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In Partisan Split, With Opponents In Force, Vaccine Bill Passes To Next Committee

A statue outside the Oregon Capitol. | ALEX VISSER/THE LUND REPORT
March 14, 2019

Amid partisan wrangling, the House health care committee on Thursday approved House Bill 3063 which would require children to have a medical exemption or be vaccinated to attend school.

The vote, 7 to 4, followed party lines.

If the bill passes, it would give Oregon the toughest vaccine requirements in the country along with California and Mississippi, now the only two states that do not allow philosophical or religious exemptions. It comes amid a measles epidemic that's infecte 72 people in Clark County and four in Multnomah County. Washington state lawmakers are also considering stricter vaccine requirements.

In Oregon, the bill is highly controversial among pockets of people who do not have their children vaccinated out of fear the medications could cause harmful side effects. Several dozen turned up at Thursday's meeting, wearing stickers that said: “Oppose HB3063.” The hearing was closed to public testimony so they made their opposition clear by uttering sounds of disdain.

Republicans proposed several amendments to the bill, including one that would have permitted religious exemptions. That was proposed by one of the committee’s vice chairs, Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg. He said he has vaccinated all five of his children but does not want to infringe upon the parental rights of others to choose whether or not to have their children vaccinated or to bar the unvaccinated kids from extracurricular activities.

“I find this bill to be far over-reaching,” Hayden said. “I’m not proud of Oregon at this moment.”

Rep. Denyc Boles, R-Salem, echoed that sentiment. She said vaccines have played a major role in eliminating deadly diseases but added that the bill stripped away individual choice in health decisions. Choking up, Boles said she was proud of the constituents who came to her with their personal stories of harm suffered by their children after being vaccinated. She said she had serious problems removing philosophical and religious exemptions from Oregon’s vaccine regulations.

During Boles’ testimony, several members of the public who showed up to oppose the bill sobbed.

The amendment and other GOP proposals were struck down by the Democratic majority on the committee.

One amendment did pass, however. Written by Democrats, it would bar unvaccinated children from traditional classrooms and activities but would allow them to pursue their education online where they would not be able to infect other students in the event that they contracted an infectious disease.

Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria, also commented on the personal stories she heard from opponents of the bill, but she said she disagreed that the bill restricts parental freedom. She said the bill doesn’t remove the right to choose, it just makes parents take responsibility for their choice.

“This is the right decision,” Mitchell said. “This is about making sure that we protect the health of everybody.”

Mitchell’s sentiments were repeated by Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, the bill’s chief sponsor. Greenlick, who’s 83, said the legislation isn’t a matter of politics as much as science and society. Reflecting on the childhood diseases that were common in his own adolescence, he said life expectancies have increased dramatically because of vaccines.

“Our children live now, and they live mostly because we work together as a community,” Greenlick said. “We can save lives, we’ve saved millions.”

House Bill 3063 now heads to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means for a vote.

Have a tip about health care or the Legislature. You can reach Alex Visser at [email protected].