DENVER — After hours of back-and-forth Wednesday, state Senate Republicans moved a controversial “Parent’s Bill of Rights” forward on a voice vote, arguing that the bill would provide needed protection for parents against state interventions in broad areas of daily family life, including education and health care.
The bill, sponsored by Tim Neville, R-Littleton, has made headlines for seeking to dilute what many see good-government and vital public-safety policy, even as anti-vaccination pseudo-science embraced by parents around the nation has degraded faith in immunization and sparked outbreaks of diseases like measles all but wiped out in the United States for decades.
The rights enumerated in SB 77 touch on notification and decision-making regarding child vaccination, general medical care, school curricula and extracurricular youth activities.
Inside and outside the Capitol, opposition has been diverse. The Denver Post editorial board called the measure “more manifesto than legislation.” Child sexual assault workers said the bill could require teachers and counselors to report suspicion of assaults to parents who may well be the perpetrators. Mental health organizations similarly raised concerns about where a child could turn to for advice if they were having trouble at home. Public health advocates noted that Colorado already hosts the lowest percentage of vaccinated children in the nation and said the measure would exacerbate that serious problem. Gay-rights advocates said the bill would make it harder on kids growing up in unsupportive families.
Supporters of the bill pointed to a state behavioral health survey administered in schools that asks about sexual behavior and drug use. They said such a survey threatens to violate child privacy and should require parental consent. The measure also drew hours of supportive testimony from those in the anti-vaccination community.
Supporters said that the bill is about strengthening the family unit and argued that fears about its potential wide-ranging impacts are overblown.
“Some folks kinda suggested that perhaps I was crazy to put my name on the bill,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango. “It’s not that I was confused or didn’t realize what I was signing onto. I absolutely support the bill and here’s why… principally transparency, an effort to get more information to parents than they’re currently able to access and, secondly, increased accountability for parental responsibility.”
Roberts called sexual assault reporting concerns a “red herring,” pointing out that state statute already requires mandatory reporting of even suspected child abuse from people working in 37 separate professions.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could legislate good parent-child relationships,” said Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver. Like others in her caucus, her gravest concern was that the bill would make it a misdemeanor offense not to notify a parent and receive consent before administering any kind of mental or physical health care.
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, agreed. He outlined a scenario to make his point. If a child tells a teacher they are having problems at home and the teacher asks a school psychologist to confer and it comes out the student is being abused, well the school professionals have done some good work, said Johnston, but they could face up to a year in jail for that work if Neville’s bill were to become the law.
Johnston proposed an amendment to remove the criminal provision around offering mental health services to minors. His amendment passed when Sens. Roberts and Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, broke party lines to support it.
Aguilar then offered a similar amendment to strip away the requirement that parents be notified before minors could receive medical services such as birth control. That amendment failed, as did another that would have sent the Parent’s Bill of Rights to the ballot for voters to approve.
The measure is scheduled for a final, recored vote Thursday in the Senate. Should it pass, it would move to the House, where majority Democrats are expected to quash it before it ever gets to the chamber floor for a vote.
[ Photo by AJR/Anthony.]