A bill that would have made it more difficult for parents to exempt their children from the vaccine requirements for public schools — legislation that consumed the General Assembly during the final days of the session — died Thursday.
Senate Democrats, who hold a narrow majority, cleared their crowded calendar Wednesday evening to hold a four-hour hearing on the bill only to delay debate on it Thursday, effectively killing its chances of becoming law.
“As a father and an ER nurse, I am extremely disappointed the Senate couldn’t get this important bill over the finish line,” said Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, the bill’s sponsor. “The health and safety of our children is of the utmost importance.”
House Bill 1312 would have required parents who want to exempt their children from vaccinations to fill out a form in person at a state health department office rather than simply giving the child’s school a note upon enrollment.
It had the overwhelming support of local and state health experts, who saw its passage as a small step toward protecting Colorado from a measles outbreak such as those taking place in Washington, California and New York.
“We are very disappointed in the last-minute actions of the Senate and their unwillingness to addressing an urgent public health concern in our state,” Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, said in a statement. “Legislators have put politics over the health and safety of our children.”
It wasn’t clear exactly why Democrats killed the bill Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, said part of the problem was the lack of hours left to debate the bill.
“Republicans were not willing to let the vaccine bill come to a vote without hours and hours of debate, which would have prevented us from delivering on priority bills,” he said.
Democrats technically have the power to limit debate, but Fenberg didn’t feel it was “appropriate” for this particular bill.
Another factor in the vaccine bill’s demise was Gov. Jared Polis’ objections.
Polis had pushed back on the in-person requirement, saying he thought it might place an unfair burden on rural families. Earlier, he threatened to veto the first version of the vaccine bill, which would have eliminated one or both of Colorado’s nonmedical exemptions.
“I wish that he would have allowed the legislative process to do its work on this policy,” Sen. Julie Gonzales said. “But I look forward to working with him during the interim to bring forward a stronger bill.”
The governor’s office released a statement saying Polis appreciated the work lawmakers put into the bill, and that “improving the immunization rate is a top priority of our administration and through the Department of Public Health and Environment we will continue to identify best strategies.”
The only Republican to support the bill thinks those strategies could become more aggressive and possibly even include eliminating certain exemptions if Colorado finds itself in the midst of a measles outbreak. Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, told The Denver Post that the state’s low kindergarten vaccination rate leaves Colorado particularly vulnerable.
“Between elements in my caucus and the governor’s office, it wasn’t meant to be this year,” Priola said. “I’m going to bring it back next year. I believe it’s a good policy for the state of Colorado.”
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