DENVER -- Propelled by emotional testimony from a group of parents who oppose vaccines as well as some school-based testing and non-academic surveys, legislation seeking to establish a 'Parent's Bill of Rights' passed its first test at the Capitol Thursday.
The GOP-controlled Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 77 on a 5-4 party-line vote after three hours of testimony.
While a number of individual parents spoke in support of the bill, educators, child abuse advocates and the legal community showed up to voice their opposition to it, arguing that re-affirming and expanding parental rights will leave children's rights diminished.
"The reason for this bill is that parent's rights are under attack," said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, the bill's sponsor.
Many of the rights outlined in the proposal, including those stirring controversy and interest in it, already exist: opting out of immunizations, comprehensive sex education and other academic courses that parents object to.
It's the other provisions of the bill that would prevent children from seeking medical care and counseling and even reporting abuse without parental permission that worry child advocates.
"This bill would put children who are experiencing abuse at the hands of their parents or other family members at risk for other violence," said Brie Akins on behalf of Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Neville argued that the bill allows exceptions for situations when there is a "compelling governmental interest."
Republicans on the committee rallied around the bill as a way to limit government intrusion into parent's decisions.
Sen. Vickie Marble, R-Fort Collins, dismissed those who testified in opposition to the bill as government employees or those representing special interests or having some allegiance to a group dependent on government.
"Are they still here?" she asked at the end of the hearing, once the room had cleared out. "No. But the parents are because they care."
Among the organizations that testified against the bill: the PTA, the ACLU, the Colorado Education Association, Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, WINGS Foundation for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, the Interfaith Alliance and the Colorado Bar Association.
Colorado progressives, focusing on the hot-button issue of vaccinations, panned the vote.
"News reports this week show that Colorado has the lowest rate of childhood vaccinations in America," said Amy Runyon-Harms, the executive director of ProgressNow Colorado. "Right-wing politicians like Rand Paul have come under fire for suggesting that vaccines might be responsible for mental health problems in children, even though that theory has been totally discredited by scientific research."
"Right on cue, extreme conservatives in the Colorado Senate have introduced a bill reaffirming the 'right' of parents to not have their children vaccinated. With outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough making nationwide headlines, is there a worse message we could send to Colorado parents?"