Thursday, February 3, 2011

Child care and the state

Wyoming people want basic regulation of child care

State oversight of home child care providers protects children, more than a dozen child care providers and the people who need their services told the House Labor Health and Social Services Committee hearing Wednesday evening.

The witnesses, including child care providers from Cheyenne, Douglas, and Powell, opposed a proposed bill that would have exempted some home child care providers from state certification.

The legislation, House Bill 239 – Child caring facilities-certification, exempted home child care operations from state certification requirements if they do not accept any state subsidies for providing the care. Sponsor Rep. Lorraine Quarberg (R-HD28, Thermpolis) said she introduced the measure after a Big Horn basin family violated state law that says home care providers can not care for more than two unrelated children unless their business is certified by the state.

Quarberg said there are trustworthy people who can provide such care without certification by the state.

But advocates of child care regulation said the state certification and licensing processes assure parents that at least minimal safety rules would be met. Opponents argued that providers who choose to operate unlicensed would not have central registry background checks or criminal history background checks.

Those background checks are performed by the state Department of Family Services. Several witnesses at the hearing noted that most parents do not have access to the tools needed to check the background of a potential care giver for their children. Mike McGrady, a Cheyenne attorney, said he had access to investigatory tools as he considered child care providers. “But I didn’t know what questions to ask,” he said. Home care providers are “still a business,” he said, and it makes sense to require them to meet basic standards.

Committee member Rep. Frank Peasley (R-HD3, Douglas) asked several opponents if there is any statistical proof that regulation has reduced problems surrounding child care.

“Did abuse go down?” he asked. It seems, he said, that “the more we regulate, the more problems we have.”

He noted his wife put him through school by “baby sitting” and she did so before the state licensed care.

When Cheyenne police detective Joe Hickerson said background checks would keep people clearly unsuited because of a record of violence against children out of the child care business, Rep. Peasley asked him, “Do you want the state more involved in parenting?”

“Common sense would tell you,” Hickerson replied, that basic background checks will protect children.

“If people have a loophole to go through,” Hickerson told Peasley, “… they will take advantage of that.”

Other providers noted the ease of going through the full licensing process in Wyoming. Licensing, one noted, is a breeze compared to the challenges and difficulties of caring for children.

In her closing comments, HB 239 sponsor Quarberg said she was pleased to hear that licensing is not difficult for people who want to operate a child care business. She said people should be more trusting of neighbors who want to offer care to children.

“We can do background checks, but we can’t check for violent tendencies,” she said. Once regulations are adopted, she said, “It is difficult to go backwards. It’s difficult to say we’re not all monsters.”

The committee voted to kill the bill 3-6.

Nay votes were cast by Reps. Joe Barbuto (D-HD48, Rock Springs), Rep. Bernadine Craft (D-HD17, Rock Springs), Gerald Gay (R-HD36, Casper), Keith Gingery (R-HD23, Jackson), Matt Greene (R-HD45, Laramie), and Hans Hunt (R-HD2, Newcastle).

Chairman Elaine Harvey (R-HD26, Lovell) joined Reps. David Miller (R-HD55, Riverton) and Peasley in voting YES for the bill.

Taxing the wind power industry

Taxing the wind power industry to assure that the industry pays it way and that counties have the resources needed to deal with the impacts of wind farm industrialization was considered by the House Revenue Committee Wednesday morning and again in the afternoon.

Rep. Tim Stubson (R-HD56, Casper) and Sen. Drew Perkins (R-SD29, Casper) offered a taxing scheme that would permanently exempt wind projects from the sales tax but impose a $3 per mega-watt-hour tax on power generated by wind turbines. As they presented HB 191 – Wind power taxation, the sponsors suggested a major amendment substantially changing the scheme to finance an impact fund as it generates revenues for the state and counties. Their plan , they said, eliminates potential state sales tax revenues now but ultimately generates greater revenues to the state.

That prospect provided little solace for Carbon County Commissioners Terry Weikum and Jerry Paxton. They said the county’s quality of life has been harmed by wind projects there that have been built recently under state laws that exempt those projects from the sales tax. Without the tax, the county does not have the resources needed to deal with damages to roads, demands for more law enforcement, and increased drug problems in rural communities like Medicine Bow, according to Paxton and Weikum.

The commissioners said existing law, which will lift the sales tax exemption on wind farm construction Jan. 1, 2012 and impose a $1 per mwh power generation tax, would provide resources to deal with the expected impacts of projects now on the drawing boards. The projects would be subject to local-option sales taxes. They worry that the Stubson-Perkins proposal may not leave them in as good a position to deal with new wind power construction projects.

The ESPC noted that other energy industries pay property, sales and severance taxes. The wind power industry should pay property, sales and MWH taxes.

The vote:

The committee approved HB191, as amended with regard to distribution of the tax revenues.
Ayes: Chairman Pat Childers (R-H50, Cody); Representatives Greg Blikre (R-H53, Gillette), Patrick Goggles (D-H33, Ethete), Owen Petersen (R-H19, Mountain View), Clarence Vranish (R-H49, Evanston).
Noes: Representatives Rita Campbell (R-H34, Shoshoni), David Miller (R-H55, Riverton), Mark Semlek (R-H1, Moorcroft)
Excused: Rep. Mike Madden (R-H40, Buffalo)

Elsewhere Wednesday

The House Labor Committee also approved a bill that advocates contend will require the Workers’ Compensation Division to use a guide to rating physical impairments that is more fair to injured workers than the guide now used by the division. (House Bill 232 – Workers’ Compensation impairment ratings)

In Committee of the Whole, the House killed HB131 – Tip sharing. Opponents said the bill unfairly required employees to surrender tips to a pool that then could be used by employers to meet the legal requirement to bring other tipped employees up to the federally required minimum wage of $7.25 hour from the tipped minimum wage of $2.13/hr.

Citizens can register their opinions on specific legislation by using the “Online Hotline” or the telephone Hotline – 1-866-966-8683 or, in Cheyenne, 777-8683.