HELENA – After some emotion-charged debate, the Montana House Thursday voted down three bills to restrict when and how the state can require children to be vaccinated against childhood diseases.
As many as two dozen Republicans joined all 42 House Democrats in opposing the bills, saying they could pose a health threat to children and lead to outbreaks of diseases long under control.
“We’ve been able to eradicate childhood diseases,” said Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Billings. “The facts are irrefutable. The safety of our state is at risk right now, considering what’s going on in the state of Washington. It’s our responsibility to make sure that our children are safe.”
Washington state recently had an outbreak of measles, which occurred mostly among younger children who weren’t vaccinated.
Republican Reps. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton and David Dunn of Kalispell sponsored the three bills.
Dunn’s House Bill 564 would have allowed physician assistants and nurse practitioners to write medical or religious exemptions from required vaccinations and prohibit the state from denying any legally written exemptions.
Dunn said vaccine manufacturers are exempt from liability and that vaccines cause far more health problems than are reported.
“The medical-industrial complex has failed to protect our nation’s children, and parents and popular culture bully people who disagree on the topic, screaming `science’ while they repeat cliché propaganda,” he said.
Manzella’s bills, HB574 and HB575, said the state could not require foster-care families to immunize children, if they have religious or medical exemptions, or require day-care centers to reject children or employees who didn’t have certain vaccinations.
Manzella said the immunization requirement is ruling out many potential foster-care families, who have objections to some vaccines.
“I’m standing here on the House floor of the great state of Montana reporting to you that the cells of aborted babies are in our vaccines – the cells of aborted babies,” she said. “If that’s not enough to earn a religious exemption, I don’t know what is.”
Rep. Greg DeVries, R-Jefferson City, continued the discussion about baby-parts in vaccines, equating the babies to “lab rats” – which brought a formal objection from Democratic House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner.
Schreiner called the remark “inappropriate” and said it violated decorum by impugning the motives of those who developed or contributed to the vaccine.
House Speaker Greg Hertz, R-Polson, asked members to “stick to facts and try not to impugn the motives of other individuals.”
Opponents of the bills said they limit the ability of public-health officials to protect the public from disease, and that Montana should not risk having outbreaks of diseases brought under control many years ago.
Rep. Sharon Greef, R-Florence, said she had friends and relatives who died from these diseases, many years ago.
“I do not want to live through another epidemic that our families went through,” she said. “I do not want to see classrooms of little ones exposed to un-vaccinated children.”
The House voted 60-40 to defeat the foster-care bill from Manzella, 62-38 to defeat Dunn’s bill, and 68-32 to defeat the day-care bill.