state agencies have failed on many occasions to follow through on inspections to facilities. In 2014 changes to block grants from the Federal Government required DHR to inspect facilities receiving grants whether or not they are license exempt.  Those inspections were not always completed.  Regulations and license requirements have failed on many occasions to protect children.

There is no evidence that licensed day care facilities are safer than license exempt facilities. We can all cherry pick examples in either public or private settings, but there is no factual evidence that licensed facilities are safer than non-licensed facilities.

Here is an example from a licensed facility directly regulated by DHR. After three complaints of violations and problems at La Petite in Homewood a licensed facility by DHR there was a death. That facility has been closed. http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2016/01/authorities_shut_down_homewood.html

Here is another example of a disturbing incident at a licensed center utilized by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama Employees. http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2010/12/former_hoover_day_care_work_wo.html

Misleading examples of child endangerment as pretext for state action

As a matter of fact, every claim of injury to children upon which HB277 proponents rely are as a result of the violation of health standards already required of licensed exempt facilities.  If DHR and the responsible health departments had done their jobs, those events would not have happened. But more to the point, DHR regulation would not have prevented them. However, it certainly makes for good, if not misleading, selling points to uninformed observers.

Sunny Side Day Care– Sunny Side Day Care was highlighted as a key example of a licensed exempt center for a staph infection outbreak that happened at that location. Sunny Side Day Care receives funding from the Federal Government. That means state agencies already have more ability and responsibility to regulate that facility. However, on many occasions DHR has failed to inspect some facilities as they did in regards to Sunny Side. In regards to food safety all child care facilities must meet be food safety, standards already. All the reasonable measure are already in place to address this problem.  There was no clear testimony provided that regulations or licenses would have prevented the staph incident. This memorandum from the Office of Inspector General about license exempt facilities examines the legal authority. https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-07-10-00231.pdf

There is no guarantee that regulations or licenses will prevent all health incidents but one thing is clear: Alabama DHR had the ability to inspect Sunny Side Day Care facility prior to the staph incident. Licenses and regulations do not ensure a child’s safety.

HB277 exempts certain child- care facilities but targets religious facilities

Do supporters of HB277 think that licenses and the regulations associated with this bill protect children?  Why then are shopping center day cares exempt on page 6 of HB277 Why would public controlled facilities be exempt from this regulation? The potential for safety concerns for children is the same in these locations as others.

Follow the money

The free market allows parents to decide for themselves in what type of educational environment or child care facility they would like to place their child. Most parents like options because it produces the best choices for their children. However some groups and individuals are resorting to scare tactics to push economic protectionism against religious affiliated facilities. In the last several years more families have been moving away from licensed facilities and towards licensed-exempt facilities. That concerns some who benefit economically from licensed centers.

In addition to the economic protectionism aspects of HB277, the Federal involvement and out of state donations to lobbying organizations have thrown big money to groups and agencies to push for licensure mandates. As the fiscal note for the HB277 shows the financial support for this regulation comes from the Federal government http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/ALISON/SearchableInstruments/2017RS/FiscalNotes/FN-36426.htm. Another source of funding for this lobbying push comes from Kellogg Foundation a national out of state organization.

DHR received $750,000 grant from Kellogg foundation to get more involved with early childhood programing. http://dhr.alabama.gov/news/news_detail.aspx?ID=10236

Kellogg Foundation that donated to DHR to push licensing, also donated $600,000 to the Alabama Partnership for Children last year. Part of that grant will be spent on expanding a program designed to get more of Alabama’s child care centers licensed.http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/02/as_number_of_licensed_child_ca.html

Public policy should be based on facts not stereotypes

Religious and secular child care providers both care about protecting children and helping families. That is why they do what they do.  There have been many innuendos and false claims made about The vast majority of Alabama’s religious institutions and religiously affiliated providers do wonderful work for Alabama’s families. Just as we do not judge every public school teacher by the actions of a small percentage of teachers we should apply that same respect for private and religious institutions.

We punish the individual not an entire religious community or group. We do not judge every private child care institution by select bad actors. That promotes fear and prejudice between Alabama’s religious populations, the general public and state agencies. Solid public policy proposals will not result from fear tactics and prejudice.

Religious Liberty Violations

“A child care facility that is an integral part of a church or nonprofit religious school shall be licensed…” (pg. 27 of HB277)  HB277 removes important religious liberty protections that ensure Alabama’s diverse religious population has freedom to exercise their religious beliefs in regards to early childhood development without government intrusion and control. “Also under existing law, child care facilities that are part of a church or nonprofit religious school are exempt from licensing by the Department of Human Resources.” (pg. 1 of HB277) Alabama’s diverse religious communities have for generations worked to protect children, start hospitals, adoption agencies, founded schools, and ministries for the poor.

