Fixing the lack of affordable child care throughout Minnesota is the focus of three measures that won overwhelming support Monday from state senators.
The measures, which all passed the Senate with support from both Republicans and DFLers, relax some regulations on child care providers.
Republican senators who introduced the bills said many child care providers have left the business — or are thinking about it — in part because of an increasingly complex set of rules and regulations that they must follow to keep their doors open. That means a growing number of families are facing a dearth of child care options and employers are struggling to attract workers to communities where day care is in short supply.
"In rural Minnesota, the lack of availability of child care has become a crisis mode," said Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne. "In terms of our workforce development, it's even overtaking the housing issue when it comes to providing for the workers and the working families."
The votes for two of the measures were unanimous, and the third had just five votes in opposition.
They are primarily targeted at in-home child care facilities: One loosens some rules related to staffing, including allowing some facilities to hire people who don't meeting specific qualifications but are working on additional training. It also requires the Department of Human Services to do more to analyze regulations to "reduce barriers and unnecessary administrative burdens" for child care providers.
A second measure makes child care providers exempt from rules meant for caretakers of people with disabilities, while a third revises background-check requirements for children who live in a home that also serves as a day care center.
While adults who live or work in a home used for child care would continue to have to undergo a comprehensive screening, including fingerprinting, minor children would undergo a less rigorous screening using only their name and birth date.
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said the prospect of subjecting children to fingerprinting and other intrusive screening has been enough to keep some would-be child care providers from going into business.
"For young children between 12 and 17, it's frightening to them," she said, "thinking: 'why am I being treated like a criminal when I'm not?' "
The Department of Human Services supports the change to background checks but has not taken a position on the bill related to staffing requirements, according to a statement from the department.
The agency opposes the bill related to the rules for people with disabilities, because it "could put the state out of compliance" with a legal settlement agreement "intended to bring improvements to the care and treatment of individuals with developmental disabilities."
Speaking at a news conference Monday before the Senate vote, child care provider Julie Seydel, who also serves as the public policy director for the Minnesota Association of Child Care Providers, said the background-check issue for minors has been a top concern for many care providers.
Seydel said regulations and a drop in reimbursement rates from the state is also causing a precipitous drop in the number of care providers, especially in rural parts of the state.
She said the number of care providers has dropped from 11,000 to just over 8,000 in the last few years, and a recent survey by her organization found that 94 percent of the providers still in business say they have considered quitting.
Seydel said the changes would be a step toward ensuring that those providers keep their doors open. The bills have also cleared some House committees and could get a vote in that chamber before the end of the legislative session.
"If we lose another 94 percent [of providers], it will be absolutely devastating for the state of Minnesota," Seydel said.