JEFFERSON CITY – Church child care ministries will no longer be exempt from government regulations if a bill filed by Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Waldo, becomes state law.
“House Bill 493 is a threat to religious liberties,” said Kerry Messer, lobbyist for Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission.
The question of licensing such ministries has been a recurrent effort in the Missouri General Assembly, but Messer calls HB 493 “the most direct frontal assault on church child care ministries that we’ve had in almost 30 years.
“Current law was adopted decades ago with the understanding and the promise that church ministries would never be licensed by the state.
“The following year and dozens of years since then, we have had to fight back multiple efforts to violate that promise. Most battles have been of ambiguous and/or sneaky ways of bringing ministries into government control,” he said.
The bill would specifically repeal the provisions exempting child care facilities maintained or operated under the exclusive control of a religious organization. It would also apply to any person caring for four or fewer children and to all nursery schools.
Messer noted that LaFaver is a former lobbyist for children’s advocacy groups which have been seeking the changes for years and for the American Civil Liberties Union.
He asked for churches’ prayers on this issue as well as other issues “where God’s wisdom and grace is needed in defending religious liberties while maintaining our witness and ambassadorship for Christ at the Capitol.”
In other legislative news, a bill extending tax credits for pregnancy resource centers, food pantries and other charitable works was among the first to make it to the governor’s desk in this session of the Missouri General Assembly.
Senate Bill 20 (SB 20), introduced by Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, received final approval from the Legislature March 13, just before the lawmakers adjourned for their spring break.
The bill would provide tax credits to several organizations such as child advocacy centers, crisis care centers, programs that remodel homes for disabled residents, and several other charitable endeavors.
Messer explained that benevolence tax credits are in a different package than business tax credit proposals.
“SB 20 is about benevolence-based tax credits, where we use tax policy to encourage people to do good things,” Messer said.
“In the long run, the benevolence tax credits save the state more than they cost because they alleviate the demands on the state’s social services programs.”
Several existing benevolence tax credits have already expired and others are due to expire Aug. 28, 2013. Dixon’s legislation would extend all of them to Dec. 31, 2019.
The separation of benevolence tax credits from business tax credits has been the legislative strategy for several years, said Messer.
“For-profit corporations make more money versus the benevolence-based tax credits where non-profit entities and ministries leverage the voluntary donations they’re given to better provide social service needs on various levels,” he said.