County commissioners backed away Thursday from an earlier, controversial plan to give church-run day-care centers freedom from county licensing and inspections for health and safety standards. At the behest of churches last August, commissioners had called for a new ordinance that would have given currently licensed church-run centers the chance to opt out of licensing and the county inspections that come with it.
The church centers instead would be inspected by religious education organizations, which would then give a sworn affidavit to the county saying they met standards.
But at a hearing on the ordinance Thursday, after listening to churches and children's advocates, commissioners voted 6-1 to draw up a new proposal.
This ordinance still would allow churches an exemption from licensing, which they say violates their religious freedom, but would require county inspectors to verify that unlicensed church centers were indeed meeting minimum health, safety and sanitation standards.
Church leaders said they had been unfairly depicted as not caring about the welfare of the children in their centers. They said they didn't object to meeting health and safety requirements, only tobeing required to have a government license.
But some of them objected to the county's new plan to send inspectors to their centers even if they submit an affidavit saying they follow the rules.
"I find it disturbing that I'm almost called a liar," said Glen Holmes of the Assembly of Free Worship Church.
But parent Candy Olson told commissioners she believed that the church leaders at the hearing cared about children but some others might not.
"Why should I take the word of a minister over the word of a day-care operator? I don't know either of them, and neither do you," Mrs. Olson said.
Assistant County Administrator Pat Bean said several commissioners asked the county staff in recent days about strengthening the ordinance proposed in August.
Then, the vote was 5-1 to do as the churches wished, with Commissioner Jan Platt voting against the proposal and Commissioner Pam Iorio absent.
Thursday night, only Commission Chairman Jim Selvey voted against the new proposal, saying, "every time we institute another regulation, we take away another freedom." Commissioners will consider the new ordinance April 19.