By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service
LANSING – A couple of months ago, a Middleville woman who cared for children found that her act of kindness almost turned into jail time.
Lisa Snyder watched her neighbors’ kids wait for the school bus after their parents had left for work.
However, a neighbor complained to state officials and the Department of Human Services cited her for running an unlicensed day care operation.
Snyder wasn’t paid for watching her friends’ children but she almost landed in jail.
Snyder’s case prompted a new law that differentiates between daycare operations and casual babysitting.
Rep. Brian Calley, R-Portland, was instrumental in the change. He took on Snyder’s case even though she wasn’t his constituent and urged the revision on her behalf.
“I initially wasn’t aware of how the Department of Human Services applied the law,” said Calley, the lead sponsor. “The law needed clarification and to get government out of the way of good neighborly actions. A lot of people related to the situation because they have done the same thing.”
Rep. Mike Huckleberry, D-Greenville, sponsored a similar Legislation and also spoke out on the issue, saying that it was a situation in which one neighbor was helping another.
A 1973 state law said that non-relatives could babysit only in their home and for only 28 days each year, regardless of how many minutes or hours the child was watched. Otherwise, the babysitter was required to acquire a daycare license.
If Snyder had been found guilty under the previous law, she would have received a misdemeanor conviction.
Human Services worked closely with Gov. Jennifer Granholm to revise the law and assure that there would be no similar misinterpretations in the future. Director Ismael Ahmed said the change clarifies what most people already know: helping neighbors should not result in legal penalties.
To make things clearer, the revised law exempts unpaid babysitting from daycare licensing requirements, Calley said.
To qualify for an exemption, a sitter can’t be paid more than $600 a year, Calley said.
“The law passed unanimously and moved faster than almost any other bill for a reason,” Calley said. Snyder “was just doing a favor, and that is the law we are working with today.”
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.