Oregon Republicans: Refusing to work until a pro-vaccine bill is shelved

Oregon, but has been used throughout history, sometimes creating comical scenes. Abraham Lincoln once leapt out of a window in an attempt to deny a quorum when he was a lawmaker in Illinois. In Washington three decades ago, U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Oregon) was carried feet first into the Senate chamber after Democrats ordered the arrest of Republican senators who were denying a quorum.

The Oregon standoff ended on its fifth day Monday. It had been caused by GOP senators’ anger at a bill that raises taxes on some businesses to fund education. To get the Republicans to return, Democrats agreed not to advance a measure requiring vaccinations for children to attend public schools, unless they have a doctor’s note. Democrats also reportedly agreed to drop gun-control legislation.

Opposing bills to increase vaccine uptake and decrease gun violence, to the point of pulling a seldom used maneuver of having legislators hide out and deny a legislative body a full quorum? Nice.

The vaccine bill that Democrats were apparently forced to trade away was House Bill 3063, which would have eliminated nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. Specifically, it would have removed the “ability of parent to decline required immunizations against restrictable diseases on behalf of child for reason other than child’s indicated medical diagnosis.” It would also have allowed a:

…child who is not immunized or exempt for reason of indicated medical diagnosis to attend school that provides education program through online courses. Prohibits child from attending [in-person] in person specified school-related [activities] events, meetings and opportunities.

It would also have allowed the Oregon Health Authority to recommend additional diseases against which children should be immunized. Given the large measles outbreaks just across the river in Clark County, WA, HB 3063 was a common sense measure to increase vaccine uptake. Sadly, Republicans have killed it in the Senate after a battle to get it passed in the House:

The proposal shocked HB 3063’s opponents, many of them parents of the roughly 31,000 Oregon children that aren’t fully vaccinated according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended schedule. Opponents held two large rallies outside the Capitol in March and April, calling fears about illnesses like measles overblown and vowing to fight what they saw as the government encroaching on their freedom to make medical decisions for their children.

More than 100 opponents filled the House chamber last week when lawmakers passed HB 3063 in a 35-25 vote, sending it to the Senate, where it appeared likely to pass with most Democrats in support and Republicans opposed.

Instead, Gov. Kate Brown won’t get a chance to follow Inslee, despite saying she would have signed HB 3063. A Senate Democrat said Brown briefed lawmakers about the deal to kill the bill in an effort to salvage the school funding package Monday morning, and Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, who co-sponsored the bill, confirmed its death in a social media post several minutes before Republicans returned to the Senate to vote on the school funding tax.

It’s worth noting here that the co-sponsor, Rep. Cheri Helt, is a Republican. Not all Republican legislators are antivax. Most, are not, and some are admirably pro-vaccine. Unfortunately, as I’ve noted many times before, while it is true that most GOP legislators and politicians are not, strictly speaking, antivaccine themselves, many of them are susceptible to antivaccine pseudoscience because antivaxers appealing to “freedom” and “parental rights” to urge them to oppose school vaccine mandates. It often works, too. Also of note, every “vaccine choice” (translation: antivaccine) political action committee I’ve examined is very much right wing and lobby and support GOP candidates; e.g., the PACS in Michigan and Texas.

Some GOP legislators have become particularly antivaccine. For instance, Texas Representative Jonathan Stickland recently got into a Twitter exchange with Prof. Peter Hotez, public health researcher and staunch vaccine advocate accusing him of being a pharma shill and then:

That’s right. Rep. Stickland referred to vaccines as sorcery. He also referred to a critic as a “brainwashed Commie”:

Obviously, Rep. Stickland is a particularly extreme example of GOP antivaxer, of course, but unfortunately even the less extreme antivax-sympathetic legislators in Oregon were extreme enough to refuse to come back to work until a bill to increase vaccination (and a gun control bill) had been tabled. Meanwhile, the Oregon Republican Party is retweeting Tweets from antivaxers like this:

And:

Sadly, that about sums up the Republican Party these days, their shutting down government business until antivaxers and the NRA are appeased. Unfortunately, that the Democrats in the Oregon Senate let them about sums up the Democratic Party these days as well.