COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's large day care centers will be inspected fewer times under a measure tucked into the state's $5.8 billion proposed budget.
That spending plan, up for debate Tuesday in the Senate, deals with what was once a projected $700 million shortfall through a combination of spending and program cuts and state revenue growth from an improving economy and an increased cigarette tax.
Day care licensing is among hundreds of temporary law changes that the Senate will take up this week. They tell agencies how, where and when to spend money, and what services they'll offer.
Under that proposal, day care operators will see their two-year licenses extended to three through the Department of Social Services.
DSS said it will continue to do unannounced inspections twice a year. But others tied to renewing a license will come only every three years. For instance, the Department of Health and Environmental Control will move to a three-year food safety inspection instead of making those routine checks when licenses are renewed every two years, DHEC spokesman Thom Berry said.
The change worries child welfare advocates like Sue Berkowitz, executive director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
"That's scary," Berkowitz said. "Something like making sure our children are in a safe environment is something that should not be taken lightly."
Leigh Bolick, the DSS director of child care services, said the change will not compromise safety. Apart from the twice yearly, unannounced inspections, the centers will be required to keep paperwork up to date on staff changes. DSS also will continue to inspect centers based on complaints.
"One of the benefits is it's going to be a lot friendlier to the facilities," Bolick said. The longer licensing time means less time dealing with paperwork, she said. "I feel like they'll have more time to focus on caring for kids. ... I think that this is going to be good for children."
State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, added the measure to the spending bill at the request of day care operators.