Reps. Dylan Roberts and Kyle Mullica

Reps. Dylan Roberts and Kyle Mullica argue for Senate Bill 163, the school vaccination exemption bill, on the House floor at the Colorado state Capitol on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.

The Colorado House debated the bill to require school vaccinations Tuesday, the latest clash of an ongoing contentious issue at the Capitol.

The bill would require parents who don’t want their children vaccinated to provide a signed note from a health care provider or to go through an online informational course from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The bill sets a goal to track vaccinations and push Colorado's immunization rate of 95%.

Senate Bill 163 passed on a voice vote in the Democratic-held House, but still must pass on a roll call vote. Given the Democrats' 41-24 majority, the legislation appears bound for the governor's desk before lawmakers go home for the summer.

After the vote at 5:10 p.m., shouts from the gallery included "Tyranny!" and "We will vote you out!"

The bill passed the Senate 20-14 on Feb. 28, with Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson as the only Republican to vote in favor of the legislation. Priola is one of the bill's sponsors along with three Democrats, Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver with Reps. Kyle Mullica of Northglenn and Dylan Roberts of Avon.

The legislation has been one of the most contentious issues of this session, just as it was last year, as Republicans argue that the state is getting into parental rights. Hundreds of anti-vaccination advocates stormed the Capitol last year, but they've been held at bay this year because of the pandemic.

Hundreds attended a rally outside the statehouse on Sunday, featuring such national personalities as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Michelle Malkin, to protest the bill as it was being heard in committee. 

Republicans ran amendments and read letters from parents for hours Tuesday afternoon. Lawmakers debated the issue throughout the afternoon, as Republicans aiming to stall the vote ran scores of amendments and prolonged debate on the legislation.

One amendment that was accepted was from Mullica, which would allow people 90 days to get a repeal on the ballot.

"This is really significant to a lot of people," said House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, who supported the amendment but still opposed the bill.

Mullica answered questions and challenges from Republicans, as other Democrats waited on the sidelines of the debate.

He spoke of the bill Tuesday in terms of the outbreak. A nurse, he said it's about protecting the public from unnecessary exposures, coronavirus or otherwise.

"Senate Bill 163 is about protecting our communities," he said on the House floor, with Roberts at his side, both of them wearing masks. "It's about protecting our most vulnerable populations. It's about protecting our front-line health care workers."

He said it was about improving immunization rates, not infringing on anyone's rights, by keeping exemptions and broadening where people could submit their requests. 

Mullica conceded on the House floor Tuesday that he had been questioned about bringing the bill up in the truncated session.

"Really? We shouldn't be talking about improving our vaccination rates in the middle of a pandemic?" he said. "We shouldn't be protecting our community from vaccine-preventable outbreaks? I would argue that there's no better time than now."

He said now "is the time to rely on science and not pseudoscience."

Rep. Larry Liston, a Republican from Colorado Springs, pointed out flaws in the state's data keeping that keep Colorado behind other states to increase reporting, rather than focusing on those who choose not to vaccinate.

"Why go after those who choose religious exemptions and personal exemptions?" he said. "Why not boost the compliance percentage? Rather, this bill aims to add significant burden to parents who are fully following the law and choosing to exempt from even once vaccine."

Rep. Dave Williams, a Republican from Colorado Springs and one of the leading opponents against the government vaccination push, raised questions about the confidentiality of the government's record-keeping.

He acknowledged committee witnesses on both sides, including those who said there were no security concerns to worry about.

"I happen to think we should err on the side of caution," Williams said.

He called it a double standard that the government can't be held liable for data breaches the way private companies can.

"This system can be used for identity theft," he argued.

Near the end of the hours-long debate Williams predicted the bill, if it becomes law, will lead to more legislation to end exemptions completely. 

Rep. Shane Sandridge, another Colorado Springs Republican, thanked the parents, students and organizations opposing the bill for standing for what he called their freedoms.

"The relationship between a child and parents is a sacred relationship," he said. "It is a sacred relationship that the government needs to understand that you know better than us."

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