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Gov. signs Family Care Safety Act

March 31, 1999
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 490

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mel Carnahan signed by executive order Wednesday to pool together government sources for background checks of child and elderly care providers.

"Our initiative will provide Missouri families with important information to give them more peace of mind and help them to make safe and knowledgeable care decisions for their loved ones," Carnahan said.

This order was partially taken from a bill proposed by Rep. Kate Hollingsworth, D-Imperial. The bill would create a toll-free phone line for employers to call and gain information from the Social Services Department, Public Safety, Health, Mental Health, Revenue, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

While the governor's action was praised by child advocates, it came under criticism from one wing in the state legislature.

"I'm concerned with the governor taking issues before the legislature and proclaiming it by executive order when the issue is still in the legislature," said Republican Leader Rep. Delbert Scott.

Scott's comments were prompted by the fact that part of what the governor did was in a bill still pending before the legislature.

More than half the House Republicans had voted against the bill, including Scott. That bill is now pending before the Senate.

In addition to the a central information resource, as the governor's order provides, the bill also would require registration by child-care and elderly-care providers.

The bill also requires religious day care facilities to register its employees. Providers who receive part of their funds from the state must register, while private babysitters or day care centers would be exempt.

Under the governor's executive order, families now can fill out a form on the governor's web page and electronically submit their request for information of a possible employee.

"It is important to have information available where many people can have access to it," Carnahan said.

Two Columbia families, the Linnemans and McDowells, have supported the bill. Both families had children die while under the supervision of the same child care provider.

In 1992 the McDowell family checked references, made surprise visits and interviewed the possible daycare provider for their three-month-old son, Taylor. However Taylor was suffocated by his pacifier after being placed in the care of Joanne Palmer.

Another Columbia family, the Linnemans, also did extensive background checks of their child care provider. However their daughter, Deidre, died three days after also being placed in Palmer's care in 1996.

Palmer was convicted of manslaughter, second degree murder and child endangerment in April 1996.

If the Family Care Safety Act would have been available, the Linnemans would have learned the state Family Services Division revoked Palmer's foster care license in 1994.

"This is another step of big government stepping in and trying to take care of families when families can take care of themselves," said Rep. Jon Bennett, R-St. Charles. "It puts the responsibility on the state and not on the family where it should be."

Hollingsworth's bill passed out of the Senate Aging, Families and Mental Health committee on Tuesday and has not yet been voted on by the full Senate.

"I am in total support of the governor's initiative to help with this legislation," Hollingsworth said.

If the legislation passes in the Senate, child and elderly care workers would be required to pay $14 and register by Jan. 1, 2001.

"Last year the governor offered his help to get the various agencies coordinated," Hollingsworth said. "I am very pleased the governor initiated part of the program through executive order."

The registry form is available at http://www.state.mo.us.

The House vote on the bill is available from Missouri Digital News at http://www.mdn.org/1999/XGR/VOTES/VOTE986.HTM.