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New day care rules hit roadblock at State House

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

October 19. 2017 11:31PM




CONCORD — A two-year effort by health and human services officials to implement new licensing rules for child care centers hit another roadblock on Thursday, as center operators convinced a legislative committee to hold off on approving the new regulations.

After hearing more than an hour of testimony, Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, chairman on the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, made a motion objecting to the new rules on the grounds that they are “burdensome and exceed required federal regulations.”

The motion passed on a voice vote of the 10-member House-Senate committee, setting the stage for the child care licensing unit at the Department of Health and Human Services to return to the committee on Nov. 2 with a revised proposal that addresses the objection.

The rules have been in the works since 2015, and were the subject of two well-attended public hearings earlier this year. Two previously scheduled votes before JLCAR were rescheduled to allow DHHS more time to negotiate with day care providers.

DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said the rules have been significantly changed from what was originally proposed to address many of the concerns, and appeared frustrated by the committee vote.

“We made a number of adjustments to the rules that are currently before you based on the input that was provided, and we think we have been responsive to the concerns raised by child care providers across the state,” he said. “There has been a tremendous amount of work, time and effort put into getting this right.”

DHHS maintains that the rules were designed to accommodate federal requirements associated with child development block grants that totaled $16.5 million in fiscal year 2017 to help low-income families pay for child care.

“The changes that were made came about because of the reauthorization of federal statutes that we need to comply with to be eligible to receive child development funds,” said Melissa Clement, the chief of the child care licensing unit at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“But additional changes were needed since this rule hasn’t been changed since 2008, to update to current practice regarding what’s good for children that we have learned since then,” she said.

Manchester attorney James O’Shaughnessy said the rules that remain in place that are most concerning pertain to restrictions on the ability of the center operators to expel students at their own discretion, without some form of due process.

“They are imposing regulations on when you can and cannot address gross misconduct of children, and they are far more restrictive than the rules the federal government requires,” he said. “We’ve asked them to give (day care centers) more discretion when dealing with children who are misbehaving or violent or using bad language, or parents who are uncooperative, and received no concessions on that.”

Meyers said the state has the legal authority to regulate child care centers beyond the terms of the federal block grant.

“We have met with the people who are here today and made adjustments to professional development, to screen time, to outdoor play and many other issues brought to our attention,” he said. “At the end of the day, there is going to be someone who is unhappy. You can’t please everyone.”

Several child care center operators have organized into a group calling itself “Keep Our Doors Open,” out of a fear that many centers will shut their doors if the 100-plus pages of new regulations take effect.

“The concern of the committee is losing more child care spots in an already stressed service,” said Reagan. “We’re looking for anything we can do to reduce the confusion and, if possible, lessen the burden. We’ll see what you come back with.”

dsolomon@unionleader,com


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