New law requires more background checks for daycare workers

Gov. Nathan Deal signed landmark legislation Wednesday mandating federal fingerprint-based background checks for all employees of the state’s 6,000 licensed child care centers.

In a separate move, Deal signed legislation that would give people from other countries quicker access to Georgia driver’s licenses, which he said will encourage more companies to locate offices and factories in the state.

The two events were part of a stepped-up schedule of bill signings across the state as a May 7 deadline looms for dozens of pieces of legislation. Any bill not signed or rejected by then automatically becomes law.

The day care legislation, House Bill 350, addressed worries that children might not be protected from predators if the only screening for staff is a name search of Georgia records. That’s all that’s required under current state law. Now the state mandates FBI fingerprint checks for directors, but not front-line workers, in child care centers. At least 25 states already require a more thorough, multistate background check.

“Now we all will know with greater certainty that those working in the [state’s child care] facilities are worthy of that sacred trust,” said Bobby Cagle, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, after the bill signing in Macon.

The law, which takes effect in January, requires all new child care centers seeking a state license to authorize the fingerprint and records checks. New employees will have the same deadline, January 2014, for having the fingerprint-based record check. However, those employed at a center before Jan. 1 aren’t required to have the background check until Jan. 1, 2017.

The driver’s license measure would allow Georgia to reach “reciprocity agreements” with other countries that allow their nationals to skip the state’s knowledge and on-the-road driver’s license tests, so long as they are legally present in the U.S. and hold valid driver’s licenses issued by their own countries. Their countries must also offer the same benefits to visitors with Georgia driver’s licenses.

The leaders of ProEnglish, a nonprofit group that supports making English the official language of all levels of government, urged Deal to veto the bill, saying voters “expect their elected officials to put road safety ahead of well-funded special interest groups.”

But the governor and other supporters said it would help boost the state’s economic competitiveness by helping the corporate executives who routinely visit the state. Deal said international companies bring in about 20 percent of the new jobs created in Georgia each year.

“The reciprocal benefits outlined in HB 475 will benefit the state’s status as a global player and reinforce Georgia’s reputation as a welcoming state,” he said.