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Lawmaker wants to stop universitites, colleges from mandating vaccinations
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Lawmaker wants to stop universitites, colleges from mandating vaccinations

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PHOENIX – Barring state universities and community colleges from requiring students to have immunizations would remove a roadblock to higher education for some Arizonans, a state lawmaker said Wednesday.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said the change is needed because parents of some students from kindergarten through high school decide against having their children vaccinated.

Farnsworth authored HB 2383, which would prevent the Arizona Board of Regents or community colleges from requiring immunization records for admission or class enrollment.

Universities require certain vaccinations but offer waivers. According to a House memorandum on the bill, community college districts generally require immunizations only for students in health-related or early childhood-development programs and those who live on campus.

Saying he got the idea for the bill when a constituent reported being denied admission to a community college nursing program because he wasn't vaccinated, Farnsworth said the current system lacks consistency.

“In a state university, in a state community college, we ought to have a level playing field where people can come in and learn without being exempted because they don’t believe that immunizations are for them, for whatever reason,” he said.

The House Higher Education, Innovation and Reform Committee endorsed Farnsworth’s bill Wednesday even though groups including the Arizona Medical Association, Arizona Public Health Association and Arizona Nurses Association registered against it.

John Po, president of the Arizona Infectious Diseases Society, said the bill would leave no wiggle room for universities and community colleges to require immunizations in the face of disease outbreaks.

“We don’t like blanket statements,” Po said. “We have to make sure that we don’t provide a prohibitory environment where our universities can’t operate independently and make those decisions, especially those that affect so many people, to exercise what is necessary to keep their population safe.”

The committee voted 6-2 in favor of the measure, with Reps. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, and Macario Saldate, D-Tucson, opposing it.

“As the bill is written, it is an obstruction to public health,” Chabin said.

Rep. Ted Vogt, R-Tucson, who voted for the measure, said universities and community colleges are set up as gathering places for the larger public.

“There is no check on who is coming on and not coming on campus,” he said.

Alisa Lyons, a lobbyist for the Arizona Community College Presidents’ Council, which registered its opposition to the bill, said the vast majority of community college students never have to show proof of immunization. She suggested excluding groups currently subject to immunization requirements from the bill.

The Arizona Board of Regents hasn’t taken a position on the bill but would be open to a law mirroring the universities’ policies of allowing those opposed to immunization to submit waivers, Sarah Harper, an ABOR spokeswoman, said in a phone interview.

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