Amended Vaccine Bill Skips Committee, Heads to Senate Floor

Allen Pan (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
Rich Pedroncelli / AP

New amendments may have expedited passage of the controversial SB 277 bill to eliminate California parents’ right to exempt their children from one or more school required vaccinations on the basis of “personal belief.” The bill could see a floor vote as early as Thursday.

Facing a tough battle in the Senate Appropriations Committee, bill co-author Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) made quiet amendments last week, allowing the bill to bypass that committee.

Pan’s amendments include removing a provision that would have required schools to inform parents of their vaccination rates according to the Sacramento Bee. That move also eliminated financial costs that required appropriations committee consideration.

Pan indicated the parental notification element “was unnecessary” and that getting the bill’s core, eliminating personal belief exemptions, remains the paramount goal. Amendments also offer temporary grandfather status to those with waivers already on file.

Only two states other than California, Mississippi and West Virginia, disallow either personal or religious belief waivers for school vaccination requirements.

After prior committee contentions threatened the bill’s passage, the makeup of the appropriations committee could provide insight into why SB 277’s authors would want to bypass that stop.

Of the seven committee members, three are expected yes votes, as two are co-sponsors of the bill, and another is the author of a bill requiring day care workers to be vaccinated. Two more have previously voted against the bill in committee. Republican Senator Pat Bates (San Juan Capistrano) said previously that she favors vaccines, but wanted further study. In addition, she represents a district with a high number of unvaccinated children and could likely be a no vote, leaving the balance at 3-3.

The anticipated deciding vote could have fallen to Democrat Senator Ricardo Lara, the chair of the committee, who has not appeared to take a strong position either way.

Co-authors Pan and Allen deny changing the bill to reroute it, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Votes have not fallen along the usual party lines and committee hearings have been packed with parents, children in tow, speaking out on the bill.

Debate in the Senate Education Committee hearing for the bill stalled the bill temporarily, but amendments narrowly expanding the homeschool alternative allowed a 7-2 passing vote. Despite hours of debate and vocal opposition, the bill passed the Judiciary Committee easily with a vote of 5-1.

An additional amendment, reported in the Mercury News, would temporarily or permanently grandfather some 23,000 public and private school students with existing personal belief waivers on file. First through sixth graders would not be required to get those required shots until seventh grade and those in seventh grade or above may not be required to receive those vaccinations at all.

A separate bill requiring health professionals to discuss both benefits and risks associated with vaccination went into effect just over two years ago. Since then, personal belief waivers on file have voluntarily decreased to 2.54% according to California Department of Public Health (CDPH) records among 2014-15 California kindergarteners. While the new law has not been directly specified as the cause of the decrease, some lawmakers have suggested the state allow AB 2109 enough time to determine whether the new mandate is even needed.

A crop of new legislation including SB 277 appeared after the Disneyland measles outbreak began last December. CDPH records indicate the strain came from outside the country.

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana


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