AUGUSTA — Chantel Pettengill and June Holman have been looking for help,

They may have found some on Wednesday, at a meeting of the Maine Regulatory Fairness Board, which was held in conjunction with the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce Business EXPO, the organization’s annual networking event.

Pettengill runs a child care center in Lewiston and Holman runs one in Portland. Both women said their ability to run their businesses is confounded and limited by regulations that are not clear, not uniformly applied and subject to a lot of individual discretion by visiting inspectors.

“I’m OK with regulation,” Pettengill said, noting that child care is a heavily regulated industry, and many of the regulations are complicated.

But among the requirements that she and Holman think hurt rather than help is the restriction that’s placed on who can work as directors.

Pettengill said that person is required to have both a bachelor’s degree and experience in child care. While her mother has many years of experience running and managing a business, Pettengill said she can’t hire to be her director — a position that she considers administrative — because her mother doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree and experience in a child care facility.

“No such burdens are placed on other businesses,” she said.

Having someone with business experience in that position frees her up to fill in if an employee calls in sick or quits with no notice.

If she has to do both jobs, she jeopardizes the ratio of adults to children that’s prescribed. If there aren’t enough adults, that constitutes a violation and can shut down an entire room. If that happens, parents have to find other child care on very short notice, which isn’t always possible.

“That’s a lot of parents who are not able to go to work,” she said.

If a violation is found, it can follow a child care center for years even if the problem has been solved, she said.

“We don’t have direct intervenor status,” Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said. He’s a member of the board, which takes testimony from Maine business owners on regulatory and statutory issues that affect them.

“Our ability to correct situations is limited,” he said, but added that the information the board hears is important to the discussions board members have with the Legislature and the governor’s office.

Peggy Shaffer, who is the small-business advocate with the secretary of state’s office, said businesspeople have some options under the law to seek help. One is drafting a proposed rule and submitting a petition to require that rule making take place.

They also can seek help from their state legislators to change legislation or to bring attention to the issue within state agencies.

“This is definitely not the way it ought to be, but if a supervisor gets a call from a legislator, that’s going to be on the top of their list for the rest of the day,” Dunlap said.

“Bringing the Regulatory Fairness Board to the EXPO was an opportunity for Augusta area businesses to have access to a business resource they may not be aware of,” said Ross Cunningham, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The EXPO, the chamber’s main networking event, is now held in the main hall of the Augusta Civic Center, after years of being in the north wing. Cunningham said more than 100 vendors drew nearly 1,000 people.

“We probably could have more booths, but that would max us out,” he said. “It’s been great to see the growth of this event.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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