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Vaccine Bill Gets Past Education Panel

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill to eliminate the personal belief exemption in the requirements to immunize schoolchildren.

SB 277, by Sens. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), appeared before the same committee last week, but when it became clear during the Apr. 15 hearing that the bill wouldn’t pass committee, the vote was postponed until Wednesday.

The bill authors amended the bill to exclude home-school children (“home-based private school” is the bill language) from the vaccination rule. That was enough to garner tepid committee support.

Allen raised the idea that children who are unable to get the vaccine are placed at risk for potentially dangerous diseases like whooping cough and measles by children who are not immunized. If there were to be a disease outbreak, that would present even more potential harm to those children, Allen said.

“We are presenting amendments that we think strikes a balance for allowing [parents with children unable to get a vaccine] to find a school … and for those who firmly do not want to vaccinate their children,” Allen said.

Endorsement from committee members most often came with caveats.

“I firmly believe in vaccines, my children have been vaccinated,” said Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino). “And I know you’re both very passionate on this issue. However, I am very passionate about workers and working families, and I just still have a concern that this will not go far enough to help a two-income family who cannot homeschool their child, or a single working parent.”

“I have to be convinced there’s some serious harm done if we don’t do this bill,” said Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego). “With the trends we’re seeing, you’re saying if one person in San Diego gets the measles, it is likely to start an outbreak [if immunization rates get too low]?”

“Yes,” said bill co-author Pan. “If our immunity [rate] continues to decline, we are likely to see more outbreaks.”

“This bill does have a long way to go,” said Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge). “In terms of public health, it’s necessary, but I am concerned about the rights of parents,” she said.

The bill was a vote-only item, because public comment had been heard at the previous hearing.

Sen. Sharon Runner (R-Antelope Valley) said she wasn’t at the first hearing, but got a strong sense of the angry tenor of the public comments from watching a broadcast of the event.

“With the amendments, it makes it better,” Runner said. “I’m not sure it makes it better enough to vote on it.”

“I’m an educator myself,” bill co-author Allen said, “and we want to make sure this works for all families.”

Committee members approved the bill on a 7-2 vote. It now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Capitol Desk Public Health