MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama will have limited oversight over faith-based daycares, under a bill approved Thursday in the Alabama Legislature.
The Alabama Senate voted 22-4 for the watered-down legislation billed as a compromise between children’s advocates and conservative groups who fought government involvement in church daycare centers.
“These are innocent little children. This is all about the health and safety of our babies,” Rep. Pebblin Warren, the bill sponsor, told reporters Thursday.
Alabama has long exempted daycares that claim a religious affiliation from the requirement to get a state license and standards such as required child-to-worker ratios. The facilities are not necessarily affiliated with a standing church, but can get the exemption by claiming a religious affiliation on paper.
Nearly half of the daycare centers in the state are unlicensed, according to the state Department of Human Resources.
The bill is far short of Warren’s original intent to require all centers to be licensed, but will give the state some additional oversight.
The bill will require faith-based day cares that receive any state or federal funds to get licensed by the state. Barry Spear, a spokesman for the Department of Human Resources, said that will require nearly 400 centers to get licensed or stop taking the subsidies.
It will also require exempt centers to submit proof of fire and safety inspections and background checks on workers.
The department did not have a comment on the bill’s passage.
At least one senator argued the bill did not go far enough.
“All of our children in this great state of Alabama deserve to be protected. They deserve to be in a safe place,” Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, a Democrat from Mobile, said.
Figures said recent tragedies had taken place in facilities that claim the religious exemption.
Advocates for the bill pointed to children who had been injured or killed, in recent incidents at exempt centers. Eighty-six children were sickened in 2015 at a Montgomery facility after eating food that had been left out overnight. A 5-year-old in Mobile died in August after being left inside a van at an exempt center.
The bill escaped a last-minute filibuster in the Senate by opposed senators, paving the way for final passage.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s press office said she will review the bill before making a decision on signing it into law.