State lawmakers acting to prevent repeat of Merrillville dangerous day care incident

State Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, speaks in the Indiana House about her proposal to improve day care safety in this photo provided by the House Republican caucus.

Provided

INDIANAPOLIS — A Merrillville day care where police allegedly discovered loaded guns, knives and half-emptied liquor bottles within reach of children is prompting state lawmakers to take action they hope will prevent a similar incident from happening again.

The Indiana House voted 94-0 Tuesday to advance House Bill 1073, sponsored by state Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, to the Senate.

It authorizes the state to immediately shut down any licensed day care facility, home or ministry if weapons of any kind are found in a place that is accessible to children.

"Between January 2016 and November 2017, there were 463 child care providers cited for violations concerning children’s accessibility to dangerous items," Olthoff said. "We must protect children with no tolerance for unsafe conditions."

The measure also requires day care operators prove to the state that they have all the necessary business permits or licenses required by their town, city or county.

Olthoff said that provision gives local governments more awareness of who is operating day care facilities in their community.

"(The) dangerous daycare incident in Merrillville made me realize that local officials are another needed layer of oversight for child care operations," Olthoff said.

"This legislation empowers local officials with the necessary information and right to inspect child care centers, and act quickly if they discover an unsafe environment."

In addition, Oltoff's plan allows the state to require day care operators who lose their licenses to wait at least one year before seeking reinstatement.

Her measure is co-sponsored by state Reps. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, and Vernon Smith, D-Gary; and by state Sens. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.