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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Littwin: A Parent’s Bill of Rights, brought to you live from talk-radio land

Littwin: A Parent’s Bill of Rights, brought to you live from talk-radio land

As you’ve no doubt heard, Colorado is last in the nation — dead last — when it comes to kindergartners being vaccinated against measles.

It’s not just embarrassing, it’s a scandal, particularly at this time when measles, once declared dead and gone in America, are suddenly back. The experts say Colorado is ripe for a Disneyland-like crisis. And so, as any good citizen might, I went to the state Capitol to see what our elected leaders had to say about it.

Let’s just say I’ve had better ideas.

I found myself at a Senate Education Committee hearing on the so-called Parent’s Bill of Rights. This is different from the original Bill of Rights in that the original version was actually about the rights of American citizens. The founders may not have gotten everything right — you know: slaves, women, well-regulated militia — but they did a heck of a job for the time.

The bill sponsor explained that “parents’ rights are under attack.” Forget the war on Christmas. In this war, children can actually get hurt.

This Bill of Rights, meanwhile, is about confirming that, when it comes to their children, parents are always right or, if they’re not right, it’s not up to the government to tell them they’re wrong. And so the bill presents a long list of rights, most of them already in place, and says that, if you think we were serious about this stuff before, we’re really, really, really serious about it now.

Sen. Tim Neville, the bill’s sponsor, explained that the reason for the bill is that “parents’ rights are under attack.” Forget the war on Christmas. In this war, children can actually get hurt.

Which brings us to the parents’ rights to exempt their children from being vaccinated. Colorado already has one of the most liberal opt-out plans in the country. If you’re a parent and you want your child exempted, all you have to do is say you’re philosophically opposed to the vaccines, and that’s it.

The bill’s backers were saying before the hearing that this really wasn’t an anti-vaccine bill, but then the hearing began. If you’ve spent three hours listening to the outer edge of the outer edge of talk radio, you’ve got some idea of what the afternoon was like. It was a seminar on parents knowing more than doctors, more than scientists, certainly more than legislators. And I kept hoping someone was working on a vaccine against conspiracy theories.

A year ago, the House passed a bipartisan bill that would have required parents who wanted a vaccine exemption for their children to take an online course and get a note from a doctor. The theory is that, when the convenience factor is diminished, the vaccine rate increases. But when the bill went to the Senate, the doctor’s note was gone, and what was left was a watered-down version of the bill that basically accomplished nothing. And that was with Democrats controlling both houses. And now we’re talking about a bill of rights that would apparently include the right of parents not to be inconvenienced.

And yet, I had hope that Republicans might want to find an excuse to kill this bill, which, after all, is just one more losing battle in the culture wars. Just last November, the GOP won the Senate majority for the first time in 10 years, and already they seemed to have forgotten how they lost it in the first place.

The committee had a perfect opportunity to abandon the bill when one children’s advocate explained in her testimony that, if this bill were passed into law – don’t worry, it won’t be — it would mean that children couldn’t talk to a counselor about abuse in the home without the abusive parents being informed. That would seem to be a clincher. But the Senate majority on the committee basically decided to ignore that fact, although Sen. Vicki Marble later asked what about the predators who weren’t in the home, and I was looking for that vaccine again.

The bill passed on a 5-4 party line vote. I don’t blame the parents who testified of their belief in the long-debunked vaccination-autism link. I blame the legislators, who are supposed to be able to get this stuff right.

It’s no secret why Colorado is among the league leaders in anti-vaxxers. Though we may be a moderate state, we also have a disproportionate share of those on the crunchy left and the anti-government right, and both sides seem to be equally wacky on this issue. This wackiness can be endearing — it’s what gives Colorado personality — but not in this case.

If you know anything about vaccinations, it’s that the vaccines aren’t about protecting the people who take them, but protecting those who can’t or won’t. It’s the concept of herd immunity, and according to the medical community, Colorado is below the critical mass to protect babies who haven’t yet gotten the vaccine, the elderly, those with auto-immune diseases. A national median of 95 percent of American kindergartners have been vaccinated. In Colorado, the number is just under 82 percent.

I spoke to Rep. Dan Pabon, who co-sponsored a bill last year on vaccinations with Sen. Irene Aguilar. He plans to introduce something again this year, although he realizes it stands little chance of passing.

“It’s starting to feel like the Flat Earth Society out there,” Pabon said. “The science on vaccines is settled, the effectiveness of vaccines is settled, but the situation is worse now than it was last year.”

And here’s my unscientific prediction: If the situation grows worse still, that’s when a bill addressing the issue will finally be passed into law. It’s a theory, but it can’t be one that we really want to test.

[ GE radio photo by Fernando Candeias.]

