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Lawmaker: New rule for day camps excessive

ALBANY -- Red Rover, Red Rover, don't even think about coming over.

That could be the scenario this summer for day camps and similar programs across New York, where a lawmaker says new state Department of Health regulations will put a serious crimp in the fun of thousands of children.

State Sen. Patty Ritchie of Watertown wants the agency to postpone regulations under a new law that says day campers face a "significant risk of injury" from traditional summer games including capture the flag, kickball and tag.

Ritchie, a Republican, wants the health commissioner to hold off on the latest guidelines because she believes they'll put a staffing -- and financial -- burden on local recreational programs trying to comply with the law, which took effect April 1.

The amendment revises the definition of a summer children's day camp to include organized indoor group activities involving "nonpassive recreational activities with significant risk of injury." Under the agency's guidelines, those include such activities as archery and rock climbing, but also kickball, Red Rover, Wiffle ball and capture the flag.

The measure was aimed at closing a loophole in the law that allowed indoor day camps to operate without the same state oversight applied to outdoor day camps, even though some of the indoor camps were providing many of the same activities held at the outdoor ones. Proponents of the expanded guidelines said they wanted the indoor camps to be brought under the same safety regulatory umbrella as their outdoor counterparts.

In a letter written last week to the Health Department commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, Ritchie asked that the agency take another look at the new law and rethink the inclusion of Red Rover, Wiffle ball and other such games as falling under the category of "potentially dangerous," saying the regulation will require day camps in many of the smaller towns and villages to add staff such as medical personnel and pay $200 for a state permit.

"It's overregulation by the state of things that have been around for years and years," she said Tuesday. "I understand horseback riding, rock climbing as being potentially dangerous and should be regulated. It's certainly a stretch to include Red Rover and Wiffle ball and activities like that."

"I don't necessarily think it's a bad idea," said Jerry LaVigne, director of the Recreation and Parks Department for the Town of Brighton, outside Rochester.

But he said new regulations could have a financial impact. "As tax dollars get tighter, we have to pass the cost on to campers, so fees can go up," he said.

Health Department officials have said the activities considered to pose significant risk of injury are among a long list that's meant to be used only as general guidance for local municipalities to determine if their programs meet the criteria for a day camp.

Calls to the agency weren't returned Tuesday.

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