DENVER - Colorado parents seeking to exempt their children from vaccinations for personal reasons would face required education under a proposal that advanced in the state House Friday.
The proposal has sparked strong feelings among lawmakers about parental control.
Republican House Leader Brian DelGrosso told lawmakers that while he immunized his children, his younger brother doesn't believe in vaccinations.
"And basically what this bill does is, the sponsor is basically saying that my brother is an idiot, my brother is a moron," he said, adding that the message lawmakers are sending is that they know better than parents.
"That's exactly what this bill does," said DelGrosso, who represents Loveland. "You can spin it any other way you like, but this basically says, 'Parents of Colorado that choose not to get immunization for their kids, you're too stupid to make this decision on your own.'"
Colorado is one of 18 states that allow parents and students to opt out of getting required vaccines if they submit a statement of exemption based on religious or personal beliefs.
After the debate Friday, the state House gave initial approval on a voice vote Friday to the bill, which seeks to educate parents on the benefits and risks of immunization before they seek vaccine exemptions for personal reasons. Religious and medical exemptions would not be affected.
The bill still needs a final House vote before heading to the Senate.
"This is not mandatory vaccinations, this is not a change to personal belief exemption," said Denver Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon, the sponsor of the legislation. "This is simply saying, 'If you exercise this option, you will get some disclosures about the risks and benefits.'"
Colorado has the sixth-highest rate of non-vaccinated kindergarteners in public school, some 3,000 statewide last school year, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
The measure would require school systems and child-care centers to disclose their rates of non-vaccinated children.
Supporters of the bill insist they're trying to educate parents while preserving choice. But opponents worry the measure chips away at parental control.
Republican Rep. Janak Joshi, a retired physician, said "we have to give the choice to our parents and whatever they believe in." Joshi, who represents Colorado Springs, noted that while he was vaccinated for smallpox growing up, he wasn't immunized for anything else.
"I'm still around," he said.