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Sen. Bill Lundeen debates an amendment to Senate Bill 163 on school vaccination requirements.

A measure designed to address Colorado's low immunization rates of kindergartners moved a step closer to passage on Friday.

The Senate approved on third reading Senate Bill 163, co-sponsored by Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, as well as Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn.

“This bill moves forward the effort in Colorado to nudge up our vaccination rates,” Priola said in a statement. “Schools will benefit. Families will benefit. And our health care system will benefit.”

The action comes a day after senators spent hours debating and voting on numerous amendments regarding privacy concerns and how to handle vaccination requirements for home-schooled children who interact in some way with their school districts.  

Bill sponsors want to require parents who don’t want their kids vaccinated to provide a signed note from a healthcare provider or to go through an online informational course produced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. They also want a state goal immunization rate of 95%.

Opponents fought for home-schooled children to be fully exempt from vaccinations, but bill co-sponsors argue that if these students participate in functions in their school districts, they should follow those district guidelines.

“We’re building this airplane as we fly and there’s a little turbulence in the back of the plane,” said Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. Lundeen had replaced Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, on the Health and Human Services Committee.

He argued in support of one of the major concerns of parents who testified last Wednesday: that their personal information would be compromised if they put their names into the state database.  

Most lawmakers praised Thursday’s process, saying the controversial bill is now better than it was because the language had been cleaned up, but others are still firmly opposed to to it. 

“A bad bill is a bad bill,” said Vicki Marble, R-Broomfield. “It’s discriminatory and converts too much power to the CDPHE .” 

Currently, a parent who wants to exempt their child from getting vaccinated can do that by writing down their wishes and turning it in to their school administrative staff.

Colorado sits at the bottom of the country for kindergarteners vaccinataed for measles, mumps and rubella. Public health officials are concerned that this creates regions that would be susceptible for a measles outbreak.

Last year, a similar bill, House Bill 1312, did not pass partly due to a small but very vocal group of parents who were opposed to it, and because Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said he wouldn’t sign it.

However, Polis has reversed that opinion with this session’s version of the bill, saying it “... honors the rights of parents while supporting the administration’s efforts to boost immunization rates.”

Colorado Vaccinates, a coalition of groups dedicated to improving the state rate, cited polling that the vast majority of Coloradans statewide, 84%, think children should be vaccinated before they enter school.

SB 163 has bipartisan support but it has been  contentious. Last week, 600 people filled the statehouse to testify during a Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing which took 15½ hours, not ending until 1:30 am. It passed on a 3-2 party line vote.

Linda Shapley contributed to this report.

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