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About the Author

Mike Littwin

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
mlittwin@coloradoindependent.com | Twitter @mike_littwin

4 Comments

  1. Paula Stacey on said:

    You are correct, Mike. We really don’t want to have to test this with a widespread epicemic of measles in Colorado. Those children in the 13% are the ones who will pay the price for their parent hubris.

  2. Joanne Roll on said:

    Thanks to Mike Littwin for this article. I urge the Democratic majority in the Colorado House to introduce legislation that would prohibit children who are not vaccinated from matriculating in public school, participating in any public sponsored sports or programs using public facilities and attending daycare or preschools, private or public. I am the grandmother of an infant who is only five months old; seven months away from being able to be vaccinated. The Bill of Rights is commonly defined by saying “your rights stop where my nose begins.” My infant grandson is the “nose.”

  3. Colin J Guthrie on said:

    What’s so surprising about a State Legislature wherein a Member claims to be an “expert on exorcism” – and purports to want to “exorcise” even the Governor of the State for approving of “homosexuals” – coming up with a “Parents Bill of Rights” based on the silliest possible positions of superstitious ignorance and arrogantly stubborn stupidity? After all, you DO get what you vote for.

    Excellent article, Mike. And a very good job of showing the people of good old Cowlorado just what they can expect from the State Legislature for at least the next couple of years, by way of “governing”.

  4. Kathy Sincere on said:

    Hey Mike – and Joanne Roll,

    Let’s all calm down in the midst of “measlesgate”. And Joanne, the Bill of Rights is never commonly defined as “your rights stop where my nose begins.” Here is a speech I gave to the Colorado Senate last year on that very topic:

    DO YOU KNOW WHERE THAT PHRASE CAME FROM? THIS IS AN OLD LEGAL PHRASE THAT WAS REFINED AND PUBLISHED IN AN ARTICLE IN THE HARVARD LAW REVIEW IN 1919 BY HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR ZECHARIAH CHAFEE WHO WAS AN OUTSPOKEN CHAMPION OF CIVIL LIBERTIES. HE USED THAT PHRASE IN A LEGAL DEFENSE HE WROTE FOR WAR PROTESTERS, TITLED “FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN WARTIME”. IT WAS OFTEN QUOTED BY HIS FRIEND OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES WHO WAS ON THE SUPREME COURT AT THAT TIME.
    VOICES FOR VACCINES LIKES TO USE THAT PHRASE A LOT. ANOTHER ACTIVIST GROUP THAT TRIED TO TWIST THAT GREAT PHRASE TO THEIR ADVANTAGE WAS THE WOMENS CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE LEAGUE DURING PROHIBITION. FOR DECADES IT WAS USED AT PROHIBITION RALLIES AND MEETINGS. ONE QUOTE WAS “WELL A GREAT MAN HAS SAID:’YOUR LIBERTY TO SWING YOUR ARM ENDS WHERE MY NOSE BEGINS. A MAN’S PERSONAL LIBERTY TO DRINK WHISKEY ENDS WHERE THE RIGHTS OF THE FAMILY AND COMMUNITY BEGIN.” IT SOUNDS FAMILIAR, DOESN’T IT? – JUST SUBSTITUTE “REFUSE VACCINATIONS” FOR “DRINK WHISKEY”- AND THE RIGHTS OF THE COMMUNITY. AGAIN, TRYING TO TIE PERSONAL RIGHTS TOGETHER WITH THE IDEA OF HARMING SOMEONE, A PROHIBITIONIST SAID “I HAVE NO RIGHT TO THROW MY ARMS OUT IN A CROWD, FOR I MIGHT HIT SOMEBODY ON THE NOSE. MY RIGHT STOPS WHERE HIS NOSE BEGINS. I HAVE NO RIGHT TO DRINK IF MY DRINKING INJURES OTHERS.”
    IF ZECHARIAH CHAFEE WAS ALIVE TODAY, WHAT HE WOULD SAY TO VOICES FOR VACCINES AND ALL THE MEDICAL PROPONENTS OF FORCED VACCINATION – “YOUR RIGHT TO SWING YOUR SHOT ENDS AT MY ARM, AND MY CHILD’S ARM, AND MY GRANDCHILD’S ARM BECAUSE OUR RIGHTS ARE GUARANTEED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS UNITED STATES. WE WILL NOT BE MARGINALIZED CITIZENS.
    BY THE WAY, IN 1957, SENATOR JOSEPH MCCARTHY CALLED ZECHARIAH CHAFEE A “PERSON MOST DANGEROUS TO AMERICA”. COINCIDENTALLY, DR. PAUL OFFIT OF VOICES FOR VACCINES CALLS VACCINE REFUSERS MOST DANGEROUS TO AMERICA. HIS BESTSELLING BOOK IS TITLED “DEADLY CHOICES: HOW THE ANTI-VACCINE MOVEMENT THREATENS US ALL”.

    Grandmother of One Very Healthy Unvaccinated 15 Year Old Granddaughter

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