Colorado vaccine bill may not get a hearing due to coronavirus

Politics

DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado lawmakers returned to the State Capitol Tuesday morning with temperature checks and mask wearing as the new norm. Glass partitions now separate each lawmaker’s desk.

COVID-19 has changed everything, including the fate of a bill that might normally have more support than ever.  

Senate Bill 163 is a measure aimed at increasing vaccination rates in Colorado.

“Really just intended to tighten up Colorado’s exemptions rule. It would not change anything at all about a parents’ right exempt their child out of vaccinations,” Michele Ames with Colorado Vaccinates said.  

The measure would force parents who don’t want their children vaccinated to have a doctor sign a form or watch a video about the value of vaccines, created by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“We cannot afford an overlaying public health epidemic for something that is vaccine-preventable — like measles, like whooping cough — on top of the current health crisis that we already have going on,” Ames said. 

The measure was all but assured of passing this year until the coronavirus struck.

“It should not be heard this session,” according to Phil Silberman, with the Colorado Health Choice Alliance. His group opposes SB-163 and drew dozens of people to the Capitol last year to oppose the measure. “To try to have 1,000 or more people at the Capitol at this time I don’t believe would be prudent or wise.” 

“I think there are a lot of things being said to try to make sure that this bill doesn’t get heard,” Rep. Kyle Mullica said. 

The Northglenn Democrat is the House sponsor of bill. He told the FOX31 Problem Solvers he suspected opponents were using the coronavirus as a stalling tactic to prevent the bill from getting a hearing in the House.

“I want to make sure we don’t have an outbreak of something that’s completely preventable with a vaccine,” Mullica said, before adding, “Our (vaccination) rates are still the last in the country and I still want to make sure we’re doing something to improve those rates.”

But Silberman insisted testifying via the internet would not have the same impact as in-person testimony.

“Remote testimony is just not the same as the experience of sharing information, sharing emotion,” he said.

“I would hope the Legislature would find another way for us to participate in the process while still being safe at home,” Ames said, who added her coalition is willing to testify remotely.

The bill already passed the Senate before the pandemic hit and was expected to pass the House and receive the governor’s signature. But it’s unclear if leadership in the Democratic-controlled House will move forward if the opposition demands a public hearing. Lawmakers have added priorities now, like deciding how to cut $3 billion from the budget thanks to the coronavirus crisis.

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