State News Roundup

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A federal judge in Richmond, Va., has struck down a Virginia law that exempted church-operated child-care centers from state licensing requirements.

U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams ruled late last month that the operation of day-care centers is a secular enterprise, not a religious activity protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, he said, the state has a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all children in day care.

"The risk that the state would interfere with the religious content and program of a church-run child-care center is remote and speculative,'' the judge wrote in the opinion.

The ruling could affect 169 church-run centers that are currently exempt from state licensing, and an additional 51 centers that have applied for such exemptions, according to DeAnn Lineberry, a spokesman for the Virginia social-services department.

The suit was brought by three nonexempt centers shortly after the law was passed in 1979. The plaintiffs argued that the statute unconstitutionally favored religious centers.

Under the law, church-run centers have received exemptions from state rules prohibiting corporal punishment, establishing minimum child-worker ratios, and mandating criminal-background checks and certain educational standards for workers.

Several church-operated centers that were allowed to intervene in the suit will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and will ask for a stay of the order, Ms. Lineberry said.

Florida youths sentenced to state training schools should receive better schooling and other services as the result of two settlements agreed to last month by state officials.

The settlements arose out of a federal class action that has come to be known as the Bobby M. case. The suit was filed in 1983 on behalf of 400 youngsters committed to Florida facilities for juvenile delinquents.

Betty Castor, state commissioner of education, last month agreed to ensure that the educational offerings available to teen-agers at the training sites comply with federal laws. A separate agreement was reached with the state department of health and rehabilitative services, which has primary responsibility for running the institutions.

According to Connie Ruggles, public-information director for the department, the state has agreed to eventually house no more than 200 youths in its two most restrictive facilities. In addition, the state must develop programs to help young offenders successfully return to the community, and create a review process that ensures that no youngster is placed in an overly restrictive setting.

Ms. Ruggles said the settlements' cost to state taxpayers has not been estimated.

Vol. 06, Issue 36

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