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Politics and Government

Effort to boost Colorado’s vaccination rates heads to governor’s desk after deal

Senate BIll 163 won final approval in the Colorado Senate and House on Saturday after days of fierce debate at the Capitol and opposition from Republicans

Lawmakers gather in the Colorado Senate on Friday, June 12, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado lawmakers on Saturday sent Gov. Jared Polis a bill seeking to increase the state’s low child vaccination rates after reaching a last-minute deal on the measure. 

Democrats and Republicans agreed to strip out a provision that would have given opponents of Senate Bill 163 the opportunity to ask voters to repeal the policy. In exchange, a clause was added exempting homeschooled children from falling under the legislation’s requirements.

“Being last in the country for our immunization rates was never acceptable,” said Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Northglenn Democrat and emergency room nurse who has led the push to increase Colorado’s vaccination rates. “Senate Bill 163 will improve those rates, making our communities safer and I’m excited to see it become law.”

Senate Bill 163 would create a standardized form to request an exemption from immunizations that are required to attend school. 

Under current law, parents who want to exempt their children from immunizations can write their request on a sticky note or even a napkin and hand it to their school office. With the change, parents would have to get the new standardized form signed by a doctor, nurse or pharmacist. 

As an alternative to the signed document, parents could turn in a certificate proving they watched a state-issued online educational video about vaccines. 

Information from the exemption forms would go into a confidential database that public health officials could use in case of an outbreak. Parents could opt their children out of the database. Still, opponents of the bill have said it amounted to a “government tracking system” and infringed on parents’ rights.  

Colorado’s student-vaccination rate is among the lowest in the country.

Democrats say Senate Bill 163 is needed to prevent a public health crisis. Republicans are concerned about denying parents the ability to obtain exemptions and the effects of vaccinations. Despite the deal, GOP lawmakers were still mostly opposed to the legislation.

The amended version of the bill passed the House 41-24. It passed the Senate 20-13.

Polis is expected to sign the bill into law.

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