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Legislators debate expanding regulations to more childcare programs

Posted: March 3, 2014 - 7:55pm

COLUMBIA — Amid fears that groups such as the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA would be stifled by the new regulations, South Carolina lawmakers held up a bill that would have expanded the number of “childcare” facilities that have to meet certain state regulatory standards.

The proposed change would bring an additional 1,000 centers under state licensing oversight, according to the South Carolina Department of Social Services. The increase in facilities would cost the state nearly $2.5 million to regulate.

Although some debate centered around raising safety standards for the new group of youth programs, the focus of a House committee meeting Feb. 25 was on helping the childcare industry to compete.

Rep. Brian White, R-An-derson, told a House committee that his bill, H .3532, is aimed at creating a level playing field.

He said organizations seek children older than the 5-and-younger set, calculating that it’s cheaper to take older kids who spend more time in school.

“They’re out there for a reason. They’re making money, they’re skirting the law and they know it,” said White of the youth centers his legislation targets.

“You go into a lot of childcare centers, they’ll tell you, ‘My after- school programs (have) declined.’ Why have they declined? Well, ‘Somebody opened up an afternoon daycare,’” he said.

“They don’t have to go by the same ratios. They don’t have to go by the same inspections.”

A leading skeptic of White’s bill was Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg. The Democrat argued that lawmakers should not make operations more onerous for organizations that provide a wholesome environment for latchkey kids.

“I’m a big fan of the Y and Boys & Girls Club and those kind of programs, because they do provide an alternative, particularly for kids who are teenagers and preteens, and those are very critical years,” said Govan.

“I find it amazing that on one hand, all of a sudden we want regulations, then we get up here and preach against it, that there’s too much of it.”

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, was also wary of White’s bill but also took issue with the current oversight of childcare facilities by the state DSS.

“I have a Boys & Girls Club in my community, and they provide a valuable service. I love the work that they do,” he said.

“I don’t want to infringe upon them the regulatory environment that exists within this childcare facility industry.”

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