DENVER — Talk about red tape: Colorado's Department of Human Services last year proposed regulating child care businesses down to the number of crayons per box and the color of dolls kids can play with.
Also included: How many books child care centers should have, limits on computer and TV time, and bans on "googly eyes" and cotton balls, considered potential choking hazards.
Republicans in the Legislature say it highlights out-of-control government – and they are introducing a bill Friday limiting how far the state can go when it comes to regulating child care.
"This one is at the top of my list because it seems so contrary to what the governor has been saying he wants the state agencies to do," said GOP Sen. Kevin Lundberg. "I expected the governor, when he found about it, to say, `Whoa, hold on a minute – this isn't what I had in mind – and to pull the plug. But he hasn't.'"
The state says it's backing off some of the more controversial proposals but is still in the process of drafting dozens of pages of new rules for more than 1,300 licensed child care centers and more than 800 licensed preschools.
"We continue to support the Department of Human Services as it works through a public process on the proposed regulations," Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's office said in a statement.
Some child-care providers say they worry excessive rules will put them out of business. And Lundberg, who is sponsoring the legislation, said he wants to ensure that the state only regulates health and safety matters.
Department spokeswoman Liz McDonough said new rules are needed because child-care has evolved and is not just about putting kids in front of the television for eight hours.
Reggie Bicha, the executive director for Human Services, told a committee of lawmakers this week that quality child care helps children's long-term success.
"I don't think that we need to trade lowering standards to keep mediocre child care providers in business," he said, according to The Pueblo Chieftain.
Julie Krow, director of the Office of Children, Youth and Families, said businesses are contributing to the rules being crafted. At the earliest, it's possible a draft will be completed late this year, she said.
"We know that investing in early quality childhood education is an investment that saves money later," Krow said.
McDonough said guidelines on the "race" of dolls and classroom materials, such as having a minimum of 10 crayons per box, have been dropped. Officials said the proposal for crayons was based on national quality suggestions for a rich educational experience.
Sandy Bright, who directs three child-care centers in Weld County, is taking a wait and see attitude.
Bright said existing regulations have compelled her to pull her college transcripts from the early `70s as part of her child-care recertification. Employees are required to take classes with titles like "infant-toddler theory."
"Which is kind of interesting because if you don't take infants or toddlers, you're still required to take that course," Bright said.
Bright recently sought assurances from Hickenlooper at a luncheon for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry during which the governor reiterated his commitment to eliminating red tape.
"If these go through – four colors of dolls per classroom, numbers of crayons and numbers of everything. I've been in business for 40 years. I'm very concerned about where this is headed," she said.
Hickenlooper responded that his administration is aware of the child-care industry's concerns.
"I guarantee you no one's going to tell you how many crayons you have to have in your crayon box," he said.