Calif. Vaccination Bill|Headed for Full Senate Vote

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – A divisive vaccination bill that would remove parental exemptions will be voted on by the California state Senate Thursday, after last-minute changes by its authors trimmed the bill and allowed it to skip a final committee hearing.
     Amendments were added to Senate Bill 277 that will keep the cost of enacting the bill under $50,000, a loophole that allows the legislation to skip the Senate’s appropriations committee and head directly to a Senate vote.
     The bill’s authors, Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, removed a provision that requires schools to inform parents of immunization rates in order to lower the bill’s implementation cost.
     The senators also included a clause that will “grandfather in” students whose parents have previously filed personal-belief exemptions and created checkpoints in kindergarten and 7th grade to make sure students are fully immunized.
      SB 277 opponents accused Pan and Allen of political maneuvering and questioned the decision to allow the bill to skip its final committee hearing.
     “Evidently, the Senate has decided that it is not the people’s institution, but their own playground where they get to make the rules then ignore the rules when it suits them,” California Coalition for Health Choice spokeswoman Sylvia Pimentel said in a statement.
     In the three prior committee hearings, opponents of SB 277 turned out in full force.
     An army of parents wearing red shirts and children claiming to be injured by vaccines testified against the bill, arguing that it would force children to be fully immunized in order to attend public schools.
     Following a hearing in April, Allen revealed he had received death threats via social media and Pan told reporters he’s had to increase his security at the statehouse.
     The bill has incited passionate testimony on both sides and the authors have made several changes in order to appease skeptical lawmakers. The Senate’s education committee scuttled SB 277 on the first read, passing it only after the authors eased the committee’s concerns about forcing unvaccinated children to be home-schooled with amendments that expanded home-schooling options for parents.
     The controversial bill needs 21 yes votes on Thursday to advance to the 120-member state Assembly. The bill is likely to succeed in the Senate since it has already received yes votes from nearly 21 senators in the previous committee hearings.
     The vaccination bill was authored by Pan – a practicing pediatrician – and Allen, largely in response to a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland this past December and infected 173 people from 17 states. The outbreak lasted four months.
     If the bill is passed, California would become the third state to eliminate personal- or religious-belief exemptions from its immunization requirements.
     Supporters of the bill include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Medical Association and the California State PTA.
     Critics maintain the latest changes to the bill by Pan and Allen won’t appease their civil-liberty concerns.
     “If the bill is so great, why do they have to keep cheating the system to get it passed?” Pimentel asked.

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