A bill that will likely affect how some church day cares in Alabama operate has been signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey, one of the major legislative changes to come out of this year’s legislative session that ended March 29.
The “Child Care Safety Act,” House Bill 76, came in response to the deaths and illnesses of several children at unregulated day-care sites. Ivey signed the new law March 27. Since 1981 church operated day-care ministries have been exempt from state regulation.
The new law is a compromise, according to Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP). He said ALCAP’s legal adviser, Eric Johnston of the Southeast Law Institute, and Robin Mears, executive director of the Alabama Christian Educators Association, worked many hours over the past two years with bill sponsor Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-District 82, and other organizations “to help craft this bill in such a way that the religious liberty of churches was protected while also protecting children in Alabama. ALCAP applauds their efforts,” Godfrey said in an email.
Johnston and others have expressed religious freedom concerns regarding government oversight of church-run child-care centers. He said that while child-care advocates “sincerely believe in their mission to protect children, they fail to recognize constitutional limitations on their actions.”
In a statement made available to ALCAP supporters, Johnston summarized the changes to current day-care laws, which include:
- Expanding the definition for day cares to include other names the programs could be called such as preschools.
- Clarifying that fire and health inspections, as well as criminal background checks, which are already required throughout the state, will be done annually. Copies of the reports will be given to the Department of Human Resources (DHR) within 30 days.
- Requiring property, casualty and liability insurance of churches which operate day cares.
- Mandating the posting of a statement at church day cares choosing not to be regulated by DHR noting it is not regulated or licensed by the state.
- Maintaining DHR’s authority to inspect a day care at any time if it believes the church is not operating as an exempt ministry or if it has notice that the safety of a child is at risk.
In the past church day-care centers that accepted federal or state funds were not exempt from licensure. This has not changed, Johnston said. Some have expressed concern about indirect state and federal funds received by a church day care, such as payments received for a foster child, but Johnston said such issues were unlikely and could probably be avoided by providing a scholarship to the foster child.
Some of the new regulations are “desirable to protect not only the church from lawsuits, but to provide remedies to persons who are injured” and to “minimize liability or misunderstanding with parents,” Johnston said.
Seek legal advice
Johnston advised churches to seek legal advice on any questions specific to their situation, but said in general, “churches which operate day-care ministries will not notice much change in what they have done in the past. … We believe the changes will not work problems for churches and their day-care ministries will continue to operate as in the past.”
Angela Thomas, communications manager for VOICES for Alabama’s Children, which has long advocated for changes to the day-care laws, issued a statement calling the bill an “incremental step,” Alabama Media Group reported in March. “Our position on the state of child-care licensing remains the same — all child-care facilities must be licensed and inspected,” Thomas said.
Warren said the bill is “going to make a difference,” and Sen. Gerald Dial, R-District 13, who introduced the bill in the Senate, said it was an example of where “government has to infringe a little bit,” AL.com reported.
For his part, however, Johnston sees the bill as a step toward infringing on religious freedom and says critics of church-operated day cares “must understand the interplay of regulatory and constitutional law” and pledged continued opposition for any efforts to interfere with church ministries.
“The Southeast Law Institute will continue to work with organizations, churches and individuals to protect religious freedom.”
Another bill closely followed by ALCAP was Senate Bill 325, an attempt to legalize daily fantasy sports. ALCAP contends that such wagering constitutes Class III gambling and is therefore illegal under Alabama law. To change this would require a constitutional amendment voted on by the people, Godfrey said.
The bill did not get enough votes to be debated and died on the Senate floor. Bills relating to abortion, state lotteries, reduced penalties for possession of marijuana and several gun-related bills also failed to gain traction. A bill to collect information on racial profiling also failed to get a vote.
Prisons, Ten Commandments, abortion also debated
During the recent regular session of the Alabama Legislature, legislators approved an increased budget for the Department of Corrections and a $30 million supplement to this year’s budget to be used to hire new staff and improve health care in state prisons.
Another bill would have extended the Stand Your Ground Law to churches. It passed the House but never came to a final vote in the Senate.
In November voters will consider two constitutional amendments related to social issues.
One is the Alabama Ten Commandments Amendment (passed in 2018), which would authorize the display of the Ten Commandments on public property, including public schools. The display would be required to be mixed with historical or educational items.
The other constitutional amendment coming to voters is the Alabama State Abortion Policy Amendment (passed in 2017). It would make it state policy to “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life” and states that no provisions of the constitution provide a right to an abortion or require funding of abortions.
The Alabama Senate also addressed controversial abortion legislation pending at the congressional level.
U.S. House Resolution 36 — The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — passed the U.S. House on Oct. 3, 2017, but was prevented from coming out of committee in the U.S. Senate on Oct. 4, 2017. The legislation would provide nationwide protection from abortion for unborn children capable of feeling pain, beginning at 20 weeks fetal age.
Alabama state senators called out newly elected U.S. Sen. Doug Jones from Alabama through Senate Resolution 109 for voting against bringing the bill out of committee.
They called his vote “unacceptable” and a departure from the values of the majority of Alabama’s voters. Attempts to reach Jones for comment were unsuccessful. (TAB)
Resolution recognizes TAB’s 175th anniversary
The Alabama Baptist got one more recognition in honor of its 175th anniversary — a resolution in the Alabama House of Representatives.
Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-District 43, introduced House Resolution 474, “Recognizing The Alabama Baptist on Celebrating its 175th Anniversary,” on March 21. The resolution commends the paper as a long-standing and important source of news in Alabama and around the world.
Mooney, whose district includes Jefferson and Shelby counties, is a longtime member of Meadow Brook Baptist Church, Birmingham, in Shelby Baptist Association, and a graduate of Samford University in Birmingham. He said he was reading The Alabama Baptist’s coverage of its 175th birthday celebration and felt a resolution “in a manner that would recognize the history of it” was in order.
“The Alabama Baptist is not just a publication to read for what you might find out about Baptist life,” Mooney said. “It has so many things in it.”
And as a lifelong Baptist, Mooney said the paper has been a connecting point for him, a way of keeping up with friends across the state through the years. He did not want to let the birthday slip by without recognition.
The resolution begins by stating, “It is fitting and appropriate to reflect upon the rich history of The Alabama Baptist, our great state’s renowned state Baptist newspaper, on the occasion of its 175th anniversary.”
The text goes on to acknowledge the founders of The Alabama Baptist and note the events held in conjunction with the 175th birthday, including the publication of the book “The Alabama Baptist: Celebrating 175 Years of Informing, Inspiring and Connecting Baptists,” which explores the story of the paper in light of significant religious, state and national events from the past two centuries.
“The Alabama Baptist has survived a Civil War, World Wars, economic depressions and recessions and continued to flourish during trials and tribulations” and is a “testament of powerful faith and premier journalism,” the text reads.
The resolution concludes with “sincere best wishes for continued success in all future endeavors.”