Bill to Suspend Child-Care Licenses Clears Health Services Committee

Times Staff Writer

A bill that would require the automatic closure of child-care facilities where serious injuries or deaths occur was unanimously approved Wednesday by the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

AB 644, sponsored by Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra), was prompted by the death last September of 9-month-old Douglas Charles Rudnicki of Brea, who was in the care of Cynthia Ann Brown, also of Brea.

Brown, 28, ran a child-care center in her home; she was licensed by the state Department of Social Services to supervise up to six children.

"Although within 48 hours . . . an autopsy was done and the child obviously died as a result of injuries inflicted by another (person), the department (of Social Services) did not act to suspend that license for a period of 11 weeks," Johnson said.

Brown was charged with murder last April. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for July 15 in North Orange County Municipal Court.

The bill would require the Department of Social Services to suspend a day-care facility's license within 48 hours after being notified by the police or sheriff's department that a child had died or was seriously injured there as a result of abuse or willful neglect, a Johnson aide said.

Suspension Hearing

Within 30 days of the suspension, there must be a hearing before an administrative law judge to decide whether to revoke the license. This hearing would be in addition to any criminal proceedings.

"The director of the Department of Social Services now has total discretion about whether to temporarily close facilities, and there is no time frame," said Linda Brown, a Johnson legislative assistant. "In these certain cases, we feel it should be automatic . . . to stop them from operating if there is strong suspicion that other children might be in danger."

Joseph Rudnicki, Douglas' father, testified Wednesday afternoon before the committee in his second trip to Sacramento on behalf of the bill.

Rudnicki testified in April before the Assembly Human Services Committee, which passed the bill unanimously. It also was passed unanimously by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and by the full Assembly. The bill must pass one more Senate committee before it can go before the full Senate. It could come to a vote by August, Johnson said. Rudnicki is optimistic about the bill's chances. "The reason this is so important is that this baby sitter had her license for 11 weeks after my son was murdered," he said. "My concern is that there were other children in the home, and we felt their lives were in jeopardy."

Opposition to Bill

The bill has come under attack by some members of the burgeoning child-care industry, Johnson said. Jerry Speraw, a board of directors member of the Preschool Assn. of California Inc., a Southern California industry group, testified against the bill at the hearing Wednesday, Johnson said. Speraw could not be reached for comment.

Dinah McElfresh, a spokeswoman for the National Assn. for Child-Care Management, said that although she has not seen this particular bill, she believes that such proposals single out day-care centers for punishment at the slightest charges of wrongdoing and even if the centers are not directly responsible for the problems.

"You don't close a whole hospital for a malpractice case that involves one doctor or one patient," said McElfresh, whose organization is a trade and lobby group for nearly 2,000 child-care centers across the country. "If one employee committed some type of a crime or is charged with some type of a crime, it would certainly disrupt a lot of peoples' lives to close that facility."

If the bill becomes law, it would be enacted on Jan. 1, 1986, and would affect only private day-care centers. Centers affiliated with public schools would be exempt because they are not licensed, Johnson said. The Department of Social Services said that as of January, there were 40,095 day-care centers in California; 33,293 were in private homes and 6,802 are larger commercial enterprises.

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