Capitol Alert

Gavin Newsom signals worries about vaccine bill as lawmakers call for surprise vote

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Tuesday expressed unexpected doubts about a bill that would increase oversight of doctors who issue vaccine medical exemptions to California schoolchildren.

His office called for unspecified changes in the bill that would restrict medical exemptions for vaccines after lawmakers in the Assembly called for a surprise vote to pass the measure. The Assembly’s vote sends it back to the Senate for final approval.

“The governor appreciates the work the Legislature has done to amend #SB276,” Newsom’s office wrote on Twitter. “There are a few pending technical – but important – changes to the bill that clarify the exemption and appeal process that have broad support.”

“The governor believes it’s important to make these additional changes concurrently with the bill, so medical providers, parents and public health officials can be certain of the rules of the road once the bill becomes law,” the tweet continued.

The proposal has been one of the most closely watched and hotly debated bills in Sacramento this year because it would authorize the California Department of Public Health to review vaccine medical exemptions that doctors issue for kids enrolling in school.

Vaccine-skeptical activists last week stood on chairs in the Capitol and chanted in a budget hearing, causing lawmakers to delay their votes. One anti-vaccine activist last month filmed himself shoving the author of the bill, Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento.

Lawmakers denied vaccine-skeptical activists a chance to protest the bill again on Tuesday by holding the unscheduled vote on Pan’s Senate Bill 276.

The bill has also divided lawmakers, some of whom were left to jot a quick speech with their praise or condemnation without preparation on Tuesday.

“I scribbled some notes,” said Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron, R-San Diego. “Vaccination is a health treatment, and it’s a serious health treatment like others. There’s side effects. This should not be taken lightly.”

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, is a sponsor of the bill. She said she was surprised by the floor vote, too.

I know the opposition is just about loving your children,” she said. “I have no doubt about that. A lot of us are mama bears. But being a mama bear is about protecting the children who need it the most.”

Pan wrote the bill to fight against what he calls “unscrupulous physicians” who sell exemptions to families.

Vaccination rates in California schools in general have climbed since the Legislature passed another bill Pan wrote in 2015 that ended personal belief exemptions for vaccines. He argues lax oversight of medical exemptions has allowed pockets of low vaccination rates to occur in certain schools, which puts children at risk of preventable diseases.

Pan revised the bill to appeal to Newsom earlier this summer, after the governor raised concerns over bureaucratic oversight. Newsom in June said he was satisfied with the changes and planned to sign it.

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