We've been talking for a few days about a bill making its way through the one-seat majority Colorado Senate, Senate Bill 15-077–the so-called "Parent's Bill of Rights" that would reaffirm generally existing rights parents have in Colorado to opt children out of vaccinations, sexual education, and other "controversial" subjects. In addition to wading into the fraught issue of vaccinations with outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough making headlines, opponents argue that the bill could make it easier for bad parents to evade accountability for their own abuse of their children.
This weekend, the Denver Post and Durango Herald editorial boards both weighed in strongly against the bill:
Colorado is one of 19 states to allow parents to opt out on vaccinations for their children on philosophical grounds. This legislation would eliminate the need to even seek those exemptions. It also would require public schools to provide information about courses, materials and their sources within 48 hours of a parent's request…
Child advocates also say the legislation could impact sex abuse intervention — preventing a child being abused by a parent from seeking counseling without prior approval from the perpetrator.
Parents already exercise control over the education and care of their kids. If there is a specific area where that control has frayed, legislation could address it. But SB 77 does nothing more than create problems where none now exist. [Pols emphasis]
The Herald singled out "moderate" local Sen. Ellen Roberts for unusually harsh criticism:
Passed Thursday by the Colorado Senate Education Committee, the so-called “Parents Bill of Rights” would allow parents to control almost every aspect of their children’s lives – regardless of how their decisions might affect others. It particularly addresses the “right” to refuse immunization and sex education.
This is dangerous nonsense mitigated only by the fact that it is unlikely to become law. Even if passed by the Senate, it is almost certain to die in the House. One of the Senate sponsors, however, is state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango…
SB 77 is wrongheaded on a number of levels. Schools do not need micromanaging parents. And if parents want more control they can actually talk to their kids, visit their schools, get to know the teachers and maybe even vote in school board elections.
But on immunization, this bill would also go in the wrong direction. Colorado should be tightening its immunization law, not effectively dropping it. And Ellen Roberts should know better. [Pols emphasis]
Before and after the vote in the Senate Education Committee Thursday to advance the bill, top 2016 target Sen. Laura
Waters Woods of Arvada was hit by robocalls to swing voters in her swingiest of swing districts. Here's the call from before the vote:
Hello, I’m Krista, a Jeffco mom. If you’re like me and are alarmed about reports of measles outbreaks when parents failed to vaccinate their children, you’ll be alarmed to learn about Colorado Senate Bill 77. This bill would help children avoid immunization guidelines, undermine child abuse protections, and essentially put fringe beliefs into Colorado law. Call your senator, Laura Woods, now at 303-866-4840, and tell her how you feel about Senate Bill 77. Nobody should play politics with our children’s health.
This is crazy. Your senator, Laura Woods, just voted for legislation that is dangerous for children. Both Fox 31 and Channel 4 news reported that Senate Bill 77 would undermine child abuse protections and help children avoid immunization guidelines, even in the wake of a national measles outbreak. Instead of focusing on jobs, our senator is writing irresponsible ideas into law. Call Laura Woods now at 303-866-4840 and tell her to keep her politics away from our children.
Bottom line: as CBS4's capitol reporter said last week, Colorado Republicans couldn't have picked a worse time to push this legislation. Outbreaks of diseases against which most children have been routinely immunized for decades have thrust the issue of vaccine "opt outs" into the spotlight. Nationally prominent Republicans have provoked major backlash by suggesting that vaccines should be optional–and even repeating claims about links between "mental disorders" and vaccination that have been discredited by scientific research.
Last Thursday, the Senate Education Committee hearing quickly devolved into a forum for witnesses to air their own personal vaccination conspiracy theories. For anyone familiar with the facts of this debate as opposed to the pseudoscience espoused by "anti-vaxxers," it was enormously embarrassing for majority Republicans. The Republican chair of the Education Committee even admitted that his own children all have "different levels of vaccine" because he is unsure about them. On the other hand, you have 68% of the public agreeing that childhood vaccines should be mandatory. The intensity of public support for vaccinations, moreover, is much stronger than public support for, say, high capacity gun magazines.
What we're trying to say here is that Colorado Republicans are exposing themselves to enormous political damage to appease a very small minority of voters. So far in this new Republican Colorado Senate majority, the rightmost members of the caucus are driving the agenda. In the process, they risk alienating the mainstream electorate in a lasting and profound way.
Is there anyone who can pull them back? If even Ellen Roberts is on board the crazy train, the answer may honestly be no.