Anti-Vaccination Drive Deadline Expires

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – The referendum drive against California’s mandatory child vaccination law may have ended Monday as vaccine opponents turned in their petitions, without saying whether they had collected the required 365,880 signatures.
     “Even if we don’t meet the quota, I know that our voices were heard. We’re not going away,” said volunteer Jaslyn Ball, a mother of three who hosted two signing parties in Sacramento County.
     Right-wing talk show host Tim Donnelly, a former assemblyman, led the drive against mandatory vaccinations. His backers had three months to collect 365,880 signatures before Monday’s deadline to put the referendum on the November 2016 ballot.
     Donnelly said the group faced strong opposition from the pharmaceutical lobby and that the referendum was “sabotaged from without and within by powerful forces from its very inception.”
     “Never before in my political experience have I witnessed such extensive and determined opposition to a campaign,” Donnelly said in a statement.
     The immunization bill toughens vaccination requirements for public school students by removing personal-belief exemptions from parents. If parents choose to forgo immunizations against 10 diseases, including measles and whooping cough, they would be forced to send their children to private or home schools.
     Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 277 in June after several months of debate at the Capitol. Several standing-room only hearings lasted longer than four hours and extra security was posted after death threats against the bill’s authors.
      In a signing letter , Brown said the science on vaccinations is clear and that “the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”
     The mandatory vaccinations bill, led by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, was inspired by a 2014 measles outbreak that started in Disneyland and infected 147 people, including 131 Californians.
     Supporters say the bill is necessary to prevent more outbreaks and increase the “herd immunity” created by a high percentage of vaccinated children.
     Opponents say the referendum is not about vaccinations, but defending parents’ rights to make decisions without their children being penalized by the government.
     “Freedom is the most sacred currency of a republic and freedom is what we’ve all been fighting for on this referendum,” Donnelly said.
     Volunteer Ball, 32, said she spent more than 40 hours collecting signatures.
     “People dedicated their lives; they dragged their children to the Capitol and involved their families in the process,” Ball said.
     Throughout the legislative process, Pan criticized SB 277 opponents for spreading misinformation about vaccines and citing “fraudulent studies” that claim a link between vaccines and autism.
     Elections officials in each county have eight business days to count the signatures. If more than 365,880 are verified, officials will perform random signature checks. If enough signatures are verified, enforcement of the vaccine law will be suspended until the 2016 general election.
     Donnelly, who filed the referendum, was a founder of the California Minutemen before he ran for the Assembly, in which he served two terms from Southern California districts. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2014. His fellow Republicans turned on him when he claimed his primary opponent, Neel Kashkari, supported imposition of Sharia law in the United States. Kashkari won the primary and was defeated by Jerry Brown.

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