Texas House votes to largely prohibit mandatory vaccines for children put in temporary Child Protective Services care

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In what was expected to be a discussion of a largely bipartisan-supported bill that proposes improvements for the state’s Child Protective Services agency, the merits of vaccines were hotly debated Wednesday afternoon.

One of the solutions proposed in the bill, authored by state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, would require the Department of Family and Protective Services to administer a medical and mental examination for children in CPS custody for more than three days. These children would have likely been taken out of the custody of parents for safety concerns.

The guidelines for these examinations would be set by the Health and Human Services Commission and medical practitioners, should the bill be passed.

But other lawmakers wanted to give their input as well.

State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, proposed an amendment that would preclude physicians from administering vaccines in these examinations. Supporters of this amendment argued that when a child is in temporary custody, there are plenty of unknowns, including what the parent’s choice would be and the child’s medical history.

State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, attempted to negate Zedler’s amendment by adding some key changes. One change featured language that would permit vaccines as long as those vaccines prevented cancer.

She argued this would empower doctors to make the right decisions for the child’s health care, leading to a skirmish with state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. Leach argued the act of empowering one “disempowers” another.

“It is my belief that your amendment would rip that decision from the parents and give it to the doctors,” Leach said.

Davis said allowing doctors to vaccinate children simply allowed them to practice medicine. She said it would be immoral for the state House to vote against allowing vaccines that could prevent cancer.

“I want to know who in this body does not believe in the science of vaccines,” Davis said.

The amendment was defeated in a 74-64 vote, showing Davis who among her fellow legislators would be supportive of vaccinations.

Notably, state Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, and state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, both doctors, were among those voting against the amendment to allow vaccinations.

Wu, in an attempt to neutralize Zedler’s amendment, worked to draft more friendly language that wouldn’t derail his bill.

The new amendment would allow vaccinations in the case of tetanus and if CPS has been named the managing conservator of a child, a situation that Wu said often occurs after 14 days of state-led care.

Zedler’s amendment, as changed by Wu, was eventually tacked onto the CPS bill in a 74-58 vote.

Another physician, state Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, spoke out against the amendment before it passed, asking to have the vaccine debate on a different day.

“This discussion about vaccinations should be a separate, standalone bill, on a separate, different day,” Sheffield said.

The overall bill tentatively passed the House in a 120-15 vote. The final vote will likely be taken Thursday.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson is a recent transplant to the Austin area from Houston, Texas, where she started with Community Impact Newspaper in May 2016. Donaldson started covering public education in Cy-Fair ISD, the third largest school district in the state of Texas, and then she transitioned into her role as the company's legislative reporter, providing statehouse coverage for all 22 editions. Currently, she reports on the city of Round Rock and Round Rock ISD for the Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto edition. Donaldson graduated from the University of Missouri with bachelor's degrees in magazine journalism and political science.

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