Utah Legislature approves allowing more children at unlicensed day care facilities

Feb 28, 2024, 10:58 PM | Updated: Feb 29, 2024, 12:53 am

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature has given the green light to a controversial proposal boosting the number of children allowed at unlicensed day care facilities.

HB153 cleared its final hurdle Wednesday and now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk.

The bill, which generated a lot of emotion and debate, allows unlicensed providers to care for up to eight children instead of six.

“What I hope it does is encourage more people to be child care providers to help get the capacity that we need,” said Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, the bill sponsor.

KSL TV recently reported on the child care crisis in Utah as many families struggle to find affordable child care options for their children.

Christina Robles owns two day care facilities – including one at her home in Kearns – and has been watching the issue on Capitol Hill closely. Her facilities are licensed, which she said impacts how she operates.

“I’ll wake up in the morning with a list of things to do to ensure the safety of the kids, to ensure that I can pass any of these unannounced inspections that come through,” Robles said. “That helps keep the kids safe. It helps us make sure that we are abiding by the law.”

Robles is disappointed the Legislature passed the bill increasing the child limit for unlicensed day cares.

“When you say that you can now watch eight children, what incentive does anyone have to become licensed?” Robles said.

Pulsipher added two guardrails to her bill to try to alleviate concerns. First, unlicensed providers will be required to get a background check. They will also be prohibited from caring for more than two children under the age of three at a time.

“I think the people who choose to do child care for the most part are people who love children,” Pulsipher said, “and they care about them, and they’re going to do a good job.”

Child advocates had opposed expanding the limit at unlicensed day cares. But after those changes requiring background checks and limiting the number of small children, one of them expressed cautious optimism.

More kids in unlicensed day care? Utah Legislature mulls changing state law

“We feel OK about where the bill has landed,” said Anna Thomas, policy director at Voices for Utah Children.

Still, Thomas worries about how these new rules will be enforced — and whether eight kids at an unlicensed day care will truly be safe.

“You’re just sort of relying on people to let you know if something is going wrong,” Thomas said, “and people are not going to put their day care programs in the position to be closed.”

HB153 also expands the child tax credit in Utah that parents can claim for their young children.

The vote count on the bill was close in the Senate. It barely passed 15-12. The final vote in the House of Representatives Wednesday morning was 50-21.

KSL TV asked Gov. Cox’s office if he planned to sign the bill, but no one had responded as of late Wednesday evening.

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Utah Legislature approves allowing more children at unlicensed day care facilities