Capitol Alert

Amended California vaccine bill bypasses appropriations committee

Anti-vaccine protest at Capitol: “Parents call the shots”

Hundreds of parents and their children protested against a mandatory vaccine bill at the Capitol on May 15, 2015.
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Hundreds of parents and their children protested against a mandatory vaccine bill at the Capitol on May 15, 2015.

California’s controversial proposal to eliminate the personal and religious belief exemptions for vaccinations could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as Thursday after amendments were quietly made to the bill last week.

Senate Bill 277 no longer includes a provision that would require schools to notify parents of their immunization rates, removing the financial costs associated with the legislation and allowing it to skip the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said he amended SB 277 so that his goal of raising vaccination rates “wouldn’t get entangled in other issues.”

“This bill now is really about abolishing the” personal belief exemption, Pan said. “We don’t want to get distracted by a discussion” about how schools would notify parents or what it would cost.

Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica and the co-author of SB 277, acknowledged that skipping the appropriations committee would make the bill’s passage “a little bit easier.”

“Our goal is to get this bill passed with its core intact,” he said. “We felt as though it was unnecessary” to include the parental notification requirement when immunization rates for schools are already readily available to the public.

Opponents of SB 277 slammed the amendment as a dishonest effort to get the bill passed.

“These senators have promised amendments in every committee to give their colleagues any flimsy excuse possible to support the bill,” California Coalition for Health Choice spokeswoman Sylvia Pimentel said in a statement. “If the bill is so great, why do they have to keep cheating the system to get it passed?”

Parents dressed in red have flooded three committee hearings by the thousands in recent months, begging lawmakers to reject SB 277 because it would infringe on their personal health choices and the right of their children to receive an education. The bill would make California just the third state in the country without a personal or religious belief exemption, mandating full immunization for students to enroll in either public or private schools.

Yet thousands of unvaccinated children could remain in California schools for several more years.

Pan and Allen clarified that SB 277 maintains a system under which schools check their students for vaccine completion in kindergarten, 7th grade and if they transfer from another district. Parents who refuse to immunize their children would be able to keep them enrolled until the next vaccine checkpoint, even if the bill passes.

“I’m okay with that,” Allen said, “because, ultimately, this bill is still going to make a major improvement” by raising vaccination rates over time.

Alexei Koseff: (916) 321-5236, @akoseff

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