Targeting the worst anti-vaxxer lawmakers

It’s long been clear, thanks to their humanity-dooming inaction on climate change, that Republicans either don’t believe in science or just don’t care about it. Since the rise of birtherism and accelerating with the sickening ascent of Donald Trump, it also became apparent that modern Republicans don’t care much about truth, either — blatant lies and conspiracy theories are now the lifeblood of all GOP discourse.

That has created the perfect storm for the anti-vaccination movement, a parade of malicious absurdity led by cynical goblin lawmakers and paranoid fringe-right lunatics. A rise of parents who have not vaccinated their children has led to a rash of measles outbreaks, with Washington State suffering in particular, and instead of acknowledging this as a public health crisis, these goons have been working overtime to make it worse.

Malicious far-right lawmakers are pushing bills in legislatures nationwide that would weaken vaccination requirements and cater to the paranoid and religious nuts that are their base. The idea that vaccinations cause autism and other disorders has long been discredited, but that hasn’t stopped them from weaponizing the suggestion and pairing it with their deep state conspiracy theories to undermine the health of children. While YouTube and Facebook have pledged to take down anti-vaxxer propaganda, we need to work to take down the lawmakers pushing to turn that spook nonsense into crippling public policy.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the most blatant and awful anti-vaxxer lawmakers. This list can and will be updated as more of them come to the forefront.

Arizona:

State Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-HD-6) is one of the most pernicious and unhinged legislators in office today. The two-term Republican pairs absurd public statements that read like InfoWars headlines with vicious legislation that read like Breitbart wishlists. Among other distinguished positions she has staked out, Townsend is a sworn enemy of teachers and rape victims (and, sidenote, is very confused by furries). Earlier this month, she ramped up her attacks on vaccinations, calling them communist plots and comparing them to concentration camp tattoos. It’s all insane.

While Townsend is the most vocal anti-vax voice in the Arizona legislature, two of her colleagues are taking concrete action, pushing several bills that would loosen child vaccination requirements in the state.

State Rep. Nancy Barto (R-HD-15) is sponsoring three bills in the State House of Representatives that would, among other things, add religious exemptions to vaccination requirements, allow parents to skip required education about the risks of not vaccinating their children, and require medical providers to give parents a detailed ingredient list. That last part is generally considered by experts as counterproductive and fuel for conspiracy theories. Barto is a first-term legislator who squeaked out a victory in 2018, meaning she could be ripe for a flip in 2020.

State Sen. Paul Boyer (R-SD-20), meanwhile, is sponsoring similar bills in the State Senate. He’s also a first-termer (he previously served in the State House) who won his race by less than four points, making him a prime target for 2020, as well.

Texas:

This one is distressing on multiple levels. Last month, Texas State Rep. Bill Zedler (R-HD-96), pushed a bill that would loosen childhood vaccination requirements, said that “measles can be treated by antibiotics” and that people in the United States didn’t die from the disease. This despite having spent his career as a medical consultant (hopefully no one took his advice) and suffering measles himself as a child. Not only is he woefully uninformed on the science, he’s perfectly happy to put other children at risk of contracting the disease he suffered. Zedler is a far-right loon who won re-election by less than four points last year, making him another good target.

Iowa:

State Sen. Dennis Guth (R-SD-4) wants to endanger just about everyone. He’s sponsoring two bills in the Iowa State Senate: One would prohibit schools from not admitting unvaccinated children, and another would stop hospitals and healthcare facilities from firing employees that refuse to get vaccinations. It’s almost as if he’s trying to spark a massive outbreak.  

Oregon:

While its northern neighbor Washington has been ground zero for recent measles outbreaks, Oregon has suffered several of its own diagnoses, putting the state on high alert. The reaction has been largely encouraging and rational — measles vaccination rates have skyrocketed in the state, and several bills have been proposed to strengthen vaccination requirements. But wherever there is a public health crisis, there are also cynical right-wing maniacs looking to exploit it, so there are several bills that would actually lower vaccination rates in the state.

Because Democrats control all three branches of government with a supermajority, Republicans know they can’t pass any overtly extreme measures. So they’re trying to quietly and slowly trying to destabilize public health. Most prominent in the legislature is SB 649, a “right to know” bill, which would require medical professionals to hand parents a large stack of information about what’s in each vaccine. It may sound innocuous, but experts and medical advocates explain that this information takes deep pharmaceutical knowledge to understand, and without that, it really only serves to confuse and breed paranoia, which could lower vaccination rates.

