Capitol Alert

This time, Jerry Brown makes no mention of religion in vaccine signing

In this June 9, 2015, file photo, Karman Willmer, left, and Shelby Messenger rally against SB 277, a California measure requiring schoolchildren to get vaccinated, outside the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif.
In this June 9, 2015, file photo, Karman Willmer, left, and Shelby Messenger rally against SB 277, a California measure requiring schoolchildren to get vaccinated, outside the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. AP

Three years ago, in a relatively mild precursor to this year’s school vaccination bill, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation requiring parents to consult a health professional before declining vaccinations for their schoolchildren.

But he made a special case for people who objected on religious grounds.

In a signing statement at the time, Brown said he wanted the law administered in such a way that “parents are not overly burdened by its implementation,” and he directed his Department of Public Health to ensure “people whose religious beliefs preclude vaccinations” were exempt.

Three years later, the vaccine bill Brown signed Tuesday undoes that allowance and more, eliminating the state’s religious and personal belief exemptions altogether.

California will now have one of the strictest schoolchild vaccination laws in the country.

Brown’s signature was not unexpected. His office said earlier this year that Brown considered vaccinations “profoundly important,” and a senior adviser, though saying she was speaking on her own behalf, testified in favor of the measure.

In his signing statement Tuesday, Brown noted that the bill exempts children whose family medical histories lead a physician to recommend against immunization. But unlike in 2012, the former Jesuit seminarian said nothing about religion.

Of the governor’s change of heart, a spokesman would say only that the signing message “speaks for itself.”

In addition to eliminating any mention of religious belief, the statement Tuesday – compared to Brown’s offering three years ago – was more forceful on the science of vaccines.

Whereas in 2012 Brown praised a measure intended to explain “both the benefits and risks” of immunizations, he said this year that “the science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases.”

“While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk,” Brown wrote, “the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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