ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Senate passed several bills Monday loosening regulations for daycares, amid concerns that state licensing rules are driving child care providers out of business and worsening a shortage that's most acute in rural areas.

Lawmakers have expressed alarm about a growing number of daycare providers who've closed or left the profession, decrying low pay, burnout and frustrations over steep regulations that they say has made their jobs difficult. The Senate overwhelmingly approved three measures that supporters say will help by relaxing a number of regulations.

The number of family child care providers statewide dropped from nearly 11,000 in 2011 to about 9,000 in 2016, according to the Department of Human Services.

Sen. Bill Weber, a Republican from Luverne, said rural areas have been hit hardest by that decline because of fewer child care options and workers able to fill jobs openings. He said legislative action was urgent.

"We don't have until next year to deal with this crisis," Weber said. "We need to deal with it today in order to keep our daycare options available to working families in Minnesota."

Weber's bill would allow the Department of Human Services — which oversees child care facilities — to license more workers by factoring outside work experience in their qualifications. Weber said his bill also requires the department work toward reducing "onerous regulatory burdens."

Another measure would remove requirements to finger-print and photograph teenagers who live at a home day care. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican from Big Lake, said that requirement is unnecessary for protecting the health and safety of kids in child care.

Julie Seydel, the policy director for the Minnesota Association of Child Care Professionals, said the problem is worse in rural Minnesota because public programs for low-income child care pay less outside of the Twin Cities metro area. She said that has led to day care providers turning away low-income clients because the reimbursement rates haven't kept up with operating costs.

Kiffmeyer said she sees state rules compounding pressures for care providers to close.

"If you add on top of that all the regulations, which increase your cost and hassle, that about just sinks the whole ship," she said.

Similar measures have been introduced in the House but haven't reached the floor for a full vote. Lawmakers say they plan to meet after session to continue discussing child care concerns.