Republicans introduce series of child care bills, seek to loosen restrictions

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Republican state lawmakers introduced a half dozen bills Wednesday aimed at addressing Wisconsin's child care shortage.

The bills largely aim to loosen restrictions currently placed on day care providers, while also creating new state-sanctioned savings programs, as well as a loan program to help providers pay for renovations.

GOP lawmakers' proposals are a sharp contrast to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' ongoing call for the Legislature to commit $365 million toward extending the pandemic-era Child Care Counts program, which provided funding to day care providers for the purposes of paying workers and maintaining their facilities.

The Republican bills include the following proposals:

  • Raising the maximum number of children who can be in a group center at once. For example, the current limit of kids five years and older who can be at a group day care center is 36. One bill would raise that number to 40.
  • Lower the minimum age from 18 to 16 to independently supervise children alone, and lower the minimum age from 17 to 16 for assistant child care teachers.
  • Creating a new category of large family-based day care centers. Typically run out of a provider's home, centers in this category could accept as many as 12 kids. The maximum number of slots for current family-based providers is eight.
  • Allow parents and guardians to open state-issued child care savings accounts. Individuals could then donate up to $10,000 per year to those accounts.
  • Create a new child care renovations program under the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The program would lend up to $30,000 to in-home providers for renovations and up to $100,000 for providers in a commercial space.

Republican leaders said Tuesday at a press conference introducing their tax cut plan that they believed solving the child care shortage would require less stringent regulations, as opposed to financial support from the state.

"It's kind of preposterous to say that we are gonna take taxpayer dollars from everybody to subsidize one specific industry, like child care," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said. "We are not going to increase wages for child care workers by having everyone else pay more."

Evers' spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, indicated the governor will not sign the bills as they're currently drafted.

"Legislation that could reduce the quality of care for our kids, fails to keep child care center doors open tomorrow, and provides no immediate help to make child care more affordable for working families simply will not cut it," Cudaback wrote in a statement.

Evers has called for the Legislature to come into the state Capitol for a special session on Sept. 20 to take up his child care proposal, as well as other workforce initiatives he's championed. 

Republicans have indicated they'll immediately gavel out of the session, as they've done with Evers' other special sessions, and instead focus on their bills.

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