A Colorado bill to tighten the process parents use to opt their children out of vaccines is headed for a final vote in that chamber after nearly three hours of debate Thursday and one person being asked to leave for yelling, “We will not comply.”
The bill would require parents who choose not to vaccinate their children to either get a medical provider to sign off on a form for a nonmedical exemption or receive online education about vaccines. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would maintain a confidential database with information on students who have opted out.
It passed second reading on a voice vote, so it’s not clear how many or which lawmakers supported it.
Despite a consensus from medical professionals on the efficacy of vaccines and polling showing a majority of Coloradans support the proposed measure, the bill has received significant pushback from a vocal minority of parents who say they are being discriminated against for their choices. Parents who say they have children who have been injured from vaccines or who oppose having their information in a government database have been fighting the effort for the second year in a row, testifying against the bill at a hearing last week for more than 15 hours.
The opponents, who are of mixed political ideologies, have found allies in most Republican lawmakers. A GOP bill seen as an antidote to Senate Bill 163 died in committee Wednesday.
Twenty amendments were proposed to the bill, at the request of supporters and opponents, and 10 were adopted, including one to clarify that home-schoolers would be exempt from the new process.
“The bill is as bare bones as it can be and makes as few changes as possible but still honors and gets to where the studies and the science say there needs to be equal effort on both parents that choose to opt out and parents that choose to opt in,” sponsor Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, told The Denver Post.
Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, spoke at length in Thursday in opposition to the bill, and though the senators thanked the sponsors for their willingness to consider amendments, they still voted against it.
“It’s a philosophical objection,” Lundeen said. He objected to the bill combining religious and personal exemptions into one category and keeping a centralized database of information on families who opt out.
“The bill still says you are choosing, based on your research, your experience, to do something different, to behave differently, than the government prefers you behave,” he said.
But Priola and Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, said the issue is about increasing Colorado’s low vaccination rates to bump up herd immunity from infectious diseases, and the streamlined process doesn’t get rid of personal choice.
“We have to operate on the best science and the best data we have now to protect small children, immunocompromised folks and just to reduce health care costs,” Priola said.
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