DENVER – A hearing Thursday on a bill that aims to clarify the rights parents have concerning their children turned into a conversation on vaccinations and sexual abuse.
The so-called “Parent’s Bill of Rights” legislation would set rights pertaining to education, health care and mental health.
It passed the Senate Education Committee on a Republican party-line vote of 5-4. The bill faces an uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled House.
The measure is expansive, but within its language is a provision that would allow parents an exemption from any immunization laws in the state.
The bill comes as a U.S. measles outbreak is expected to grow, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent reports also indicate that Colorado kindergartners have the lowest measles vaccination rate in the nation.
But Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, who sponsored the bill, said the measure is about protecting parents.
“It ensures that Colorado ... will not infringe upon the rights of the parent without demonstrating first that the government interest, as applied to the child involved, is of the highest order, is narrowly tailored and cannot be accomplished in a less restrictive manner,” Neville said.
Several parents focused on the vaccination issue. Colorado allows vaccination exemptions for personal and religious beliefs. But the measure pushed by Neville would eliminate the need to seek exemptions.
Pam Long, a Castle Rock mom, believes her child suffered brain damage as a result of vaccinations.
“Let’s stop creating this monster of parents, that they’re lazy and uneducated and don’t want to vaccinate their children and are putting the public at risk,” Long said. “We need to stop with the pitchforks and bonfires.”
But opponents of the bill pointed out that the measure goes beyond vaccinations, potentially impacting sexual abuse intervention.
The fear is that counselors would need to request permission from parents to even have a conversation about sexual abuse with a child, which would be problematic if the child was being abused by a parent.
“While the vast majority of parents are loving, supportive parents, youth need options to consult professionals or trusted adults if they’re in crisis,” said Brie Atkins, executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “It would create significant barriers for minors who need to access services in a safe and confidential way.”