With time short, Colorado lawmakers abandon vaccination bill

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DENVER | Colorado lawmakers on Thursday abandoned legislation to make it harder for parents to opt their children out of vaccinations as time ran out in their legislative session.

With many bills still waiting for action, the state Senate decided not to take up the measure, effectively killing it because there won’t be enough time to pass it before the session ends at midnight Friday.

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 the bill 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 the 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.

Senate Republicans began the day extensively deliberating dozens of bills including, to Democrats’ frustration, extended talk on a bedbug control bill.

The tactic has been used in recent weeks to slow what minority Republicans considered a Democratic rush to pass sweeping legislation with little scrutiny. But many Republicans blamed poor clock management by Democrats, noting that fewer bills were introduced in 2019 than in 2018, when the GOP led the Senate.

Awaiting action were bills to complement an ambitious health care, environmental and an educational agenda.

Among them:

—A bill to seek federal permission to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. The bill was one of two initiatives focusing on gathering data on prescription drug pricing practices and lowering prices. If approved by the Trump administration — something Washington hasn’t done before — Colorado could adopt an import program in 2021. The second bill, a complex effort to bring transparency to prescription drug pricing and ensure consumers benefit from industry discounts, was abandoned in part because of the late-session logjam.

—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. The bill could affect 251,000 Coloradans on the individual market and 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 since federal funds are involved.

—A bill to ask voters to raise cigarette sales taxes 84 cents to $2.59 a pack and tax nicotine vaping devices and other tobacco products at 62% of their wholesale price. The tax hikes could generate more than $300 million annually for early childhood education, tobacco prevention and cessation programs and other health services.

—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. Voters would be asked to apply a 10% flat tax on net sports betting proceeds. If approved, businesses can apply for licenses. The question comes in the form of a tax hike request because any Colorado tax increase, by law, must be approved by voters.

The House did send to 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.

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. Becker and other supporters argue climate change is an immediate threat to Colorado’s outdoor industry, the state’s general economy and health.

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.