Q&A: Colorado District 39 Rep. Mark Baisley
Rep. Mark Baisley is a freshman Republican Representative for District 39 in Colorado. As an aerospace engineer, he brings an immense knowledge and passion for technology and education to the State Government. In this Q&A, Baisley discusses current health concerns in Colorado’s 39th District including broadband connections for telehealth in rural areas and readjusting what constitutes child abuse and neglect for mandatory reporter professions.
Haley Donwerth: One of your recent bills, HB20-1297, was signed by Governor Polis to confirm that parents refusing immunizations on personal, religious or medical beliefs does not fall under the spectrum of child abuse. Can you explain more about this bill, and why you chose to sponsor it?
Mark Baisley: “This bill was created In response to a 2019 House Bill, revived this year as a Senate Bill which makes it tougher for parents to exempt their children from vaccinations in order to get into public schools. It’s pressure that grew [around this issue] and the very big response from parents, who want to be the ultimate decision-maker for their children. [Referring to parents not vaccinating their children as child abuse] is an oppressive, overreaching attitude of micromanagement in government to individual liberties and parental rights.
In light of all that, three moms came to me on three separate occasions who moved from California to Colorado from fear of losing their children to Child Protective Services and saw the same policies taking hold in Colorado. They asked for help to avoid being forced to give their kids vaccinations.
Mandatory Reporter professions like teachers and coaches are required to report instances of abuse, and this bill added the instructions to those twenty or so professions that seeing that a child has not been kept to the vaccination schedule is not to be considered neglect or child abuse. This is already reflected in Colorado Revised Statutes Title 25, Health § 25-4-2403, which currently reads, ‘Neither refusing an immunization on the grounds of medical, religious, or personal belief considerations pursuant to section 25-4-903 nor opting to exclude immunization notification information from the immunization tracking system shall, by itself, constitute child abuse or neglect by a parent or legal guardian’. Wanting to have a say in medical decisions for their children is a battle that a lot of parents have.”
HD: Can you speak to the current state of rural health during COVID-19?
MB: “The only difference between rural and more densely populated areas is the predictable numbers of cases. The denser the population, the higher number of infections. Other than that, the overlying concerns both on the front range and out in the rural areas are that non COVID-19 matters are getting neglected. With the Governor’s order to suspend elective surgeries, medical concerns that ought to be tended to are being postponed and causing new problems. People that ought to be keeping up with their blood pressure issues or keeping an eye on potential cancer are not being tended to nearly as closely as they ought to be.
It happened more naturally when doctors gave advice that didn’t have political motivations, and a political pandemic like COVID-19 displaces normal medical practices. The only thing that I see specific to rural areas is rural folk generally want to be left alone, especially by Denver. Denver pokes its nose into their business a lot, and the main question I’m hearing from them is “Why are you imposing yourself on us?”
HD: How is broadband access, or a lack thereof, impacting telehealth in rural Colorado?
MB: “With telehealth and a very heavy demand on imagery, either as a live examination or just sharing MRI and X-Ray imagery, it is very demanding on bandwidth. This is a newer area for us, extending medical expertise via the internet out to more rural parts of America and certainly here in Colorado. The laws of supply and demand do not keep up with or create that requirement for bandwidth out to every point in the state so this is one of those moments where the state government does have an appropriate role to step up and fund extension of broadband out to Colorado for the sake of telehealth.
We really need to take advantage of broadband access and delivery of medicine through delivery systems like Amazon and FedEx. Coupled with telehealth, we can really extend the medical care out to every corner of the state, and I think that is a proper role for the Government of Colorado. It’s simply a relatively new advancement in technology in a civilized society that those of us in the west can take advantage of. It’s not profitable to extend services to rural areas, so we augment that and make sure it reaches the most vulnerable parts of the state, especially since we have some pretty remote spots.”
HD: Looking ahead to the next legislative session, what are you hoping to work on?
MB: “The biggest matter we need to work on, which is an appropriate role of government, is transportation. I think that we need to readdress transportation, meaning automobile transportation, and rethink the whole thing. We have new technology to reduce the interactions of individuals with law enforcement. When walking down the street, minding your own business, no one thinks about being confronted by law enforcement. When you’re in your car, though, you’re always looking in your rearview mirror. When a police officer pulls up behind you, you’re immediately worried that you’ll get pulled over. There’s an enormous number of laws applied to traffic, and a whole lot of opportunity for law enforcement interaction with citizens, and I’d like to see that reduced immensely.
I think we can apply technology to that. Tickets for having out-of-date registration could be handled similarly to how red-light cameras catch people speeding. Traffic violations and registration and similar infractions can easily be handled through technology rather than a law enforcement officer confronting a citizen. Stop lights are a common frustration as well as addressing the flow of traffic on Interstate 70. It’s so clogged, everyone is bothered by it, it affects locals and commuters, and it’s beyond time we figured out how to keep traffic flowing. I think we need to step up and potentially team with the federal government to fund a solution.
Reigning in the Governors’ authority when it comes to emergency orders is another focus of mine. That power was always intended to be a 30-day emergency order, and what’s unfortunate is Governor Polis continues to declare orders every 30 days, which has displaced our constitutional government with his vision of how society ought to run. That was never the intent and citizens shouldn’t be subjected to one opinion of how society should function.
Parents are also re-thinking education, and I’ve heard there is a large percentage of parents considering homeschooling. So, how do we help facilitate flexibility with parents and how do we help them if they choose to take a non-traditional educational approach?”
HD: Can you speak on any downstream impacts from cuts to mental health services?
MB: “This is a complex matter. There is nothing more complex on the planet than the human mind, so how do we recognize and care for that? We’ve gone through a great deal of changes over the last few decades about mental health issues. How do you determine mental health just by looking at someone? Particularly affected homeless people. All the health care cuts that happened specifically in the 1980’s have done a tremendous disservice toward the care of mental health. I’m an advocate for doing this well, funding the correct expertise to help people who are incapable of helping themselves, and figuring out how to help bring people struggling with mental illness out of homelessness without violating someone’s desire to live the way they want to. We made that mistake as a society of abandoning those folks in the 1980’s for a trend, and it’s time to rethink all of that. I’m not an expert, but I’m very supportive of funding good mental health programs. Not getting the government itself involved because the government is usually a last resort, but it’s certainly good for funding those who have expertise.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.