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Child Care and Development Block Grant Hits Roadblock

UPDATE

Despite the excitement surrounding the bipartisan, bicameral deal struck on the Child Care and Development Block Grant bill, it may not be moving through the U.S. Senate for now. 

That's because Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., has a hold on it.

So what's Toomey's beef with the largely noncontroversial measure?

Well, the child-care bill, which the House passed on Monday, would, among other things, require states to conduct comprehensive background checks on child-care providers, something only about a dozen states call for now.

Toomey introduced a similar background-check bill last October that hasn't budged, and he is demanding a vote on it prior to the child-care bill.

"He has a hold on the bill because he wants his bill to go through," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee after a hearing Wednesday. "He's been pushing it very hard with Senator [Joe] Manchin [D-W.Va.] We've been working with him for a long time to get it right, but Senator [Lamar] Alexander [R-Tenn.] has his own problems with it that are different than mine."

The chairman's remarks followed a hushed 10-minute discussion with ranking member Alexander and both their staffs over how to work around Toomey's hold.

Toomey's bill, the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, would require schools to perform background checks on all new and existing employees and forbid schools from hiring people who have been convicted of certain crimes, including any violent or sexual crime against a child.

The measure, which the House passed last October, would also ban schools from "passing the trash"—the practice where a school allows a known child molester to resign quietly and helps that person find a new teaching job.

Both Harkin and Alexander support the goal of Toomey's proposal, but each have specific grievances with it.

Harkin, for example, would like to add language allowing individualized reviews upon request, something that the child-care bill includes. Alexander, on the other hand, pointed out that the bill requires states to conduct the background checks, but for some states, background checks are the responsibility of the local jurisdictions.

[UPDATE (1:40 PM): Elizabeth "E.R." Anderson, communications director for Toomey, said that the Pennsylvania Republican wants a swift vote on both his bill and the child care bill.

"Sen. Toomey believes that we should protect all children from sexual predators, not just those in federally funded day care," Anderson said in an email. "The bipartisan Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives almost a year ago, and there's no excuse for further delay. Every day we wait, another child is at risk."]

[UPDATE: (6:55 PM): Commenting on the bill going forward, Harkin said: "Our staff has been working actively with Senator Toomey and we are continuing to do so. We just want to ensure that we don't jeopardize a bipartisan/bicameral bill to improve child care that passed with 96 votes for an unrelated issue. This is too important and we shouldn't allow it to slow down passage of CCDBG which will help millions of families."]

Harkin said he was hopeful they would be able to free up the child-care bill by coming to a final agreement on Toomey's bill at some point this week.

Harkin's chief education counsel, Mildred Otero, had sharper words for the hold:

"We have been working actively [with Toomey on his bill] at a staff level—actively—and we are continuing to do so and we do have language that we're working on and trying to finesse to put in place and move forward. It is just that we don't want to jeopardize background checks in child-care centers for background checks in the K-12 setting. We shouldn't be playing this game. His concerns do not amend CCDGB, and it's not about CCDGB."

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