Senator defends no regulations for religious day cares, despite - FOX10 News | WALA

Senator defends no regulations for religious day cares, despite death of child

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Kamden Johnson (Courtesy: Family) Kamden Johnson (Courtesy: Family)

FOX10 News Investigates is hearing from an Alabama state senator who opposes the regulation of church-affiliated day cares.

This, while a religious day care in Mobile is facing scrutiny after the death of 5-year-old Kamden Johnson.

Just two days after the 5-year-old died while in the care of his day care, Community Nursery and Preschool Academy, the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) inspected the facility and found 23 violations

That was the first time DHR inspected the center, because of a new federal law, which requires day cares that receive federal funding to be inspected. 

FOX10 News Investigates told State Senator Shay Shelnutt (R), of Senate District 17, who opposes regulation of religious day cares, about those violations. 

Here's what he had to say:

"If the daycare is doing something criminal, then the state can come in and shut them down," he said. 

However, according to DHR, the state cannot shut down a religious day care for violations, because it is exempt from state law.  

FOX10 News Investigates informed Shelnutt about that issue, to which he responded, "Well, I just don't believe that the state should have the authority over our churches."

Senator Shelnutt lobbied to end a bill in the last legislative session that would have created some regulations for religious day cares. 

In the phone interview with FOX10 News, he said he believes it's up to the parents to do better research before choosing a day care, and not up to the state to force religious facilities to use safety standards. 

"We've got to get out of this mentality of a nanny state, that the government is going to take care of us on everything," he said. "I don't think we can stop all tragedies, and I'm not sure more regulations will do that."

Meanwhile, Community Nursery and Preschool Academy staff member, Valarie Patterson, is out on bond, awaiting her next court hearing, after she was charged with manslaughter and abuse of a corpse in connection to the death of 5-year-old Kamden. 

"This is one of the most vulnerable populations, it's our children," explained State Representative Margie Wilcox (R), of Mobile. "We've got to have certain minimal standards, Alabama is only one of I think maybe seven total states that don't regulate day cares in this fashion. I understand the reluctance, but I think now is the time."

While many day cares like little Kamden's are beginning to be inspected, because of the federal funding they receive, DHR said there are still several hundreds of other day cares in the state that remain completely unregulated, because they are both religious exempt and they do not receive federal funding.

Representative Randy Davis (R), of Mobile and Baldwin, said he wants to see that change.

"What we've got to do is come up with something that our church facilities can live with, also our families can afford, and we can get the inspections that we need to provide the amount of safety that's needed for small children," said Davis. 

Shelnutt, meanwhile, also said he believes DHR is already "stretched too thin" to take on the responsibility of regulating religious day cares. 

Another bill is set to be proposed in the next legislative session beginning in January. 

FOX10 News Investigates will keep you posted as the issue proceeds. 

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