Capitol Alert

Parents lobby California lawmakers from both sides of vaccine debate

Hannah Henry of Napa, with her children Marjorie Terrien, 2, and Helen Terrien, 10, and Carl Krawitt, deliver a box of petitions containing more than 20,000 signatures seeking to require vaccinations for most schoolkids.
Hannah Henry of Napa, with her children Marjorie Terrien, 2, and Helen Terrien, 10, and Carl Krawitt, deliver a box of petitions containing more than 20,000 signatures seeking to require vaccinations for most schoolkids. rbyer@sacbee.com

A bill to require vaccinations for more California kids has not even been scheduled for a committee hearing, but advocates on both sides of the issue were lobbying lawmakers in the Capitol on Wednesday – carrying petitions, hoisting signs and dragging along small children.

Hannah Henry, a Web designer from Napa with two children in tow, delivered a box containing more than 20,000 signatures on a petition from the left-wing MoveOn group. The petition calls on lawmakers to make vaccines mandatory for schoolchildren, except for limited medical exemptions, and eliminate the ability for parents to opt out of vaccines based on their personal beliefs.

Henry delivered the box to state Sens. Richard Pan and Ben Allen, two Democrats who are carrying Senate Bill 277 to eliminate the “personal belief” vaccine exemption.

“The petition was actually created before your bill was written,” Henry told the lawmakers during a visit in their office filled with television cameras.

“This has been gaining momentum in various parts of the state. ... We want to return to fully vaccinated schools.”

Beside Henry sat Carl Krawitt, a Marin County father whose son has become a poster child in the emotional vaccine debate that has erupted since a measles outbreak began in Disneyland late last year. Krawitt’s 7-year-old son could not get immunized while he was undergoing treatment for leukemia two years ago. The father said he pleaded with school officials to forbid unvaccinated children from coming to school because of the risk his son faced if he was exposed to illness.

“Our school board and our superintendent agreed with us, but the law was not on their side. They wanted to say, ‘Yes, vaccinate your children if you want to come to school,’ ” Krawitt told the senators. “So for you to pass a law to support what school boards are saying, what public health officials are saying, is great. Why? Because all those other kids that cannot be vaccinated, or all those kids under the age of 1, are going to be safe.”

In the hallways outside Allen’s office, the opposite view was on display as vaccine skeptics made the rounds to legislative offices carrying signs that said, “No on SB 277.”

Parents dressed in red and black, many carrying babies or pushing little ones in strollers, said the bill would infringe on their freedom to make medical decisions for their family.

“Because there is a risk, there needs to be a choice. And that choice needs to be the parents’,” said Maya Nicholls of Santa Rosa, who had traveled to the Capitol with her toddler son. “It’s not a choice the government should have control over.”

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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