The state’s attempt to overhaul its childcare rules has been stalled yet again, after childcare providers across the state mobilized against the proposed changes.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules sent the Department of Health and Human Services back to the drawing board after a hearing on the issue Thursday morning.
Thursday's vote came two months after Gov. Chris Sununu intervened to delay an earlier decision on the matter, citing public outcry. An earlier draft of the rules elicited hundreds of pages of public comments, many from daycare owners concerned that the new requirements would make it hard for them to stay in business.
At Thursday's hearing, DHHS officials cited two main reasons for updating the rules: one, federal grant requirements; and two, the fact that the rules haven’t been significantly changed since 2008.
But opponents said the state was taking too heavy-handed an approach to the revisions, micromanaging everything from screen time to sunscreen application, and tried to go beyond what federal rules require. A group of providers from across the state formed a grassroots campaign called "Keep Our Doors Open" to lobby against the changes.
James O'Shaughnessy — who identified himself as the son of a daycare provider, a former daycare manager and the father of children who attend daycare — was among those who testified against the changes on Thursday. He and others in the childcare community expressed frustration that DHHS was not adequately listening to providers who would be affected by the new rules.
“It took a tremendous amount of effort from stakeholders to make a lot of noise to get the bureau to finally listen,” O’Shaughnessy told lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing. “That’s the problem. That’s why this room is full. That’s why people are so passionate. It’s been very difficult to get people to listen to what stakeholders are saying.”
DHHS Commissioner Jeff Meyers said the agency sought input at multiple public hearings and also talked extensively with opponents about their concerns. From here, Meyers said DHHS will keep trying to come up with a compromise before the current rules expire on Nov. 13.
“You know, this is the health and safety of our kids,” Meyers said. “We need to make sure we strike the right balance, and we’re going to work to continue to do so back in front of the committee in November.”