HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After several children died or were severely injured at licensed day care operations, Hawaii lawmakers are now pushing for tougher laws and harsher penalties for childcare providers who break the law.
Under the bill, House Bill 2528, any adult relatives who help daycare operators care for children will be required to get a criminal background check.
The proposal also significantly increases the fines for violations.
Daycare operators could face a minimum penalty of $1,000 up to $3,000 per day for violations such as having more children than the license permits or not fixing safety hazards in the home.
"We needed to step up and pass laws to address these concerns to our keiki and for their parents for peace of mind," said state Rep. John Mizuno, who co-introduced the bill.
But some childcare providers are worried the new rules may backfire.
Pualani Ramos has run a preschool from her home in Kailua for the past 17 years. She said she's concerned that the bill's hefty fines may discourage responsible childcare providers from doing business.
"Revoke someone's license and you take away their livelihood. That should be fine. But these big heavy fines, who makes that kind of money?" Ramos said.
Ramos said when it comes to child safety, it's also important to be able to hire well-trained, professional assistants.
She said on Oahu, at-home daycare providers can only get help from relatives.
Ramos points to the case involving Peyton Valiente, who almost died from injuries he suffered at an Ewa Beach day care in 2015 when he was just 17 months old.
The Valientes' attorney says charges were never filed because all the family members who were home at the time refused to testify.
"There couldn't even be a conviction even though it was obvious the child suffered abuse in the daycare home because everyone who was there was family and they wouldn't testify against each other," said Ramos.
Mizuno said he would be open to giving day care providers more staff and he added that lawmakers will be working with the childcare industry on amendments to the bill.
He said he understands the concerns that the rules are strict, but he says that's the whole point when it comes to protecting children.
"If some (childcare providers) want to opt out, it's up to them, but again, we can't do this at the expense of a child's life," Mizuno said.
Last year, Gov. David Ige signed into law a bill that requires liability insurance for all childcare providers. The bill was named after four-month-old Wiley Muir who died at a Honolulu day care in 2014.