Elinor Smith

HELENA (UMLegislative News Service) -- A bill nearing the governor’s desk would try to address the childcare shortage in the state through loosened licensing requirements for certain types of daycares.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday and has one more vote before it moves on to Gov. Greg Gianforte for a signature or veto. 

House Bill 918 is sponsored by Rep. Alice Buckley, D-Bozeman, but Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, carried it on the Senate floor. Fitzpatrick said that the bill would not only help address the childcare shortage, but make sure daycares that are already up and running can stay in business. 

“We passed earlier in this session, a bill by Representative Carlson to eliminate some of the registration and licensing requirements. And what will happen now if that bill goes into effect and this bill does not go into effect is that you could potentially now have family daycares zoned out because they would no longer qualify as a residential use of property. This bill simply ensures that if you are running a licensed or unlicensed daycare, that you will still qualify as a residential use of property for zoning purposes,” Fitzpatrick said.  

House Bill 556, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jennifer Carlson, would exclude in-home daycares from needing a license if they care for six or fewer children and don’t charge. That bill passed both the House and Senate.  

There were no opponents of HB 918 Wednesday. It passed the House on a 72-27 vote earlier this month.

According to 2021 data from the Department of Labor and Industry, childcare in Montana currently only covers around 44% of estimated need. That gap kept almost 23,000 people out of the workforce. The bill faces one more vote in the Senate.