FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports on the debate yesterday over Senate Bill 15-077, the so-called "Parent's Bill of Rights" legislation that would, among other provisions, reaffirm existing parental rights in Colorado to not vaccinate one's children. As we discussed early this week, Colorado's existing law on this subject is already controverisally lax, allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations with no real justification. With outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough being widely publicized, Colorado's 82% childhood vaccination rate, the lowest in the nation, arguably makes this a more urgent question in our state than elsewhere.
For the most part, GOP proponents of this legislation have not led with defending the freedom to not vaccinate children, though prime sponsor Sen. Tim Neville readily admits that is one goal of the bill. Possible 2016 Republican presidential contenders Chris Christie and Rand Paul were both heavily criticized in the aftermath of present measles outbreak in California for making statements that appeared to support "anti-vaxxers"–and in Paul's case, repeating a myth about a connection between vaccines and "mental disorders" that has been thoroughly debunked. Even in Colorado with our somewhat lower rate of vaccinated children, the percentage remains high enough that planting one's flag with the "anti-vaxxers" seems like a grave political risk.
But that appears to be exactly what Colorado Republicans did yesterday.
Propelled by emotional testimony from a group of parents who oppose vaccines as well as some school-based testing and non-academic surveys, legislation seeking to establish a ‘Parent’s Bill of Rights’ passed its first test at the Capitol Thursday…
Colorado progressives, focusing on the hot-button issue of vaccinations, panned the vote.
“News reports this week show that Colorado has the lowest rate of childhood vaccinations in America,” said Amy Runyon-Harms, the executive director of ProgressNow Colorado. “Right-wing politicians like Rand Paul have come under fire for suggesting that vaccines might be responsible for mental health problems in children, even though that theory has been totally discredited by scientific research.”
“Right on cue, extreme conservatives in the Colorado Senate have introduced a bill reaffirming the ‘right’ of parents to not have their children vaccinated. With outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough making nationwide headlines, is there a worse message we could send to Colorado parents?”
The Denver Post's Electra Draper:
Several parents spoke in opposition to school vaccination requirements and programs.
"Parents do not realize how powerless they are," said Debbie Carroll of Littleton…
The measure…[underscores] current Colorado law that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids for medical, religious or personal beliefs by signing a waiver. 7NEWS asked if the bill would get rid of the waiver process.
"Yes, I mean, I would assume so," Neville said. [Pols emphasis]
Sources at the hearing tell us that, after a measured start that included a great deal of testimony from Colorado PTA and the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Interfaith Alliance in opposition to the bill, a long string of witnesses focused almost exclusively on the vaccine issue turned the hearing into a veritable circus of unrefuted, largely discredited pseudoscience. Although a popular speculative subject for lay public "researchers," some of whom showed up to testify yesterday, numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown no link between autism and vaccinations.
There is a percentage of Americans, of course, who place no higher value on peer-reviewed scientific research than anything else they read. With an issue like vaccinations, as opposed to, say, climate change, the consequences of the ignorance/paranoia/whatever motivating a relatively small number of people to avoid vaccinations for their children may not take generations to appear. Perhaps it will be your next trip to Disneyland. Or when a kid on your block comes down with whooping cough.
When that happens, as AP's Nicholas Riccardi reports, voters will know who to blame:
As vaccine skeptics fight laws that would force more parents to inoculate their kids, they are finding unexpected allies in conservative Republicans…
"This boils down to, does the government force everyone to conform or do we empower everyone to make decisions on their own?" said Colorado state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican who did not fully vaccinate his children and led the fight against last year's bill. [Pols emphasis]
During yesterday's hearing, Senate Education Committee chair Sen. Owen Hill reportedly admitted that all of his children have "different levels of vaccine" because of his family's uncertainty over vaccination safety. Such highly questionable personal decisionmaking puts these lawmakers on the opposite side of the overwhelming majority of Colorado parents who have opted to vaccinate their kids. And public health experts across America. And the peer-reviewed science. At the same moment this issue is making national headlines.
If there's a scenario in which this does not end in political disaster, we'd like to hear it. Because we foresee some very potent ads being made against this legislation, and everyone who supports it.