AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Monday to direct the Department of Health and Human Services to develop rules that comply with federal fingerprinting and background check laws for child care workers.

The new federal mandate was enacted in 2014 as part of the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which funnels some $17 million to Maine to help low-income families afford child care.

According to members of the Judiciary Committee, about $800,000 of that money could be at risk if Maine doesn’t implement fingerprinting and background checks for employees at child care centers licensed or certified by DHHS by September of 2017.

In its Child Care and Development Fund state plan, DHHS stated Maine does not plan to implement the fingerprint check as part of its background check program. Rep. Joyce Maker, a Republican from Calais, has introduced legislation to compel the department to do so.

If enacted, LD 1689 would force DHHS to develop rules — which would then come back to the Legislature for a second approval — to implement the fingerprinting program, which would be similar to what public school teachers have been required to do since 1999.

The committee, in a unanimous vote Monday, also agreed to implement a study group to ensure the rules are consistent with federal law and manageable for child care providers. One issue that needs to be resolved is who would pay for the fingerprinting and background checks.

Following another work session scheduled for Thursday that is largely administrative, the bill will head to the full Legislature for consideration.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.