If Colorado parents don’t want to vaccinate their children, all they have to do is fill out a form and return it to the school.
Senate Bill 163 aims to change that -- but not drastically. The legislation would require parents to get a signature from an immunization provider or watch an informational video from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The bill also sets a goal of reaching a 95 percent immunization rate. Colorado is at 87 percent for kindergartners vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella — the lowest in the country.
The bill passed out of the House Health and Insurance Committee on Sunday in 7-4 party line vote.
Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Democrat from Northglenn and co-sponsor of the bill, said this is about public safety.
“We’re living in the middle of a pandemic right now and we’re experiencing what it's like to live through that without a vaccine,” Mullica said. “We’re trying to prevent that, which is really what brought this to the forefront of my mind.”
Mullica said if parents want to be exempted for nonmedical reasons, the parent does not have to disclose the reason.
“If they want to say it’s for a religious reason or they want to say it’s for a personal reason, that’s their prerogative, but it’s not mandated that they have it say it’s for one or the other,” Mullica said.
The House Public Health Care and Human Services committee deliberated at noon Sunday. It drew dissenters of the bill to rally outside of the Capitol. And just outside of the hearing room, dissenters protested while supporters provided testimony.
People who are against the bill say it goes against personal choice and religious liberty. They argue that it is a security concern. Under the bill, the immunization provider must submit data including exemptions -- medical or otherwise -- to the immunization tracking system.
Carolyn Martin represents the Christian Home Educators of Colorado and she opposed the bill because she doesn’t think there is a need. She also said putting all the information in a database allows a chance for a data breach.
“It's going to go all into the database and that's hence the problem,” Martin said. “We don't want them to have our data. You can assume if someone doesn't have immunization data in a database, they don't have that immunization.”
Diana Herrero, the interim Deputy Director for the Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response for the state health department, addressed dissenters’ concerns with her own testimony.
Herrero said the bill does not remove parents’ right to seek an exemption or require a parent to disclose their faith. Also, the state does not ask for reasons behind the exemption -- it just tracks the rates. She said the state does not sell data from the database.
“That would be wrong,” she said. “We would never do that.”
The bill now heads for the House Committee of Appropriations.