As some may remember, Texans for Vaccine Choice started in February, 2015 as a small group of moms chatting on Facebook about how to defeat a bill that threatened to remove religious and conscientious exemptions for school vaccination requirements in Texas. While the group quickly developed into a powerful and successful voice in Austin, we were logistically coming from behind and operating from a purely defensive position. Fast forward to 2017. Having been through the process before, TFVC has been able to approach this legislative session with plans to not only protect our current rights, but also “move the goalposts down the field,” advancing our rights with legislation of our own. I sat down with our Director of State Policy, Rebecca Hardy, to get up to speed on TFVC’s bills and the organization’s proactive approach for 2017.Q: Tell me about “advancing our rights.” What does this term mean to you and as an intentional goal for TFVC?
A: In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed huge expansions in exemption laws for Texas families. Some of our bills take those successes and advance them further. Last session, our first session, we were 100 percent on the defense being forced to respond to Jason Villalba’s HB 2006. Despite being behind the eight ball in politics and not knowing much about the legislative process, we went on to help defeat HB 2006, as well as more than a dozen other vaccine-related bills that would have impacted Texans’ rights to vaccine choice. This year we are excited to present some legislation that we will be able to champion along with our liberty-loving legislators. Initially, I was nervous about approaching legislators to file our bills. But I have been overwhelmed with the support and eagerness of our biggest supporters in Austin.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the bills that have already been filed on our behalf this session?
A: Of course! First, HB 1029 was filed by Rep. Bill Zedler and is referred to as our “Informed Consent Bill.” Current Texas law is wholly lacking in what constitutes true informed consent to any medical procedure, much less vaccination. Parents are rarely given the real facts about the vaccine ingredients, risks, or rights to file a claim if their child is harmed by their vaccines. HB 1029 not only codifies the federal law regarding administering the CDC’s Vaccine Information Statement, but also would require that prior to consent, every patient is given information on the process to file a claim in the event of an adverse reaction, and the CDC’s Vaccine Excipient and Media Summary which lists the multiple ingredients contained in each vaccine.
Rep. Jeff Leach filed HB 1070 in response to medical practices who have turned away families, refusing to provide medical care to their children based on immunization status. Since our right to informed consent is built on a basic tenet that we are free to decline a medical procedure without consequence, this practice is completely unjust. HB 1070 states that any practice receiving Medicaid or other medical assistance funding would forfeit that funding if they discriminate against patients based on immunization status. The reasoning behind this bill is simple: Doctors who have chosen to accept Medicaid payments have entered into a contract with the government and must comply with government non-discrimination policies. Otherwise, patient discrimination becomes discrimination by the government.
Rep. Matthew Krause filed HB 1124 which would enable parents to print blank vaccine exemption forms directly from the DSHS website. This bill greatly reduces the hoop-jumping currently required for obtaining exemption forms, as well as doing away with the timing issue of waiting on requests to be processed and forms to be physically mailed. Additionally, this bill would do away with having to provide personal information to the DSHS since, by law, the state is not allowed to maintain or track that information anyway.
We also have a bill filed in the Senate. Senator Konni Burton filed SB 479 which is similar to HB 1029 in requiring Vaccine Information Statements and information for filing claims for adverse events be provided to the parent prior to their consent to or declination of vaccination.
Q: These all sound great! What other bills are we hoping to file this session?
A: We have one other bill we’re hoping to file that we refer to as our “Exemption Information Bill.” This bill would clarify the information that school districts must provide when referencing school immunization requirements. Currently, the statute says that any district that maintains a school website must include a link to the DSHS website that discusses vaccine exemptions whenever they discuss vaccine requirements. However, school districts blatantly abuse this statute by omitting exemption information when they communicate with parents about vaccine requirements via letters sent home from the nurse, newsletters, flyers, bulletin boards on campus, etc. This bill would clarify that ANY TIME vaccine requirements are communicated, in whatever format, a link to the DSHS page explaining exemption options must be included.
Q: What can every vaccine choice supporter do to help these bills succeed?
A: There are a number of things we need people to do:
– Write thank you notes to our legislative supporters who authored these bills, thanking them for standing with us;
– Call and write their own representatives and senators and respectfully ask them, as their constituents, to support these bills;
– Mark their calendars for our Citizen Engagement Days (February 21, March 29 and May 6) and our Rally (April 13) and make an effort to be in Austin on any of those dates they can;
– Encourage friends and family to join TFVC so they can stay informed and stand with us to protect and advance their rights; and, last but not least,
– Stay active on the TFVC public page, liking and sharing our posts so we can garner more support for our bills and have even more people asking their reps and senators to support them.
Q: Realistically, what should our expectations be for getting some of these bills passed our first year as a PAC?
A: While we obviously cannot predict the ultimate success or failure of these bills, I know that our message of vaccine freedom is definitely gaining ground in the capitol, and I am absolutely confident that our bills will advance favorably through the legislative process.
Well, there you have it! It’s an exciting time for vaccine choice advocates in Texas, as we have loads of progress being made on the policy-side of things. We also have plenty that we can ALL do to give these bills the best possible chance of becoming LAWS. Please share widely with your friends and families, and encourage everyone you know to ask their legislators to support these hugely important pieces of legislation.