The impassioned debate surrounding California legislation to remove the personal-belief exemption for vaccinations has bubbled over into threats against lawmakers and heightened security measures for at least one state senator.
Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat who introduced SB 277, said the in-house law enforcement unit has provided him with extra security in recent weeks, after his office began receiving alarming phone calls, e-mails and Facebook comments from opponents of the bill.
“They’re basically trying to silence us,” Pan said. “It’s disturbing.”
The messages range from images depicting Pan as a Nazi to posts on his Facebook page calling for him to be “eradicated” or hung by a noose. Pan said his staff has forwarded all of the threats to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office, as is procedure, which has assessed them and responded as needed. Additional guards attended a community forum last month, for example, after bill opponents discussed throwing things at Pan.
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The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms referred all questions to the office of Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León. In an e-mail, spokeswoman Claire Conlon said, “It’s our policy not to discuss Capitol security details.”
Emotions have flared as deliberations begin on SB 277 and anti-vaccine advocates lobby aggressively against the bill. At a raucous committee hearing last week, where several audience members were ejected, Democratic senators Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles and Bill Monning of Carmel chided opponents for calls to their offices that they said crossed the line.
The office of Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat who is a co-author of Pan’s bill, declined to comment on whether he was also receiving threats or additional security.
Pan blamed the “vitriol” of prominent anti-vaccine advocates, such as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who apologized this week for calling the rise in autism, which he believes is linked to vaccines, a “holocaust.”
“What does that mean for the followers when they make comments like that?” Pan said. “That stimulates people to want to make threats.”
Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.