Texas lawmakers hear testimony on proposed child care law

HOUSTON – Testimony was at times emotional Tuesday during a House Human Services Committee hearing in Austin as lawmakers heard differing opinions on a proposed law that would require child care facilities to install cameras.

The bill was filed by state Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Dist. 143, following the 2016 death of a 2-month-old boy at a Houston-area day care.

“I think we all agree today the safety of these children is everyone's priority,” Hernandez told the committee.

House Bill 459 would not only require licensed child care facilities to install cameras in every portion of a facility where children are cared for, but would also require the facilities to keep video and audio recordings for three months. Shawna Diaz has been pushing for this type of legislation since her son, Shane, died at Bibs and Cribs day care in 2016. Her son was found unresponsive after being put down for a nap.

Shane's death was at first ruled a case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, and the facility was initially cleared of any wrongdoing. Diaz refused to accept that answer and hired Houston attorney Joe Alexander. A year after her son died, Alexander said the truth finally came out during depositions. The facility’s owner and mother initially told police and state child care investigators Shane was placed to sleep on his back and was being supervised. During the depositions, the women gave conflicting answers as to who was supervising Shane at the time he stopped breathing and admitted the infant had been placed to sleep on his stomach, a violation of state rules.

Both the Department of Family and Protective Services and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office reopened the investigations into Shane’s death. The facility eventually closed its doors and was hit with a long list of state violations. Diaz said her long search for the truth could have been avoided had the facility’s cameras been turned on and recording the day her son died. Diaz said the cameras would have captured how Shane was put to sleep and who was watching him during his nap.

“No one is here defending the kids that are being neglected and abused,” Diaz said during her testimony.

Other mothers of children who died or were injured at child care facilities support the bill.

“He was lying in urine and vomit face down in the crib,” Casey Jones testified was the condition she found her son while he was being cared at the same facility where Shane died.

Dikeisha Whitlock-Pryer, whose son died after being left in a hot day care van, also testified during the hearing.

“It should be mandatory that day care facilities have videos,” said Whitlock-Pryer.

However, some child care facility owners expressed concerns the bill was overly intrusive in requiring cameras to be in every part of a facility, as well as the cost of having systems that can store audio and video for 90 days.

Lonnie Hutson, with Kids R’ Kids, told the committee he supports cameras in child care facilities, but the language of the bill should be narrowed in exactly where cameras would be required. Hutson also suggested trimming the 90-day storage requirement to seven days to help ease the financial burden on private businesses.

“That kind of language needs to be changed in here,” Hutson said.

Others argued cameras won't prevent a worker from not following the rules already in place to protect children. The executive director of the Texas Private Schools Association, Laura Colangelo, said the schools under her purview already far exceed minimum requirements set by the state.

“Installing intrusive cameras in every corner of every classroom is not going to help us continue with that mission,” Colangelo said.

However, Diaz argued cameras would act as a deterrent to neglectful behavior.

“When you know you're being recorded, you're going to be doing what you're supposed to be doing,” Diaz said.

Alexander also testified and used a convenience store where he bought coffee as a comparison for why this bill needed to pass.

“Twenty-seven cameras in that convenience store to protect the inventory of cigarettes, beer and candy bars. If that sort of inventory is worth protecting, certainly our children are,” Alexander said.

The measure was left pending in committee and Hernandez said she is working to address any concerns child care workers may have about her bill.