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Legislation moving quickly

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By Delegate Kathy Byron

    This week, we were reminded of how quickly legislation moves during the short session, as one of my bills made it to the floor of the House after just one week.  House Bill 1419 would end Virginia’s mandate that girls receive the human papillomavirus vaccine before entering the sixth grade.

    The mandate was passed by the General Assembly in 2007.  This decision made it the first time that Virginia mandated vaccinations for a disease that cannot be transmitted through casual contact.
    Since Virginia enacted the mandate, no state has followed its lead.  Only the District of Columbia has a similar mandate.  Although parents have the ability to opt-out of the requirement, the mandate effectively endorses the use of the vaccine, which is marketed under the brand name Gardasil.
    After the passage of the Virginia’s mandate, more information concerning the safety of the vaccine has been brought to light.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released documents last year under a freedom of information request that indicated there had been over 17,000 instances of adverse reactions including deaths to the vaccine.
    There are good reasons why some parents would choose to have their child receive the vaccine, and why some parents would choose not to.  However, having the state mandate what is essentially a preventative medical treatment – and one not entirely without risk – is an overreach by government similar to the nationalization of health insurance passed last year by the federal government.  Families and their family physician should be determining the appropriate use of this vaccine, not state government.
    After vigorous debate, my legislation was approved by the House on a vote of 61 to 33.  I was particularly encouraged that the vote was not party-line, as four Democratic delegates voted in favor of the bill.  That may aid in convincing the Democrat-majority Senate to give this legislation a fair hearing.
    One of my bills receiving a great deal of attention is House Bill 2320.  This legislation would make it a misdemeanor to use electronic devices for political purposes to track candidates.  Longtime watchers of election campaigns are very familiar with the term “opposition research.”  New GPS devices have taken (perhaps “lowered” would be a more apt word) this research to another level, using the devices to stalk the travels of candidates by hired private investigators.
    Some have asked why just make this a crime when the tactic is used for political purposes.  Shouldn’t everyone be afforded protection from unknowingly having their movements tracked electronically?  Well, yes.  In fact, this is just one piece of legislation under consideration for this purpose this year.  Delegate Joe May, who serves with me on the House Science and Technology Committee and the Joint Commission on Technology and Science, has introduced legislation that we developed on the Commission that would make this practice a crime regardless of why it was done.  My legislation is intended to heighten the awareness of these practices and to give us two opportunities to outlaw this practice during this General Assembly session.
    The last week marked two state holidays, Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King’s Birthday.  Because the General Assembly does not take holidays off when it is in session (we even work on Washington’s Birthday), many Virginians who have either or both of the days off use them to come to Richmond and meet their elected representatives.
    This year was no different, and the General Assembly Building was filled with throngs of citizens advocating their positions on a lot of issues.  The halls were also busy with members of the credit union for their annual lobby day. From TEA Party activists to those advocating for and against more restrictions, we had a lot of visitors this week.  If you’re planning a visit to Virginia’s Capitol before February 26, please stop by our offices here in Room 811 of the General Assembly Building.
    In next week’s column, I’ll have more details about other bills I’ve submitted this session, and the latest on what is being considered here in Richmond.  If there’s an issue you’ve heard about of interest to you, just send me an email at DelKByron@house.virginia.gov.