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JEFFERSON CITY — A St. Louis County lawmaker’s proposal to crack down on unlicensed day cares is headed to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, the result of years of advocacy and a Post-Dispatch investigation that exposed Missouri’s lax regulations of in-home day cares.

“Nathan’s Law” was inspired by Nathan Blecha, who died in 2007 after suffocating at an unlicensed day care in Jefferson County. He was 3 months old. His caretaker, Nathan’s mother found, was taking care of 10 children at the time, four of whom were her grandchildren.

The Post-Dispatch, as part of its Deadly Day Cares series, published an article about Nathan on Oct. 10, 2011.

Currently, in-home day cares may serve four children, but caretakers may watch an unlimited number of relatives — a loophole that poses risks as caregivers are spread too thin.

Nathan’s Law, sponsored by Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, would limit the total number of children allowed at a home day care to six.

The bill would exempt only children living “in the caregiver’s home who are eligible for enrollment in a public kindergarten, elementary, or high school” from being counted toward the six-child limit.

Caretakers also would be allowed to care for no more than three children younger than age 2.

Anyone who violates Nathan’s Law would be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor and would be subject to a maximum fine of $750.

Missouri law now says a person who violates the current limits is guilty of an “infraction” and shall be fined up to $200.

Subsequent offenses under Nathan’s Law carry a $2,000-per-day fine.

Subsequent violators would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum one-year prison sentence, the same as penalties under current law.

“It has real teeth to encourage prosecutors to prosecute when there are problems,” Schupp said. “It also gives the Department of Social Services the ability to go in and prosecute if the local prosecutor will not.

“And it raises the fines and fees, so it’s really going to discourage people from watching too many kids and putting their lives in danger,” Schupp said.

Schupp said she had filed Nathan’s Law for 11 years, and credited former Post-Dispatch reporter Nancy Cambria with exposing the problem of unregulated day cares in Missouri.

“She worked diligently to get background information, to get stories, to get information from coroners and share that with me over the years,” Schupp said. “And now all of that work, for all of these years, has come to fruition.”

Schupp said that Parson, a Republican, had also supported her efforts this year.

Nathan’s Law was included in House Bill 397, a wide-reaching proposal dealing with topics related to child welfare.

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.

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