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Nixon blocks board's attempt to rescind regulations on church-run day cares

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 28, 2009 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has blocked a move by the state Board of Health to eliminate regulations governing close to 600 child-care centers that are operated by religious groups or churches.

The governor's action, issued late Friday, appears to overturn the board's action on Thursday, made at the advice of staff lawyers who said the rules were not legally enforceable. (Click here to read the Post-Dispatch's account of the meeting).

Said Nixon is a terse statement:

"The state Board of Health is an advisory body that provides recommendations to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. During yesterday's meeting, the Board of Health voted, at the prompting of Department of Health and Senior Services staff, to recommend that some regulations of license-exempt child care facilities should be rescinded.

"For those recommendations to take effect, the department would have to proceed through the rulemaking process to rescind the existing regulations. I have directed the Department of Health and Senior Services not to rescind those regulations. The safety of children in Missouri child care centers is critical, and my administration is committed to ensuring the protection of those children." 

After a required public-comment period, the board's decision would have rescinded rules that have been in place for 14 years.

Although religious-run day-care centers are not required to comply with the state's licensing requirements for 4,324 other day-care operations, the rules mandated that certain public-health and safety standards be met.

For example, the rules banned the use of alcohol and illegal drugs by the child-care staff.

The Department of Health and Senior Services declined comment Friday, referring all questions to the governor's office.

Karen Werner, executive director of the Missouri Association of Child Care Providers, had been critical of the Board of Health's action and is pleased by the governor's decision to overturn it.

But she added, "the damage is done'' because now religious-run facilities know that the state's health and safety regulations over them can't be enforced.

Werner, a day-care provider, also contended that the board's action reflected the dysfunction that has plagued the department for years.

Carol Scott, executive director of Missouri Child Care Resource and Referral Network, offered some similar concerns:

"Now that license-exempt facilities know that there are no legal teeth in these rules, I wonder how many will be less vigilant in meeting even these very minimal standards," Scott said. "Parents who have heard the news coverage and now know the rules exist, and that facilities are not legally bound to abide by them, may be wondering how safe their children are in these unlicensed and unmonitored programs."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.