Bills striking some child care regulations pass the Senate, House

by Whitney Downard, Indiana Capital Chronicle
January 31, 2024

Both chambers of the Statehouse passed measures Tuesday designed to increase access to child care by reducing existing regulations. 

But while the Senate passed its bill – a priority for the Republican caucus – with almost the full support of the chamber, the House version faced adversity from Democrats.

House Bill 1102 author Rep. Dave Heine, R-Fort Wayne, said that child care should generally cost no more than 10% of a household’s income. But Hoosier families, he emphasized, are spending about 24% of their incomes on it. Families frequently report leaving the workforce because of child care expenses and lack of access. 

Rep. Dave Heine, R-Fort Wayne, talks about his child care regulations bill on the House floor, on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

He said his bill would make “common-sense reductions to burdensome requirements” for child care providers while “maintaining the safety of our children.”

Under the bill, unlicensed home providers can care for up to eight children— an increase from the previous limit of six children and not including their own children — so long as they provide care for no more than 30 hours per week. 

Other child care centers would see license renewals every three years instead of every two years. Programs operating out of a private or public school would also be exempt from licensure, so long as they comply with health and safety regulations. 

Although Heine said the Family and Social Services Administration had vetted the bill “every step of the way” and been scrutinized by lawmakers of both parties, some still had concerns.

Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, opposed the bill in a statement following the vote. 

“I am horrified that this bill has passed through the House. We have a responsibility to parents to protect their children. This bill instead shows that as a state, we are perfectly okay with inexperienced, unaccredited individuals potentially caring for our children,” she said. “Lowering standards for state licensure is not an acceptable solution…Not only are we allowing inexperienced individuals to watch over Hoosier children, but we are also pushing more children on this already overburdened system.”

She said the real answer is investing in child care infrastructure.

Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, called the bill a “very small step in the right direction” even though it didn’t make structural changes to further professionalize the industry. 

House Bill 1102 still easily passed on a 75-21 vote.

Action in the Senate

With nearly 4,200 regulated child care providers, Indiana has the capacity to serve roughly 206,000 children. But that number falls far short of the estimated 502,000 Hoosier children who need care, according to Brighter Future Indiana, a partnership between the state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) and Early Learning Indiana.

Those 206,000 seats represent facilities operating at full capacity, not the on-the-ground availability as providers struggle to recruit and retain staff.

Senate Bill 2 requires FSSA to study compensation for child care workers while relaxing some staffing requirements in the hopes of growing the workforce. The overall age limit falls from 21 to 18 for hiring staff and centers can hire workers as young as 16 in certain cases. 

Child care legislation coming, but pricey ideas iffy

Additionally, workers no longer have to recertify for CPR annually and more easily qualify for their own child care subsidies. 

But for Sen. Ed Charbonneau, the author, the most promising component might be the pilot study of three “microcenters,” or facilities with less overhead and regulations caring for 3-30 children.

“Generally to be economically feasible, you have to have a relatively large number of children in the daycare setting,” said Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. “With changes to some of the regulations, microcenters can … help.”

Senate Democrats noted further work to be done in child care, such as increasing the upper threshold for receiving child care subsidies, but threw their support behind Charbonneau’s bill.

“The Senate Democratic caucus has been working on this issue for several years. In a year where we kept hearing, ‘We’re not opening the budget,’ you had a real difficult needle to thread,” Sen. Shelli Yoder said. 

Earlier this month, Yoder, of Bloomington, said more action was needed on child care, especially in the form of funding.

“We’ve got work to do to make it even better. But what we were able to do in a non-budget year — you worked really hard to accomplish that,” Yoder concluded.

Only one senator voted against the measure: Sen. Gary Bryne, a Republican from Bryneville.

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Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: info@indianacapitalchronicle.com. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Cover photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash

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