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With Time Short, Colorado Lawmakers Abandon Vaccination Bill

Ken Lund
CC BY-SA 2.0

Colorado lawmakers on Thursday abandoned legislation to make it harder for parents to opt their children out of vaccinations, as time was running out in the legislative session.

The bill drew big crowds of vaccination opponents to the state Capitol and came amid the nation's worst outbreak of measles in 25 years.

Backers of the proposal, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, said it was needed because the state's vaccination rate is around 89%, lower than the national average of 94% and not high enough to create "herd immunity" and avoid large outbreaks.

Colorado allows parents to opt their children out of vaccinations required by most schools and daycare centers for medical reasons with a doctor's note. Those who object to inoculations for religious or any other personal reason can also submit a statement to be exempted.

The bill would have created standardized forms for medical and other exemptions and would limit the reasons for a medical exemption to those allowed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It would also require those seeking a religious or personal exemption to initially apply in person at their local health department or the state health department. Future exemptions could be requested online.

Gov. Jared Polis expressed concerns about the in-person applications, so his approval of the bill was not assured.

"Republicans were not willing to let the vaccine bill come to a vote without hours and hours of debate, which would have prevented us from delivering on priority bills," including health care and education, said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, a Democrat.

In the state House, a handful of lawmakers consoled a stunned Democratic Rep. Kyle Mullica, a prime sponsor of the bill.

"I cannot explain what just happened," said Mullica, a trauma nurse from suburban Adams County. "We worked so, so hard on this. We can't just stand by when there is a public health crisis going on in this country."

Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition, said legislators put politics over the health and safety of children.

Several Senate Democrats joined Republicans in defeating a late-session bill, backed by Polis, to ask voters to raise cigarette sales taxes and to tax nicotine vaping devices and other tobacco products.

The 2019 session is set to end at midnight Friday. Dozens of bills inched forward or awaited final action, many furthering an ambitious health care, environmental and educational agenda adopted by Democrats after they grabbed control of both legislative chambers in the November elections.

Among them:

-A bill to seek federal permission to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. If the move is approved by the Trump administration - something Washington hasn't done before - Colorado could adopt an import program in 2021.

-A bipartisan reinsurance bill designed to lower health care premiums on the individual market by an average 21% statewide. It would have the state cover medical expenses incurred by insurers' highest-risk patients. It could lower insurance rates by up to 30% in rural areas that are some of the nation's most expensive insurance markets. It too requires federal permission.

-A bipartisan bill to ask voters to legalize sports betting in Colorado. If the bill clears the Legislature and voters approve, a relatively constrained sports betting market could be operating by 2020.

The House did send Polis a bipartisan bill designed to curb surprise billing of patients by out-of-network health providers - especially those located in in-network medical facilities.

It also sent him a bill to ban vaping in public spaces where smoking isn't allowed under the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.

Late Wednesday, lawmakers passed a marquee climate change bill over GOP objections.

Driven by House Speaker KC Becker, it calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years, with a 90% reduction from 2005 levels by 2050.

The bill follows another 2019 Becker initiative, since signed into law, to radically overhaul regulation of Colorado's $32 billion oil and gas industry to promote citizen safety over enhancing production. The law gives local governments the power to regulate the location of wells.

Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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