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Legislature looks to assume the role of parent

Legislature looks to assume the role of parent

Wayne Hoffman
February 16, 2010
Wayne Hoffman
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February 16, 2010

In 1999, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne made raising childhood immunization rates a central component of his first-year legislative agenda. He pushed a bill to create a statewide immunization registry. The measure sailed through the Senate 26-6. But his proposal ran into stiff opposition from House members, who protested the government's increasing dictatorial involvement in the family. So lawmakers amended the legislation to add provisions declaring that the new vaccination registry was to be strictly voluntary.

The amended bill passed the House 52-15, and picked up another five votes on its second trip through the Senate, clearing the chamber 33-1.

Today, if parents want their children included on the registry, it is up to those parents to get their children added to the database. Those in the database receive reminders about the next round of doctor-recommended vaccinations.

Fast forward to 2010. Lawmakers are revisiting the law written a decade ago. Sens. Patti Anne Lodge and John McGee are sponsoring legislation that would put every child into the immunization registry automatically unless parents declare, in writing, that they want out. Lodge, the chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said the move is intended to boost Idaho's childhood inoculation rates.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, about 54 percent (plus or minus 6.7 percent) of Idaho children receive their complete set of vaccinations -- lower than other states that have mandatory immunization or compulsory immunization registry laws.

The implication of putting the opt-out burden on parents is fairly obvious. Most parents won't take the actions they would need to be excluded from the registry. By law, parents will still be told that their participation in the registry is voluntary, but it's doubtful they'll be given much help or guidance if they decide they'd like to keep their kid out of the database.

A decision to remove the voluntary components to the state's immunization registry should raise enormous questions about parental rights, privacy and the scope of government -- largely the same questions that were raised in 1999 and were supposed to have been answered by use of words like "voluntary" which are now being stricken in the 2010 legislation.

The very fact that the Legislature is re-addressing the issue at all suggests that the government is dissatisfied with how parents have utilized to the voluntary immunization registry; because parents have responded in what the government deems to be an "incorrect" or "insufficient" way, the government's answer is to relieve the families of their right to either add or not add children to the registry.

Make no doubt about it: Government would be assuming the duties that now belong to parents and making what it perceives to be "a better choice" than that being made by Idaho parents today.

Whatever the intent behind the legislation, government's insistence on playing parent has to concern anyone who believes that the state has no business trying to substitute its judgment for that of Idaho's highly capable moms and dads.

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