After Committee Kills Bill, State Can Still Vax Kids Without Parent OK In Emergencies

A bill that would have removed the state’s authority to vaccinate Wyoming kids without parental consent in extreme circumstances was killed in committee Monday.

Clair McFarland

February 20, 20245 min read

Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper
Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

A Wyoming legislative bill that would have removed the state’s authority to vaccinate children without parental consent in extreme circumstances failed narrowly Monday after a House committee voted it down 5-4.

House Bill 44 sought to repeal a portion of Wyoming’s public health statutes that allows the state health officer to vaccinate a child without her parents’ consent in a public health emergency — if the parents can’t be found and if doing so is necessary to protect the child or the public from disease, disability or suffering.

It also would have removed minors’ ability to get tobacco addiction treatment without their parents’ consent.

But the bill's goal was oblique in its language, as its sponsor said she sought to repeal those laws primarily because they underpinned a major Wyoming hospital's decision to restrict parents from accessing some of their children's medical records. 

It All Started In June

Lawmakers first discussed the bill publicly last June, when Banner Health, a hospital in Casper, told parents they could no longer access any of their children’s medical records online after their children turned 12.

Because the hospital’s online system couldn’t separate privacy-protected treatment records from records of other treatments parents could access, it locked parents out of the entire portal, the message said at the time.

Parents could go to a clinic and access records in person, the message said. A later statement by the hospital said parents could also request permission to see their child’s records through the hospital’s website.

But the hospital said it still could limit parents’ access to records “that may not be provided without the minor’s consent.”

Banner based its decision on a federal regulation that says minors are their own health care representatives for treatments to which they can consent without their parents.

So Take That Away

Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, said she sponsored HB 44 so hospitals couldn’t deny parents access to their children’s medical records by linking the state’s non-consent treatments to federal medical privacy mandates.

“This bill gives rights back to parents to be able to see their children’s online health care records,” Ward told the House Labor Health and Social Services Committee during the first of two meetings on the bill Friday.

She said the two laws the bill sought to repeal were “influencing” the hospital’s privacy restrictions.

In the second meeting on the bill Monday, Ward proposed to amend it so that the state health officer could still give medical treatments to a child during a public-health situation in which the parents could not be found — but could not vaccinate a child in that situation.

Bioterrorism Attacks

Cheyenne pediatrician Dr. Andy Rose visited the committee Monday to oppose the bill on behalf of the Wyoming Medical Society.

He said the issues Casper residents had with Banner Health did not surface in Cheyenne.

“Sounds like maybe the hang-up was with an online portal system,” he said. “This law doesn’t really deal with that in terms of access to records, but it does limit access to care.”

Rose said the bill would delay emergency vaccinations in the event of viral bioterrorism warfare. He cited Ebola as an example, saying providers would want to vaccinate all exposed people as quickly as possible to contain the virus and stop the outbreak at its source.

To limit that “seems unreasonable, especially with how close we are to a military base,” he added.

‘Never Crossed Our Minds’

Wyoming State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist expanded on that thought in her own testimony, saying both smallpox and Ebola could be agents in a bioterrorism attack.

A smallpox vaccine can help if given in the first few days of infection, she said, adding that an Ebola infection can only be treated via vaccination.

Ward asked Harrist if she believed COVID-19 was a catastrophic event.

Harrist said it was deadly for thousands in Wyoming, but was not so catastrophic that parents were dying and the state had to vaccinate children with no one’s permission.

“It never even crossed our minds to use the statute during the COVID pandemic,” said Harrist.

Because, Abuse

Rose said he was worried about having to obtain consent to treat minors for tobacco addiction, because he said it would prevent some from seeking help.

He said some parents are abusive, and some adolescents genuinely fear their parents.

Rep. Sarah Penn, R-Fort Washakie, countered, asking Rose if he had to report indications of abuse.

Rose said he did have to report abuse.

Penn later noted, in explaining her aye vote for the bill, that the state can intervene in other ways to help children when there are reports of abuse.

Five Against

The House representatives voting against the bill were Republican Reps. Zwonitzer, Forrest Chadwick (Evansville), Ken Clouston (Gillette), Kevin O’Hearn (Mills) and Democratic Rep. Mike Yin (Jackson).

Those voting in favor and in the minority were Republican Reps. Penn, Ward, Tamara Trujillo (Cheyenne) and Ben Hornok (Cheyenne).

A later attempt Monday to resurrect the bill on a recall vote also failed with 31 opposed, 30 in favor and one person excused from the vote.

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter