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Eight-year-old Monserrat Cholico cringes as she gets a shot at Crawford Kids Clinic in Aurora (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post).

Eight-year-old Monserrat Cholico cringes as she gets a shot at Crawford Kids Clinic in Aurora (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post).

Immunization exemption bill back in the shop for more work

The state’s immunization reporting law, gutted by a Republican-authored amendment unexpectedly added Thursday to a vaccination bill, will be reconsidered on Monday by the House.

The House voted 33-30 Friday for a procedural motion that takes the bill off the final consideration calendar, allowing members to debate it again Monday and consider amendments.

The change Democrats want to make is to undo a GOP amendment that unexpectedly passed Thursday.

Thursday’s 33-32 roll-call vote on that amendment caught everyone in the chamber by surprise, given that the idea had been defeated previously on a voice vote. House staffers said some Democrats may have been confused about what they were voting on.

The amendment would allow parents to voluntarily include children’s vaccination information in the state’s immunization tracking system. Current law automatically puts that information in the system and allows parents to have it removed. All children must be immunized to attend public schools, but state law allows parents to opt out for religious, medical or “personal objection” reasons.

The focus of Thursday’s debate, House Bill 16-1164, wouldn’t eliminate any of those exemptions, as prime sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, kept pointing out during debate.

The bill would require parents to file their exemption notices online with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rather than submit paper forms to their local schools. Supporters argue the change will take a burden off school nurses and secretaries, provide more complete data to the department and be easy for parents.

Republican members were having none of it. They repeatedly raised a couple big objections during debate that stretched for more than 90 minutes.

Data privacy – “How can you guarantee this sensitive data will be protected” by the health department, asked Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs.

Slippery slope – Republicans fear the bill is a prelude to eliminating exemptions. “There’s a fear that the next step is to require vaccinations,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

Others claimed data held by the health department wouldn’t be subject to federal student privacy law and that immunization reporting placed an unfair burden on college students.

Saying she’s received “over 700 phone calls and emails,” Landgraf added, “Everybody wanted a no vote. I don’t see how people can vote against their constituents this way” and support the bill.

Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Lone Tree, agreed.

“I don’t consider myself smarter than my constituents,” she said.

Several GOP amendments were defeated. The parent-option amendment was adopted at the end of preliminary consideration, when members are allowed to offer amendments a second time and recorded votes are taken.

The exemptions bill has been contentious from the start. A House committee spent nearly seven hours on the issue last month before passing it 7-6.

How the bill might fare in the Senate is unclear. One of the Senate prime sponsors is a Republican, Sen. Martinez Humenik of Thornton. But the last time lawmakers considered an immunization bill, in 2014, that measure passed the Senate on a close 19-16 vote. Democrats controlled the Senate that year, but the GOP now has a 18-17 majority.

The 2014 bill ultimately passed after being watered down. That bill only required CDPHE to set up immunization information website and reporting of percentages of students who aren’t immunized, broken out by school.