The sponsors of this measure: State Sens. Kim Thatcher (R-SD-13); Dennis Linthicum (R-SD-28); Tim Knopp (R-SD-27); Brian Boquist (R-SD-12); and State Reps. Mike Nearman (R-SD-23); Ron Noble (R-SD-24); and Duane Stark (R-SD-4).

West Virginia:

Right now West Virginia has some of the strongest vaccination laws. The only way for a parent to exempt their child from mandatory vaccination is to have a note signed by a medical professional, and the state’s Bureau for Public Health can appoint an immunization officer to make determinations about exemption requests.

But four Republicans are looking to not only lower the state’s standards, they want to absolutely gut them. Senate Bill 454 would not only create loopholes for medical and religious reasons, but also vague “parental objections,” which would create a free-for-all in a state where right-wing talking points tend to take root.

The bill is sponsored by State Sen. Mark Maynard (R-SD-06), and co-sponsored by Sens. Rollan Roberts (R-SD-09), Sue Cline (R-SD-09), and Dave Sypolt (R-SD-14).

Connecticut:

It’s not just Republicans that have fringe anti-vaxxers in their ranks. Connecticut is a state controlled by Democrats, but some of them are out of their mind, as well.

State Rep. Jim Hennessy (D-HD-86) has long been an enemy of mandatory vaccinations, fighting the state’s tightening regulations over the last half-decade. This year, he’s teaming up with Rep. Vincent Candelora (R-HD-127) on HB 5901, which promises to “protect children and pregnant women from harmful ingredients contained in vaccines and to prohibit requirements related to the administration of certain vaccines,” as if that’s not a misleading mission statement.

Luckily, it has no chance of passing — right now, Candelora is most focused on raising a stink about legislative leaders’ attempts to rein and ultimately eliminate the religious exemption altogether.

Missouri:

State Rep. Lynn Morris (R-HD-140) is not only wrong, he’s also recklessly, congenitally irresponsible. Earlier this year, Morris introduced HB 711, which would prevent “discrimination” against kids who aren’t vaccinated. If that sounds vague, it’s probably because Morris himself doesn’t know what it means:

“Morris said he wasn’t certain about several potential effects of the bill. He said he didn’t know whether it would prevent doctors from barring families who don’t vaccinate from their practices, although he thought that would be a good idea. He also wasn’t sure whether the bill would overturn current state law that says when there has been an exposure to an infectious disease, schools should exclude from classes kids who haven’t been vaccinated, as two Kansas City schools have done during an ongoing measles outbreak.”

Sure, if you were generous, you could maybe say that Morris is just a misguided legislator who wants to help kids. But as the Kansas City Star points out, he’s got a history of maliciously endangering children; as a pharmacist, he was disciplined multiple times by the state for improperly dispensing prescription drugs. His license was suspended in 2015, so now he’s trying to give the entire state bad medicine.

Montana:

Last month, a whole slate of awful bills seeking to loosen vaccination requirements and the consequences for not vaccinating children were introduced in the Montana legislature, creating multiple opportunities to endanger kids. You can read about them all at the Billings Gazette; for the most part, they function to force the public to deal with anti-vaxxer parents who are fine not only endangering their children, but forcing that danger on others. This includes little kids at daycare and foster children.

The sponsors include State Sen. Cary Smith (R-SD-27), Rep. Keith Regier (R-HD-4), and Rep. Theresa Manzella (R-HD-85).

Oklahoma:

State Sen. Joseph Silk (R-SD-5) is a true right-wing hypocrite. Late last year, he proposed a total ban on abortion in Oklahoma, calling for the state to ignore federal law and the Supreme Court (which, of course, isn’t possible), and this year, he’s been pushing to broaden exemptions to childhood immunization.

The State Senate was working to pass a law that would remove the religious exemption, but when Silk threw a fit, they decided to scratch that idea and instead require parents watch a video that outlines the risks of not immunizing their children. But Silk got his paws in that, too, and fought to have the video also include the false complication risks around which anti-vaxxers have based so much of their ridiculous campaign.

Silk has also teamed up with Rep. Tom Gann (R-HD-8) on SB 535, a bill that would require schools and medical professionals to obtain legal permission from parents to give children routine and essential immunizations.  

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