Day care providers say new Minnesota fingerprinting law goes too far
ST. PAUL — Julie Seydel, a licensed child care provider in Andover, Minn., for the past 15 years, strongly objects to a new state law that will require her teenage daughter to be fingerprinted and photographed.
"For kids, when you get your fingers printed and your mug shot, you're a criminal. That can be really traumatic to some kids," Seydel said.
State Sen. Jim Abeler, chairman of the Senate human services committee, agrees. He said collecting fingerprints from middle school-age children of day care providers "just seems over the top."
But the fingerprinting requirement arose in Minnesota because of a combination of laws the state Legislature and the governor approved over the last few years, as part of a drive to improve background checks on those who are around vulnerable populations. Republican Abeler and some of his Democratic colleagues say it goes too far — and Abeler, of Anoka, wants the law repealed.
Abeler has summoned state Department of Human Services officials to a Nov. 1 hearing before his committee to explain the policy.
What they will hear, the department's leading day care licensing officer said, is that state law says children ages 13 through 17 who live in a child care home must be fingerprinted and photographed.
Those children will not have to be "dragged down to the police station," a state official says. Instead, they can be printed and photographed at a UPS or FedEx store, a nursing home or child care center that provides those services, said Reggie Wagner, the department's deputy inspector general in charge of licensing care providers.
"It's a little bit like going to the DMV and getting your driver's license," Wagner said.
The fingerprinting requirement, once implemented, will apply to about 120,000 child care providers, employees and family members, she said. Perhaps 10 percent of those who must provide their prints will be providers' teenage children.
Abeler said the fingerprinting policy was an "unpleasant surprise" tucked into a 672-page human services budget bill passed in the waning hours of a special legislative session in May this year.
The final bill was presented to committee members less than two hours before the Legislature adjourned for the year, and most lawmakers weren't aware of the fingerprinting provision, said Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin.
The state law requiring rigorous background checks for teenagers who have contact with people receiving state-licensed services has been on the books since 2014, when both houses passed it unanimously, Wagner said. Teenagers living in licensed foster care homes or working in nursing homes or large child care centers already are being fingerprinted and photographed.
What's new, she said, is the Human Services Department is taking over from counties the job of doing background studies on people living or working in family child care homes. The state agency uses fingerprinting for all of its background checks, but counties don't.
A state law passed in 1989 requires the department to do background studies on children living in family child care homes. Until now, those studies included name, address, birth date, Social Security number and a check for a criminal record at the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Seydel, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Association of Child Care Professionals, said care providers didn't object to those checks because they didn't invade a child's privacy.
The federal government requires the state to submit fingerprints and photos of adults ages 18 and older who work in state-licensed child care programs to the FBI.
The Department of Human Services decided to collect fingerprints from children ages 13 to 17 living in child care homes, Wagner said, because they're a more accurate source of identification than the old background checks and allow government officials to "better track future criminal activity."
Fingerprints and photos of minors are not being sent to the FBI or state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, she said. The human services agency collects them primarily so nursing homes, child care centers and other licensed care providers can check the identity and records of job applicants and employees.
"It's an added security measure for providers who want to make sure that the person who they've hired is the person who has the background study," said Kristin Johnson, director of background studies in the human services agency inspector general's office.
Doing background checks "is at its core ensuring health and safety" of vulnerable children, Wagner said.
The bill requiring fingerprinting of minors received extensive public hearings in 2014, she said.
A hearing, meetings and possible changes
That law didn't apply to family child care homes at the time. Seydel told lawmakers that home day care providers didn't have any advance notice that their children would be fingerprinted when the state took over licensing their programs. It was done "with no stakeholder input or public hearings," she said.
She accused the Human Services Department of failing to inform providers about the new requirements and being slow to respond to their inquiries about the changes.
Wagner acknowledged that "we maybe didn't realize providers weren't aware" of the changes. But she said the department is trying to improve communications with them through a series of meetings around the state, mailings and postings on the department's website.
More than 4,000 Minnesota family child care providers went out of business last year, according to a recent report by the Center for Rural Policy and Development, a nonpartisan research organization headed by a former Republican legislator. Based on interviews with providers, the center reported that a "vast array of regulations" contributed to the decline.
Seydel said hundreds more providers have told the child care association they would close their doors before subjecting their children to fingerprinting and mug shots.
Wagner, the state official, plans to testify at the Senate hearing next week.
"If legislators choose to change (the fingerprinting requirement), we're happy to have conversations with them," she said.