Capitol Alert

Vaccine skeptic files recall petition against California senator

A vaccine skeptic who airs conspiracy theories on social media has filed a recall petition against Sen. Richard Pan, the Sacramento Democrat behind a bill that would restrict medical exemptions for vaccines.

The petition to recall Pan was filed with the California Secretary of State’s office on May 29 by Austin Bennett and 76 others in Sacramento and Yolo Counties.

“You are hereby charged with high treason for betraying your oath to defend and protect the U.S. and state Constitution,” the petition reads.

The document also alleges Pan disregarded the dangers of vaccines and violated a physician’s Hippocratic Oath to ‘first do no harm.”

To initiate a recall, the petition would need 61,224 signatures, or 20 percent of the votes in the 2018 Senate District 6 election.

Bennett on his Facebook and Twitter accounts describes himself as a challenger to Pan in 2018. Bennett did not qualify for the general election in November. Pan won the election and was re-elected to a four-year term with 69.5 percent of the vote.

Bennett’s social media posts show him airing conspiracy theories about a mass shooting and chem trails.

Pan is pushing a bill that authorizes the state Department of Public Health to approve medical exemptions for students enrolling in school. The legislation would strengthen a 2015 law Pan also wrote that eliminated personal and religious beliefs from a list of reasons not to vaccinate a child.

Pan also faced a recall petition from anti-vaccine activists in 2016. They did not file any signatures and their recall petition did not qualify for the ballot.

“This recall attempt falls into the same pattern of intimidation and harassment that families and doctors who stand up for public health face repeatedly,” Pan said. “Antivaxxers failed to recall me in 2016 and attacked me during my re-election for state Senate last year.

I am grateful to the people of my district who supported me because they understand that I am working hard to keep people safe and healthy.”

Supporters of this year’s proposal, Senate Bill 276, say it’s a necessary effort to protect school children who are too sick to get vaccines. They charge that certain doctors are issuing vaccine exemptions to kids for dubious reasons.

The bill’s opponents characterize it as a violation of the doctor-patient relationship.

Pan said that vaccinations are safe for children and true medical exemptions are rare, an argument that is supported by the general medical community.

This is what the science says,” Pan said. “Your decision not to vaccinate your child doesn’t just affect your child, it affects all the other children around them. We want to protect medical exemptions because the kids that really get them need to be protected, they need to be safe.”

If the bill passes, a physician would have to file a medical exemption with the California Department of Public Health. Agency officials would then cross check the exemption with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, and would approve the document based on those qualifications. The doctor’s name and license number would then be filed in a department database that tracks medical exemptions and why they were administered.

Pan said that parents still have choice not to vaccinate their children even if the bill passes, but would have to comply with both the laws in order to send their kids to school.

Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.