A highly charged bill that would eliminate most exemptions that allow parents to avoid requirements to vaccinate their children easily cleared one of its last hurdles Thursday.
Senate Bill 277, which mandates vaccinations for all school children, regardless of their parents’ personal or religious beliefs, passed on a 46 to 30 vote in the state Assembly.
Only medical exemptions would be allowed.
Controversy around the elimination of the “personal belief exemption” was spurred in California after a measles outbreak started last December at Disneyland.
By the time they declared the outbreak over in mid-April, state health officials confirmed 136 measles cases in California. That’s something that the bill’s two authors, Sens. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, say could have been prevented if more Californians, particularly those in communities with low-vaccination rates, were fully immunized.
If enacted into law, California would join only two other states — Mississippi and West Virginia — that permit only medical exemptions as legitimate reasons to sidestep vaccinations.
But over the past few months, hundreds of parents who oppose the legislation have rallied at the Capitol, saying the bill violates their parental rights. Other opponents believe that some vaccines are unsafe for some children. Then, often with their children in tow, they testified at public hearings where the measure was being considered.
Following Thursday’s vote, they rallied again. And even though many opponents expected the Assembly to pass the bill, they said they were pleased that so many Democrats spoke publicly against it, proving that vaccination isn’t a partisan issue.
But if Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, said Michelle Tryner, a mother of three vaccinated children, she hopes he’ll take steps to protect the religious exemption.
“Our country was founded on religious freedom,” said Tryner, who lives in Antioch. “Although I don’t have a religious objection to vaccinating my children, some people do and their rights need to be protected.”
Because the bill was recently slightly amended in the Assembly, it must return to the Senate, its house of origin, for a final OK. After that, SB 277 would require Brown’s signature to become law.
The governor’s staff has said Brown “believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely considered.”
But it’s unknown whether or not Brown would allow the religious exemption to be dropped from the current bill.
In 2012, then-assemblyman Pan helped pass a bill that tightened the state’s vaccine law by requiring parents who wanted to exempt their children from the shots to meet with a health care professional.
Brown signed the bill, but directed state health officials to allow parents with religious exemptions to avoid that requirement.