Voices’ Blog

2017 Legislative Session Wrap-Up: Child Care Safety Still Unclear

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

Building off efforts from previous years to improve child care safety and protect all children in care the Virginia legislature considered two measures in 2017 to improve child care safety.

1.Fingerprint Background Checks- HB1568 (Orrock) SB897 (Wexton)– This measure applies fingerprint background checks to all registered and regulated child care providers. A companion measured passed two years ago applying fingerprint checks to licensed providers. The intent of the legislation is to extend fingerprint checks the 975 religious-exempt child care facilities in Virginia that are consider regulated. This bill was amended during the legislative process to include a “sunset provision” that the legislature would need to consider this measure and approve it again to stay in effect. Another amendment added that if federal law or regulation changed related to the implementation of fingerprint checks the state law would no longer be in effect. The Governor has signed HB1568.

2. Minimal Safety Precautions in License-Exempt- SB1239 (Hanger)- This was one of the very last measures considered, on the very last day of Session, after negotiation by a Conference Committee of House and Senate members. The final bill is difficult to interpret based on some inconsistencies and definitions. It is being reviewed at various levels including the Governor’s office and Attorney General’s office.

As introduced this legislation would have applied minimum safety standards to license-exempt child care including the 975 religious-exempt centers, and other certified preschools, parks & rec, “come and go” facilities and child minding services in gyms/YMCAs. This bill passed the Senate 38-2.

The bill was sent to the House and the Health, Welfare and Institutions committee. A subcommittee of 5 members discussed changes to the bill including:

  • Whether locally administered Parks & Recreation facilities should meet these standards.
  • Whether religious-exempt, or the other license-exempt programs, were considered “regulated” under the federal CCDBG law and by what definition they were considered regulated. Policymakers were told that the state considers a program to be regulated if there is a section of the VA Code to regulate their existence. Religious-exempt and certified preschools had those sections but the other license-exempt programs did not. Therefore the fingerprint background check  provisions would apply to only those there were regulated.

The House wanted to negotiate with the Senate on these points and quickly moved the bill along without much discussion in committee. Because the House rejected the Senate version of the bill, a Conference Committee of 3 members of the House and 3 members of the Senate were appointed to negotiate the differences.

The Conference Report resulting from that negotiation was approved by the House and Senate and went in a different direction. This report took these steps:

  • Exempted local parks and recreation programs from meeting minimal safety precautions.
  • Created a new definition for the religious-exemption that repealed the code section outlining their existence including requirements for health/fire inspections for occupancy compliance, child:staff ratios, reporting suspect child care or neglect and age requirements for staff. However, new minimal safety precautions would apply including a staff person on site at all times with CPR training, safe sleep protocols and an inspection process to be determined by DSS. This provision would be effective July 1, 2017.
  • Applied the new minimal safety precautions to license-exempt facilities including “come and go”, certified preschool, day camps and child-minding services. This provision would be effective July 1, 2018.
  • It also updated a definition of “regulated child day program” to include religious-exempt facilities as outlined in the bill. So, in told, it repealed a section of the Code that regulated programs but added a definition for “regulated” that included the new definition of religious-exempt. It was clear in the explanation of the bill on the House floor that the compromise was to clarify that religious-exempt would not be included in the fingerprint background check provision, however the final bill language is inconsistent.


There are many factors to take into consideration. The order in which the bills are signed matters. The interpretation of the language regarding “regulated” will be up to various attorneys. The Governor will have the option to sign, amend, or veto the bill. If amended or vetoed it would be under consideration at the Reconvened Session on April 5th. To amend the bill will likely mean to address the issue of defining who the fingerprint background check applies to (the reason given to support it’s passage) as well as considering the health and safety protocols that were previously in place for religious-exempt.

That we have to come together and affirm that infants, toddlers and preschool-age children need to be safe in care and that they are learning wherever they receive care. I hope the questions raised by this bill will spark some conversations about moving our early childhood system towards a framework for quality that includes health and safety precautions, as well incentives for quality improvement. And that that framework can apply at any type of early learning facility.



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