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Background checks for day-care workers

April 21, 1998
By: Samantha Young

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Parents looking for day care would be able to perform their own background checks with one phone call under a bill approved by the House on Tuesday morning.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Kate Hollingsworth, D-Imperial, would establish a toll-free family care registry line for Missourians to access information about day care and elderly-care workers.

"All of the records available in this database are public record," Hollingsworth said. The problem is these records, even if someone knows where to look, are very burdensome to obtain. This would bring all this information into one database."

A state phone line, however, is seen by some legislators as duplication of services and a false sense of security.

"You're relying on a one-stop shop to allow all the decisions that aren't really yours," said Rep. Rich Chrismer, R-St. Peters. "You're taking the word of a telephone voice. Parents need to have more responsibility."

Opponents also are unhappy with a provision in the bill that would require workers from religious facilities to register with the state.

"I do not agree with including religious day cares," said Chrismer who voted against the bill. "Usually, religious day cares are more costly, and parents are very involved with the church and wouldn't allow their child to be in an unsafe place. The parents are the inspectors."

Supporters, however, say they are not out to regulate religious organizations.

"It's not about licensing religious-based facilities," Hollingsworth said. "We are providing information about the workers. It's simply about safety."

Workers would be required to submit information about past convicted felonies, substantial claims of child abuse, foster parent licensing, skilled nursing licensing and the Division of Aging elderly development list requirements.

Anybody looking for day care or elderly care would be allowed to call the toll-free number to inquire about a worker's history, but the line could only be used for employment purposes.

"We don't want the system abused," Hollinsgworth said. "If a person is on the database and parents want the details, then they would receive an application to fill out confirming they want the information for employment purposes."

Those who use the database for other reasons would be guilty of a class B misdemeanor, which is up to six months in jail or a $500 fine.

The House version of the bill says funding for the database could come from Gov. Mel Carnahan's early childhood development fund. This is money the governor has in mind for his day-care-in-schools proposal.

The governor's office, however, has not looked at the legislation and plans to review the bill if it passes the Senate, said Chris Sifford, the governor's spokesman.

In an attempt to win the governor's approval, Hollingsworth said she is going to take out that provision and suggest funding come from the general revenue fund.

The measure has received great support from the McDowell and Linneman families of Columbia. Their children died under the care of Columbia day-care provider Joanne Palmer, who is now serving a life sentence after a second-degree murder and manslaughter conviction for the death of three children.