SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Some day-care providers say state regulators are too tough on them and they have carried their complaints to the Legislature and the sympathetic ear of state Sen. Chris Buttars.
"If there's ever a need in this city or state, it's for day care," said Buttars, who believes that overzealous regulation is forcing centers out of business. "Unfortunately, today both parents work. Where do these kids go?"
The West Valley Republican hasn't drafted legislation yet, and said there still is time for regulators to respond to industry complaints before the 2005 legislative session.
"Either licensers get their act together, or we'll get it together for them," Buttars said.
State regulators say were it not for the rules and their strict enforcement, there would be no safety net for parents entrusting their children to the operators.
"What would parents do, ask their kids, 'How was day care? Did anyone hurt you today?' " said Lynette Rasmussen, director of the state Office of Childcare. "Kids can't speak for themselves."
Utah's regulatory environment is hands-off compared to other states, Rasmussen said.
The Legislature cut back on day-care regulations in the late 1990s. It created a class of loosely regulated "residential centers" that care for no more than five children and qualify for federal food subsidies. It also ended oversight of the day-care centers' educational and developmental activities.
Now the commercial standards are limited to health and safety protections, such as requiring adequate staffing, cushioning for playground equipment and clean bathrooms and kitchens.
Much of the controversy has stemmed from the state's citing the Adventure Center in Salt Lake City for alleged health and safety violations.
Adventure Center owner Charlene Catania said licensers are retaliating against her for appealing past citations.
She said she was cited for such trivia as a candy wrapper in the van.
Catania also was cited for having too few care givers to supervise the number of children on site.
State Bureau of Licensing Director Debra Wynkoop said, "We don't see these deficiencies as nit-picky stuff."
Catania said she has spent at least $15,000 repairing frayed carpet and broken floor tiles and ripping out unsuitable playground equipment.
Wynkoop argues it would be easier for Catania to fix problems than fight the state.
Nevertheless, after a five-hour administrative law judge hearing, she backed down on her recommendation to revoke Catania's license, giving her 30 days to get the center in shape.
"She got a great deal. It's not our intent to put people out of business," Wynkoop said. "It's our intent to protect children from a dangerous environment."
Proof of the state's business-friendly regulatory environment, said Wynkoop, is that the total number of commercial centers has gone up from 250 in 2003 to 277 in 2004, despite 35 closures.
Two-thirds of the commercial centers received no complaints and 20 percent had zero violations, up from 8 percent in 2003, she said.
"That must mean we're doing something right and that the rules are working."
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)