Joseph's Law will increase penalty for unlicensed daycare owners if child gets injured or dies

(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

WRIC Newsroom – CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A new law in Virginia aims to make in-home childcare and residential day care settings safer to prevent injuries or loss of life.

House Bill 1189 passed unanimously out of the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate during the 2016 General Assembly. The bill now heads to Governor McAuliffe's desk for him to sign.

Delegate Daun Sessoms Hester (D – Norfolk) sponsored the bill.

"I am grateful for the generous bi-partisan support this bill received," Hester said. "So many of my colleagues worked on behalf of HB1189."

The legislation will increase the penalty applied when a daycare operator willfully chooses to violate the law by not obtaining a license and then has a child die or become severely injured in the unlicensed daycare.

Currently, the illegal operation of a daycare is a misdemeanor. The law doesn't go beyond that. When the revised law goes into effect, the penalty will be increased to a Class 4 felony.

Advocates refer to HB1189 as Joseph's Law because the legislation was introduced in memory of Joseph Matthew Allen, the 1-year-old child who died in a house fire at an unlicensed daycare in Chesterfield County on October 22, 2014.

On the day the fire broke out, the daycare operator, Laurie Underwood, was taking care of eight children in her home. Underwood unknowingly started the blaze when she put fire pit ashes in a bag in her garage. There were no batteries in her home's smoke detectors.

After that tragic day, Joseph's parents, Jacquelyn and Matthew Allen, as well as his grandparents, LuAnn and Herman Allen, and many other advocates spent hours to bring about Joseph's Law.

"Joseph's Law is meant to be a deterrent," Hester said. "The cost of the day care license is minimal, and registration brings resources, tools and valuable information for the care of children. When the law is in place, it will say to providers, ‘Don't put the children you care for nor yourself in danger.' Follow the law and adopt the best practices that come with licensure."