DENVER — Conservative lawmakers Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and his son, Rep. Patrick Neville, R- Castle Rock, were elected to office on the Republican wave last November and are co-prime sponsors on eight bills this legislative session. Their proposals include a law that would allow Coloradans to carry concealed weapons in schools and one that would ratchet up permitting codes on women’s health clinics in an effort to close facilities and limit access to abortion services. The grandaddy of them all, though, is the Parent’s Bill of Rights, which is being introduced today.
“Basically, when I campaigned this year and talked to a lot of people and knocked on a lot of doors, folks were very frustrated that they felt like they’d lost the ability to impact their families, that certain areas of government, organizations or whatever are usurping their rights or their ability to take care of what they’re supposed to be doing, which is raising their family and being successful,” Tim Neville explained. “It comes in a variety of areas and this is an opportunity to restate those areas and say that the government reaffirms that parents are the drivers in their children’s lives. It’s important because if we weaken the family unit we start to see a lot of other problems within the society as well.
“Government can’t be a parent,” he said. “I think it’s important that parents’ first have the opportunity to impact their children’s lives and, second, to understand how others, possibly within levels of authority — the school districts, the government, the police — are impacting their children’s lives, too. Parents need to understand that in order to be able to guide their kids, to truly manage their upbringing.
Patrick Neville was more specific.
“[The bill] offers protections for school choice and education. It gives parents more involvement in that,” he said. “Medically, it ensures a parent’s right to make decisions on medical choices and prevent the state from coming in and taking over unless there’s a drastic need for it.”
Only Oklahoma has a Parents’ Bill of Rights, though Michael Ramey at parentalrights.org points out that eight other states have written parental rights into statute. The Nevilles’ SB 77 covers a broad swath of daily life — from opting your kid out of sex ed or vaccinations to prohibiting minors from accessing counseling or medical services without a parent’s consent.
The bill has drawn a long list of Republican co-sponsors, including far-right conservatives like Sen. Laura Woods from Arvada and moderates like Sen. Ellen Roberts from Durango. The measure has also won a long list of opponent that include LGBTQ-youth advocates and sex-abuse prevention organizations.
“If the so-called Parent’s Bill of Rights were to take effect, parents who are sexually abusing their children or who are trying to keep the problem of child sexual abuse quietly ‘behind closed doors,’ would be able to prevent their children from accessing life-saving services,” said Jennifer Stith, the executive director of the WINGS foundation, which provides services for adults who suffered sexual abuse as children.
“Teachers, counselors, and other health care workers who could be vital lifelines to these children would be criminalized for talking with these children without their parents’ consent,” she added.
Gay-rights organization One Colorado is also concerned about the kind of parental notifications the bill spells out.
“For many LGBT youth — especially those outside the Denver metro area — finding the courage and support to come out and live openly is already hard enough,” said Executive Director Dave Montez. “But many are kicked out of their own homes by their parents just for being who they are. National statistics show that 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. This bill would actually require those young people to get their parents’ consent before they can receive mental health support or counseling services. How can we honestly call that a tenable policy proposal?”
The bill has also crashed here into the middle of the white-hot national child-immunization debate spurred by outbreaks of nearly wiped-out diseases like measles, which have sprung back to life as spooked parents opt-out of vaccination programs.
“When it comes to vaccines, we’ve always supported a parent’s right to take the lead on this medical risk-taking decision,” said Theresa Wrangham, the executive director of the National Vaccine Information Center, which is in favor of this bill.
But Wrangham said the Parent’s Bill of Rights doesn’t seem to put in place any new policy in Colorado.
“This is not a vaccine bill and it doesn’t add anything new to the existing law, which already states that parents have a right to be informed about exemptions,” she said.
Stephanie Wasserman, director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, agreed but she said the impacts of the bill would be far-ranging and her organization opposes it.
“Colorado already has too many parents who are exempting from school-required immunizations because we have a very lenient policy,” she said. “For schools to have to take an active role in promoting exemption as an option would be even more devastating to a system that has a lot of loopholes in it.”
The Denver post recently reported that Colorado now ranks last in the nation for Measles vaccinations among kindergarteners.
SB 77 heads to the Senate Education Committee this afternoon at 1:30 p.m.
Update: After hours of testimony, much of which focused on vaccination, the Parent’s Bill of Rights passed on a party-line 5-4 vote with Republicans voting in favor.
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[Photo by Leonid Mamchenko. ]