NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In July 2021, state investigators said an East Tennessee woman was running an unlicensed daycare facility in Hamblen County.

Investigators counted 36 children in her care and 23 of them crammed into a single-car garage for most of the day.

But under state law at the time, that daycare owner wasn’t criminally charged because she hadn’t physically hurt any of the kids.

State Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) co-sponsored HB 2583 which became law this month. He explained that now the penalty for running an unlicensed daycare facility in Tennessee has increased from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony.

“This will kick in and provide this layer of protection for the children who might be abused and might not be able to communicate it effectively,” Hardaway said.

Daycare workers face the same consequence if they are found to be mentally or emotionally abusing kids, too.

“We definitely want to keep our children from having to endure that psychological-emotional abuse because that’s the most serious age for development,” Hardaway said.

Hardaway added the new law better protects Tennessee children and sets them up for a brighter future.

“If we start them off right, then we’ve got more of a chance to successfully help that child to navigate all the way through K-12, through higher education, if they so chose, and become productive citizens,” Hardaway said.

The law went into effect July 1.