The bill passed 9-2, and the committee chairman, Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, called it an effort to firmly and clearly send a message to the Department of Public Welfare that it must back off regulatory language that Catholic Church lobbyists worry could be used to encroach on religious freedom.
Aside from easing education and training requirements for the facility staff—anyone from a director to a 16-year-old employee—the bill also would transfer oversight of religiously affiliated child care facilities to the Department of Education.
A lobbyist representing the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference told committee members that the aim of the bill is to limit the authority of the Department of Public Welfare to impose rules that do not concern health and safety.
The lobbyist, Philip Murren, acknowledged that the department has not encroached on religious liberties.
But he said cease-and-desist orders from the welfare department are pending against 14 religiously affiliated child care facilities because they refuse to submit to a licensing process that they believe involves rules outside of health and safety concerns.
A Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman said Tuesday that the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett supports religious freedom in school and child care curriculum.
"But the governor believes it is also important to ensure the health and safety of our children," spokeswoman Carey Miller wrote in an email. "This is why we have health and safety regulations in place for the protection of our children in child care settings."