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