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Lawmaker cancels hearing on child care ministries

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Associated Press Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana House committee chairwoman, angry Wednesday over what she said were personal attacks against her, temporarily set aside a bill that would set standards for faith-based child care centers.

Rep. Vanessa Summers, who chairs the Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee, had scheduled a hearing on the bill she is sponsoring, but told a packed hearing room that she was delaying the hearing one week until Jan. 27.

Summers said she had become the target of a smear campaign by opponents of the bill who rallied even her own pastors against her and accused her of being an atheist.

“I have been called anything but a child of God because of this legislation,” Summers said, staring directly at Eric Miller of the conservative lobbying group Advance America.

Miller denied he or his group were responsible for attacks against Summer.

“We don’t do that and we don’t condone it,” he said.

Summers’ action cast a pall of uncertainty over the proposal that had won bipartisan support in a summer study committee and been backed by some faith-based child care operators as a necessary step to protect children. After the hearing, Summer said she did not know if the bill would leave her committee.

“I don’t know if it’s going to go forward this session. I’m going to let them dangle,” she said of the bill’s opponents.

Indiana, like most states, does not require child-care facilities run by churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith groups to obtain a license.

Summers’ legislation would require them to register with the state, however, and to meet certain standards. Caregivers would have to be at least 17 and enrolled in high school or 18 and have a high school diploma. The bill also would set ratios limiting the number of children caregivers can be responsible for and require ministries to report injuries to the state.

Summers acknowledged her bill faced tough odds: Miller was able to pack about half of the hearing room with opponents of the legislation. He sent out an e-mail alert last week warning that licensing child-care ministries would lead to government intrusion into faith-based summer camps, vacation Bible schools, Sunday schools and after-school programs.

“We were ready to testify in favor of the freedom we’ve had since 1979,” Miller said, referring to the year the Legislature passed a law that exempted child-care ministries from state licensing.

“If a location is not safe, and people are being abused and neglected, then call the police,” he said.

A fact sheet distributed by the Indiana Association of United Ways, which supports Summers’ bill, said Indiana has about 47,000 children in more than 700 child-care ministries voluntarily registered with the state.

Barbara Newton Columbus, a member of the ad hoc Registered Ministry Advisory Group, which supports the bill, said registered ministries follow state rules on child care, but about one third of child-care ministries are not registered.

“We just feel that level of care for all children is so important,” Newton said.



Posted 1/21/2010




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