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Senate approves “parent’s bill of rights”

Senators debate parent's bill of rights on Feb. 11.
Senators debate parent's bill of rights on Feb. 11.

Updated Feb. 12, 9:25 a.m. – The state Senate Thursday gave final 18-16 approval to the bill dubbed the “parent’s bill of rights.” Republican members voted yes and Democrats voted no, with one Democrat excused and not voting

The measure, supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, had passed on a preliminary voice vote Thursday following more than two hours of debate that highlighted philosophical and partisan differences over the roles of parents and government, and protecting children. There was no additional discussion Thursday.

Parent rights are something of a theme for Republicans this session. With their new 18-17 majority in the Senate, GOP members have the opportunity to advance such social-issues bills to the floor, although proposals have little chance in the Democratic-controlled House.

Senate Bill 15-077 declares that parents have the fundamental right to raise, educate, and provide medical care for their children and that government cannot interfere with that unless there’s “a compelling interest.” It sets out a long list of parental rights, including withdrawal of children from classes whose content they find objectionable, receiving information about opting out of sex education classes, access to textbooks, and consent to medical and diagnostic procedures and to video and audio recording of children. (Read the bill text here and a summary here.)

“We need to get back to understanding that parents make the best decisions for their children in almost all cases,” said prime sponsor Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, during Thursday’s debate.

“It’s about time we had this discussion. … It’s an issue that’s not going away,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

Democrats had different views.

The bill “is fine as a manifesto,” said Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. “The problem is this is actually law that we are writing.” She added that SB 15-077 “radically reduces and in some cases completely eliminates the rights and protections of the child. To me this looks like a no bill of rights for kids.”

Much of the debate focused on the bill’s possible implications for child welfare and health, with less attention paid to the impact on schools. Democratic senators warned that requiring parent consent for all medical and mental health care would be dangerous for children who’ve been abused by their parents or have issues they didn’t want their parents to know about.

Republicans countered that existing laws require medical professionals and educators to report suspected child abuse and are sufficient.

Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, said state law already covers parent notification and opting out of a wide variety of classroom activities. (There’s been a lot of discussion about how the bill affects vaccinations. The measure requires schools to notify parents of their existing rights to opt out of vaccinations but wouldn’t change the opt-out system.)

Democrats proposed several amendments to the bill, but all were defeated except one that removed misdemeanor criminal penalties for teachers and other school personnel who didn’t seek parent consent before sending a troubled student to a counselor or health professional.

Health survey a lightning rod for activists

A youth health survey conductedperiodically by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has come up frequently in committee hearings on SB 15-077 and on student data privacy measures that were considered in the House (see story).

Parents who testified complained the survey is intrusive, asks inappropriate questions, and that that they sometimes weren’t properly notified that the survey was being given.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is given every other year to students in randomly selected schools. More than 220 schools and 40,000 youth took the 2013 survey, according to the department. Learn more here, and read the 99 questions on a past survey here. Some questions are very specific about drug use, sexual activity, and other risky behaviors.

While state officials have testified that the surveys are completely confidential, parents who spoke at committee hearings were skeptical of that.

Other bills involving parent rights

Several Republican bills introduced this year attempt to protect various parent rights, from the broad provisions of SB 15-077 to Senate Bill 15-129, which involves family court proceedings.

Parent rights also are an element in several education-related bills, including:

  • House Bill 15-1053 – School attendance ages
  • House Bill 15-1105 – Testing and accountability
  • House Bill 15-1108 – Data privacy
  • House Bill 15-1199 – Data privacy
  • House Bill 15-1208 – Common Core repeal, accountability and testing

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to detailed information about these bills. Some already have been defeated.

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