Gov. Nathan Deal has signed into law a bill requiring child care workers to undergo comprehensive, fingerprint-based background checks.
Deal signed House Bill 350 on Wednesday at a school in Macon. The law is aimed at preventing those with a prior felony conviction from working around children.
“Georgia children are our most precious assets,” Deal said in a news release. “This legislation puts criminal checks in the hands of law enforcement agencies rather than private companies, ensuring that those processing the checks actually have the information and tools needed to protect our children.”
Current law requires only the director of a child care facility to pass the more comprehensive check. Additionally, only state background checks were required for child care workers, which allowed people with felonies in other states to work in Georgia’s child care programs.
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who helped get the bill through the Senate, said all the states surrounding Georgia have similar laws.
“Georgia doesn’t necessarily have a piece of legislation simply because another state does,” Miller said. “But when it comes to the protection of children, we don’t want to be seen as a safe haven or a place of opportunity.”
Under the legislation, all employees will have to pass the check before being eligible to work at a licensed child care facility in the state. An employee hired after January 2014 must have the fingerprint-based background check, and all current child care employees must be fingerprinted by Jan. 1, 2017, the news release said. A recheck is required every five years.
“In Georgia, we entrust the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of our youngest learners to the employees of child care facilities daily,” said Bobby Cagle, Department of Early Care and Learning commissioner, in the release. “Now we all will know with greater certainty that those working in the facilities are worthy of that sacred trust.”
The new law is expected to impact more than 6,000 child care employees working in the state.
Tara Miller, director of Discovering Basics at Quillians Corner in Clermont, said she thinks it’s a good law.
“The school system requires the same background check and fingerprints every five years,” she said. “It sends the message that Georgia’s going to have the same high standards for child care.”
The child care center takes care of 95 children and has two state pre-kindergarten classes. The director said she hasn’t sat down with her staff yet to talk about the new requirements, but she doesn’t expect it to greatly impact her facility.
“I think it’ll be just one more safety measure to make sure the kids are safe,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.