Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- Licensed child care providers in Montana only cover 44% of the estimated need across the state. In 2021, that gap took almost 23,000 parents out of the workforce, according to the Department of Labor and Industry.

A bill that would try to address the childcare shortage by loosening licensing requirements passed the House of Representatives 78-22 Monday. 

Rep. Alice Buckley, D-Bozeman, is the sponsor of House Bill 918, which would change zoning laws in Montana to allow some daycares to operate in residential areas without a license. She said the bill would help address the gaps in child care coverage.

“As you all know, a key part of expanding access to childcare is allowing Montanans to care for their kids, their neighbors' kids in their own homes,” Buckley said. 

Under current law, Montanans need a license to run a daycare at home. There are three main childcare businesses that are allowed in a home; a group home, a family home and a friend, family or neighbor provider. Each tier has different requirements for appropriate day-to-day care and HB 918 would allow “family homes” and “group homes” to run without a license.

That would mean a daycare with a minimum of two adults and a maximum of fifteen children could legally run in a residential area without a license. 

During a debate on the bill Monday, Republican Representative Steven Galloway from Great Falls said he is concerned the bill will hurt daycares that are already licensed and operational under current law.

Buckley said there was more than enough child-care demand to go around, and making it easier for more daycares to open wouldn’t detract from anyone’s business. 

“We will likely have a landscape in Montana where some of those family daycare homes and group daycare homes are licensed, and some of them are not licensed,” Buckley said. 

The bill faces a final vote in the House before moving on to the Senate for consideration.