ST. PAUL — A Rochester child care provider is among those calling on state lawmakers to repeal a new state law that will require her 14-year-old son to have his fingerprints taken.
Jennifer Parrish said the state is going too far by mandating children ages 13 to 17 who live with a licensed child care provider have their fingerprints and photographs taken as part of a background check. If the law isn't repealed before taking effect next year, Parrish said she'll close her in-home day care.
"If it comes down to it, and my only choices are that my children have to submit to this, I will have no choice," said Parrish, who is vice president of the Minnesota Association of Child Care Professionals.
But representatives of the Minnesota Department of Human Services defended the new policy in a Senate hearing on Wednesday. Deputy Commissioner Chuck Johnson told senators the department pushed for the language in the bill. Since 1989, state law has required background checks be performed on children ages 13 to 17 using name and date of birth. Those background checks on minors resulted in 16 disqualifications in 2016 and nine so far in 2017.
Johnson added that mandating that fingerprints be taken improves the background check process, which helps protect children.
"The fingerprint really is the way to get to federal criminal information and what you lose without it is the ability to look at whether there was a crime that happened in another state," he said.
During the hearing, licensed child care providers blasted the proposal. Parrish submitted written testimony in opposition to the plan because she was traveling and unable to attend the hearing.
Federal law requires that anyone age 18 and older in a child care home undergo a fingerprint-based FBI study. The new Minnesota law goes a step further, requiring fingerprints be taken of 13 to 17-year-olds. Counties have long been responsible for performing background checks on the families of in-home child care providers. As part of the law change, the state is planning to take over those duties.
Reggie Wagner, DHS' deputy inspector general, told lawmakers the state has a fingerprint-based background check system already in place so it make sense to do that with teenagers in child care homes. She emphasized that for minors, those checks would be done at the state level. No fingerprints would be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation unless the individual has a criminal record in Minnesota and is a multi-state offender. Fingerprints are destroyed at the state level and photographs are never sent on to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or the FBI.
Wagner added that minors will not be required to go to a police department to get their fingerprints taken. Instead, some nursing homes, child care centers and counties can do it — in addition to some FedEx and UPS store locations.
"We have tried to build an infrastructure that reduces the stigma," Wagner said.
But the department's answers did little to quell the concerns of child care providers and lawmakers. Julie Petersen, co-chairwoman of the Meeker County Child Care Association, said they have already seen a steady stream of providers shutting down their businesses. She said this added regulation will only worsen the situation.
"There are many providers who are considering not being in this job anymore," Petersen told members of the Senate Human Services Reform Committee.
The fingerprint requirement for minors has not yet taken effect. Johnson said the department doesn't expect that to happen until late summer or fall of 2018. He said the agency is willing to work with lawmakers before that happens.
Senate Human Services Reform Committee Chairman Jim Abeler said in an interview after the hearing he supports repealing the law requiring minors be fingerprinted.
"It's invasive and unnecessary and it's going to have a detrimental effect on people continuing to provide licensed home child care," the Anoka Republican said.
No member of the committee voiced support for the law during the hearing. Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, said he is frustrated that the provision was tucked into a massive health care bill that legislators had little time to review.
"It's about the process and how this stuff gets put in front of us as a full body on the Senate floor when that bill was this thick and we had two hours to look at it," Hoffman said.
Parrish said she hopes lawmakers will follow through and repeal the law next session. She said it is patently unfair to the children of licensed child care providers.
She added, "Being fingerprinted and having essentially mug shots just to be able to live in your home is pretty ridiculous."