The 2020 legislative session started with the crack of a gavel midday on Tuesday, Feb. 11. Legislators wasted no time in beginning the work of the session with committees immediately meeting to begin processing bills. With 2020 being a short legislative session, legislators and advocates alike are moving quickly to advance their priorities.
Vaccine proponents opened the session with a rally on Feb. 18 to celebrate the tremendous success of vaccines in preventing disease and death. Patsy Stinchfield, an APRN with expertise in pediatric infectious diseases who practices at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, acted as emcee for the rally, which featured remarks by health care providers as well as individuals with weakened immune systems wary of the risk of rising rates of non-vaccination. A 12-year-old with Crohn’s Disease, a young cervical cancer survivor, and the parents of a newborn hospitalized with pertussis all spoke to their concern that the return of vaccine-preventable diseases pose serious risks to their and their families’ health. Rally goers also warmly welcomed remarks by the legislators leading the effort to strengthen our immunization law. Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL – Golden Valley) and Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL – Brooklyn Center) thanked the attendees for their advocacy and urged them to keep the pressure on legislators. All too often, they noted, anti-vaccine advocates have dominated the airwaves, pushing aside the majority of parents who strongly support vaccines.
Vaccines were also the subject of several pieces of legislation recently introduced. The two bills, authored by Sen. Scott Jensen, MD (R – Chaska), are seen by most observers to be designed to weaken Minnesota’s already inadequate laws governing immunizations. One bill would prohibit employers from requiring vaccinations of employees if the employee has a “conscientiously-held belief” against being immunized. The second bill would require the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to post on their website a number of studies about vaccine safety. Some of the required studies – including safety trials using placebos – are seen by many as a means to weaken existing law even further. The bills are unlikely to become law.
The coming weeks will see the pace of the session continue to accelerate. Legislative leaders have set very tight deadlines to process bills for consideration by the full House and Senate, so legislators and advocates alike are scrambling to get their proposals scheduled for hearings. The speedy start to the session, combined with the growing use by legislators of large omnibus bills that gather dozens of bills together into a single package, can often make tracking and influencing legislation challenging.
If you haven’t already done so, please make plans to attend the annual Pediatricians’ Day at the Capitol. The event, set for March 23, is the single most important advocacy effort for the MNAAP. The day is one of fun, fellowship, and advocacy on behalf of kids.