Charlie Howard

On the Lege

Editor’s note: This is the final installation of a six-part series examining bills that could impact the lives of students. After Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugarland, spoke at the funeral of a constituent who died from bacterial meningitis, he decided to push legislation that would require all students to get a vaccine against the disease before entering college. Texas A&M junior Nicolis Williams’ family said they hoped other students would not contract the same disease as their son, and Howard said he agreed with their sentiment. “Even before the funeral, what they were more concerned about was that this didn’t happen to students in the future,” Howard said. “That really made an impression on me.” Current law, which is the Jamie Schanbaum Act passed in 2009, requires all incoming students who will live in residence halls to receive the vaccine. Schanbaum was a sophomore at UT when she contracted bacterial meningitis in 2008. She had not gotten the vaccine because she lived off campus. Williams also lived off campus, and Howards said the 2009 law would not have helped either student. He said he hopes his bill will help all students. “Students are our future; they are our hope,” Howard said. “We need to protect them in every way we can. That is the government’s role to protect our citizens.” Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, also filed a meningitis bill in the state Senate. Both bills serve as an extension of current law bringing Texas into compliance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Davis’ office. Both bills would require incoming students to provide proof of the vaccination 10 days before the start of the semester or term. University Health Services senior program coordinator Sherry Bell said meningococcal disease can be devastating because of its quick onset and the serious effects it can leave. “It can go from someone being perfectly well to them being dead in a couple of days,” Bell said. “It can cause meningitis, the inflammation of the brain and systemic blood poisoning, and those things can result in loss of limbs.” According to the University Health Services website, between 1,400 and 3,000 people contract the disease each year. Despite treatment, Bell said 10-15 percent of people who get the disease die and 11-19 percent of survivors have lost fingers, toes, arms, legs and developed mental or developmental impairments. Bell said administrators who would be potentially affected by the legislation will discuss the bills’ implications. UHS currently offers the meningitis vaccine by appointment for $127 for current and accepted students. Nutrition and pre-med junior Michelle Nguyen said the only downside would be the financial impact it could have on students, especially those without health insurance. “It doesn’t sound like a bad idea because meningitis is extraordinarily contagious, not just for people in dorms, but everyone within close quarters,” Nguyen said. “The only negativity I can imagine is it would force people to pay for the vaccination.” Austin Regional Clinic physician Walter Kuhl said if the bill passes, there will not be much impact in the health care community because a dose is already required for Texas students entering seventh grade. Howard anticipates the bill will pass because it is has been favored by the Texas Commissioner of Health and Human Services and the three doctors in the House. “I request the support of the students at UT,” he said. “I would like for them to be contacting their state representatives and senators that they would like this bill passed.

 

<em>Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in a six-part series about legislation that would affect students. We have asked campus leaders, students, faculty, politicians and administrators to weigh in on this week’s topic of debate: mandatory meningitis shots for college students.<em/>

<strong> The bill: <strong>

House Bill 1816: relating to the vaccination against bacterial meningitis of first-time students at public and private or independent institutions of higher education

Sponsors and contact information:
Authors: Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, 512-463-0710
Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, 512-463-0494
Byron Cook, R-Austin, 512-463-0730
Co-author: Alma Allen, D-Houston, 512-463-0744

<em>To find contact information for your local state representative or state senator, please visit the Capitol’s “Who Represents Me” page at www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us<em/>

<strong> The question: Should meningitis vaccines be required for all Texas college students? <strong/>

<strong>Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, H.B. 1816 author <strong/>

One of the most essential functions our state government can serve is that of protecting life. When it becomes apparent that an object stands in the way of that function, it behooves the state to act. This is the case with bacterial meningitis on our college campuses.

Bacterial meningitis is an illness that can result in the loss of extremities and severely impact an individual’s normal way of life. Most seriously, this disease can result in death. This illness has claimed the lives of students and caused grief and sorrow to numerous communities across Texas.

Last session, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 4189, requiring all incoming freshmen and transfer students, living on campus, to receive the bacterial meningitis vaccination. This law was named after Jamie Schanbaum, a student at the University of Texas who survived the fatal illness. However, Jamie lived off campus, and the very piece of legislation named after her would not have protected her.

Nicolis Williams, a junior at Texas A&M University, recently passed away due to bacterial meningitis. His passing occurred after House Bill 4189 was passed. Nicolis also lived off campus.

House Bill 1816 expands the requirement to receive the bacterial meningitis vaccination to all incoming students, those that reside on campus as well as off campus. This will help ensure that one of Texas’ most precious assets, its youth, are able to fulfill their potential without the risk of unnecessary loss of life.

<strong>Andy Fernandez, Libertarian Longhorns<strong/>

As a principled libertarian, I am a strict adherent to the axiom of non-aggression, which is to say that I am always against the initiation of force or coercion. With that in mind, requiring all Texas college students to be vaccinated with meningitis is clearly a violation of the underlying principle of libertarianism.

The ends never justify the means. While this proposed piece of legislation may have good intentions, the way in which it seeks to accomplish its goal of healthier students is unacceptable. It is advocating for the forced medication of people who may not all choose to give their consent otherwise. It is unreasonable, unjust and violent to support legislation such as this.

If we wish to create a more peaceful and prosperous society, then we must not be so quick to use the legalized force of the state to attempt to solve all of our problems. Too often do we try to solve problems that resulted due to violence with more violence and this mandate is just another example. Let us promote peace and voluntary cooperation rather than violence and coercion.

<strong>Jeanne Carpenter, UHS Director and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs<strong/>

Depending upon the date such a law might take effect and the meaning of some of the terms used in the bill, mechanisms needed to communicate requirements to students and ensure compliance could affect University Health Services, Admissions, the Office of the Registrar, the Office of the Dean of Students’ New Student Orientation programs and other campus departments. In all likelihood, additional staff would be needed to implement and monitor requirements of the bill.

<strong>Quotes to note HB1816:<strong/>

“It’s a machine gun approach to try to prevent such an isolated, rare event.”
<em>— Dawn Richardson, president of Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education, as reported by The Texas Tribune.<em/>

“It is imperative that this bill be passed into law this session ... Nicolis’ death was both preventable and unnecessary, and passing House Bill 1816 will ensure that no other young Texan loses their life from such a terrible and preventable illness.”
<em>— Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, as reported by FortBendNow.<em/>

“When a student dies from the area I represent, it really hits home that we need to change the law to include that all college students need to be vaccinated.”
<em>— Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.<em/>

“It is a travesty that young Texans are still dying from bacterial meningitis. It is my hope that the Texas House will come together in a bipartisan effort to swiftly pass House Bill 1816 and send it to the Senate to do the same.”
<em>— Rep. Howard, as reported by FortBendNow.<em/>

“When you have that kind of situation, I really think the best policy in Texas would be to let the ultimate decision be with the family themselves.”
<em>— Dawn Richardson on whether the state should require college students to get the meningococcal vaccination, according to The Texas Tribune.<em/>

<em>What’s your opinion on the meningitis bill? E-mail us at firingline@dailytexanonline.com<em/>