SACRAMENTO (CN) – A California Assembly committee Tuesday sent a bill requiring vaccinations for public schoolchildren toward a final vote and expected passage, after a five-hour hearing filled with outbursts from vaccine opponents.
After hearing from lawmakers, witnesses and the audience, the Assembly Health Committee voted 12-6 along party lines to send the immunization bill to the floor.
Senate Bill 277 will face a final vote in the Assembly before likely approval from Gov. Jerry Brown.
“It is time to act,” said Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, co-author of the bill. “This should not be a partisan issue. We should look at the facts. We should look at the science.”
Republican lawmakers criticized Pan’s bill as infringing on parents’ civil liberties and increasing the government’s reach into their homes. While introducing his bill to the committee, Pan referred to his opponents’ concerns.
“SB 277 is about freedom: freedom from deadly, crippling contagions that are now preventable through the science of vaccination,” Pan said after an outburst from the crowd.
Rep. Arie Waldron, R-Escondido, said she voted against the bill because of the “loss of freedom” it entailed, and its potential to deny children their right to education.
Hundreds of opponents, in what has become a trend before SB 277 hearings, occupied the steps of the Capitol with signs, while chanting: “Moms call the shots!”
Tuesday’s rally featured several speakers, including a Republican lawmaker who compared the bill to interment and concentration camps.
“I wouldn’t call it a concentration camp,” Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, told the crowd dressed. “But they’re suggesting [children] go some place other than public school.”
Patterson, who sat on the committee and voted against the bill, acknowledged in a tweet after the rally that he chose his words poorly.
Lori Gregory, editor of the Mom Street Journal, told the crowd that regardless of the committee’s decision, the opponents of SB 277 were successful in uniting and reaching lawmakers.
“How many families are going to be led to slaughter trying to do the right thing because of your ignorance and greed?” Gregory asked, motioning behind her to lawmakers in the Capitol.
“You do not own the truth. We know who you are because we put you in office to work for all of us.”
Throughout the hearing Pan cited statistics on the safety of vaccines and the absence of scientific evidence linking immunizations to autism.
The committee vote fell in line with a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll that found 67 percent of California adults feel unvaccinated children should not attend public school, and that 87 percent said vaccines are “at least somewhat safe.”
The bill’s authors accepted five amendments, including changes that will allow doctors to consider family medical history when deciding whether to issue parents a medical exemption.
Democrats applauded Pan and Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, for accepting changes to the bill that has trudged through multiple committee hearings.
“I do think this bill will leave this committee stronger, as a stronger policy statement now that it does provide extra protection for families,” said Rep. Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.
The bill, which will remove personal-belief exemptions for parents, has been through four state Senate and Assembly committees. If SB 277 passed in the Assembly and signed by Brown, California will join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states without religious or personal-belief exemptions for parents of unvaccinated public schoolchildren.
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