A bill that would license many more currently unregulated religious day care facilities in the state has been signed into law by the governor.
The governor’s spokesperson said Thursday that she signed the bill into law this week after it passed out of the Legislature on March 15.
The bill, which was proposed following the deaths and illnesses of several children at unregulated day care facilities across the state, was the subject of intense debate in both the House and the Senate this year after failing during the 2017 Legislative session.
The new law will require for-profit religious day care centers and those that receive federal or state funding to go through DHR’s licensing process and abide by the department’s minimum safety standards.
But the law is now significantly weaker than it was in its original form. Some religious day care centers — those that don’t receive federal or state funding — will remain exempt from state licensing processes.
Proponents of the bill, who said child care facilities need government oversight, fought against religious conservatives who worried the bill would infringe upon the rights of churches.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, in the House, which passed the bill last month. Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, carried it in the Senate.
The bill has been nearly two years in the making. It passed the House last year but died during a 10-minute calendar in the Senate as the Legislature neared the end of the session last year.
After the bill failed in last year’s legislative session, a five-year-old boy, Kamden Johnson, was found dead, lying on the side of the road three miles from his Mobile-area day care, Community Nursery & Preschool Academy on Hillcrest Road, in August.
More than 23 instances of non-compliance were found at the previously unlicensed, unregulated day care where the young boy died. Kamden’s name was invoked numerous times as lawmakers pushed for the legislation this year.
Proponents said the bill might have prevented Kamden’s death.
And his wasn’t the first tragedy at an unregulated child care facility. More than 80 children became ill at a Montgomery day care in 2015 after they were infected with staph, and, in another instance, a South Alabama woman opened several “religious” day care centers despite charges of abuse and child neglect.
Almost half of the nearly 2,000 day care facilities in Alabama were claiming this exemption, according to DHR. The bill is expected to cut that number in half, at least.