Separation of church and state means that the state does not control the church or any religious institutions. If the church must receive a license from the state in order to operate a ministry that violates the religious liberty protections Alabamians have been provided in the state and Federal Constitution.  Protecting children and religious freedom are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact parents and the Alabama Constitution expect them to be mutually inclusive. The Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment provides for what is called the “compelling interest test.” Government may not burden or restrict a religious activity or belief without first having a compelling interest to do so in the least burdensome or restrictive way. HB277 is unconstitutional and will likely face class action suit by Alabama religious institutions. It will very likely be struck down.

  • First Amendment United States Constitution applicable to Alabama

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

  • Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment 622, section V

Section V. (a) Government shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b).

(b) Government may burden a person’s freedom of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:

(1) Is in furtherance of a compelling government interest; and

(2) Is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.

(c) A person whose religious freedom has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial, administrative, or other proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government.

Government overreach

Hundreds of licensed exempt facilities will close due to HB277 unnecessary regulatory overreach. HB277 oversteps and violates what the proper role of government is in Alabama.  The government has an interest in protecting safety of all Alabamians but that does not mean the government should control private religious institutions. Reasonable regulations and criminal laws already punish bad actors. State agencies already retain the ability to regulate and inspect in needed situations.  Demanding licenses and the regulatory power that comes with licenses will not improve children’s safety. Instead, a license requirement will mean more state control over private and religious institutions. If the church was must come to the state to request to operate then the church is not free from state intrusion. In addition to day cares HB277 will regulate mother’s day out, volunteers, day nurseries, and play groups.

Removes Parental Authority and Choice

Currently there are more positive child care options and choices in early childhood service providers in the state of Alabama. Once HB277 passes that will no longer be the case. If you dislike one provider, you have options outside of state regulated facilities or facilities who accept grants. Families who rely on grants also have options currently. However, HB277 will remove this option for parents.  It will require every child care provider to follow the same regimen, and it will give state agencies control of these institutions.

Truth about minimum standards

Many private and religious child care providers in Alabama already go above and beyond minimum standards by DHR.  HB277 would require every day care facility to follow the list of regulations called minimum standards. Child neglect, abuse, health, and safety regulations and law exist and are already in place outside of minimum standards. Many religious institutions or private facilities reject DHR minimum standards.  These regulations have many aspects that are not directly related to child’s safety but they are instead more focused toward the facility.

DHR would have the full authority to deny licensing, employment, and ability to volunteer based on individual receiving speeding tickets, or criminal charges even when found innocent.

DHR would have the authority to consider a center’s beliefs unsuitable for licensing, employment and the ability to volunteer.

DHR can immediately terminate license, employment and the ability to volunteer for being viewed as unsuitable with no proof of wrongdoing. It gives them unintended control due to the subjectivity of determining who or what is “unsuitable”.

DHR can close a center for what they “think” is a lack of business funds.

DHR holds the approval to whether or not a Center Director can be hired.

DHR requirements for certain number of staff per child.

Real Solutions

Rather than address the issue of a few “for profit” daycares masquerading as churches, proponents of HB277 want to remove the protection of all churches. The good faith offer of actual redress of the real problem has been disingenuously and deceitfully rejected by supporters of HB277 in favor of unconstitutional church regulation. Using child protection as an excuse, their real goal is church regulation of this very important church ministry, the choice of parents to raise up their children in the way they should go.

 

 

Signators

Dr. Allen Mendenhall, Executive Director, The Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty

Joe Godfrey, Executive Director, Alabama Citizen’s Action Program

Alabama Citizen’s Action Program

Robin Mears, Executive Director, Alabama Christian Education Association

Eunie Smith, President, Eagle Forum of Alabama

Deborah Love, Executive Director, Eagle Forum of Alabama

Eric Johnston, President of The Southeast Law Institute

Jeff Smith, Administrator of Trinity Christian Academy and Preschool, Oxford, Alabama

Danny J. Hubbard, Publisher and Author, Reveal Publishing

Scott Elliot, Director of Youth Ministries at Christ the King Lutheran Church

Dr. Tom Ford, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church and Ezekiel Academy Board Member

Col. Charles Orr, Christian Citizen Task Force, Whitesburg Baptist Church

Samuel J. McLure, The Adoption Law Firm

James McCaney, Jr. Senior Pastor, Victory Christian Fellowship Church

Maurice McCaney, Chancellor, Victory Christian Academy

Wanda McCaney, Director, Victory Christian Academy

Lorraine McCaney, Head Administrator, Victory Christian Academy

Mike Parsons, Director of Save Alabama’s Values and Education

Rev., Dr. John Killian, Pastor and Past President Alabama Baptist State Convention

McCaney Law Group, LLC

Denise Driskell, Senior Administrator of Pathways Academy

Robert M. Driskell, High School Administrator of Pathways Academy

Rev. Jerry Johnston, Associate Pastor, Trinity Baptist Oxford, Alabama

Michael Rippy, Lead Pastor, Evangel Church, Evangel Christian Preschool