MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA/AP) - Alabama is one step closer to requiring all day care centers to be licensed.
A House committee has approved a bill to require all day cares to be licensed and end a longstanding exemption for faith-based facilities.
Alabama is one of seven states that exempt church-affiliated day cares from state regulation.
The House Children and Senior Advocacy Committee approved the bill Wednesday on a unanimous vote, a victory for advocacy groups who fought to end the exemption.
The vote came after an emotional public hearing. Parents described neglect and abuse that occurred at uninspected day cares.
Kevin and Stephanie Wallace of Prattville say two years ago their son Cooper was at an unlicensed church daycare. Late that afternoon they got a call saying their son, who was two at the time, had been in an accident and had broken his femur. He was rushed by ambulance to Children's Hospital and was in a three quarter body cast for three months.
"When they told us what happened, it was almost like they were guessing like, 'he may have fell on the floor, we think he fell on the floor.' They didn't know," claims Stephanie.
"The story we were told is that he was running and he fell. Every doctor that we've talked to, including doctors at Children's Hospital, said there's no way you can just fall on a floor and break the strongest bone in your body," said Kevin.
To this day, they still don't know what happened because they say an investigation never could be conducted.
"You can't lift him above your head, you can't put him at any height at all, can't really rough house with him or do anything really up high. Which leads us to believe that he was probably getting his diaper changed on a diaper changing table, the teacher turned and looked, and he either rolled off or fell off the table," explains Kevin.
Nearly half of the day cares in our state are not licensed which means these facilities do not have to meet state regulations such as worker to child ratios.
The Wallaces believe that was possibly a factor in their son's case.
"Accidents happen, if it was an accident then that's one thing. But there was no investigation, DHR had no part in it, and to our knowledge nothing was investigated by anybody," said Kevin.
"Had the ratios been to where they should have been, he would have been watched," said Stephanie. "We would have known what happened because to this day we still don't have a clue what happened and I think that's the biggest thing."
Opponents of the bill argued that most church facilities are well run and the bill could take away rights of churches.
"This bill, all it does, it completely takes out the exempt provision for church day cares, just takes them out and throws them totally in with total regulation by DHR. There are less restrictive ways to do that," says attorney Eric Johnston. "What we want to do is balance the interest of religious freedom with the balance of the interest of protecting the children and I think we can do that. I think this bill needs some serious work and it can be constitutional and it can obtain both of those objectives."
The bill by Rep. Pebblin Warren now moves to the House floor.