(CN) – Despite scores of people travelling from all over California to express strident opposition to a bill designed to tighten vaccination requirements, the California Assembly Health Committee advanced Senate Bill 276 on Thursday.
“I know there is a lot of emotion here a lot of passion here,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood, who chaired the committee and cast one of the decisive votes to move the item onto the floor.
The bill’s author, state Senator Richard Pan, said it is necessary to combat the rash of unscrupulous doctors who are selling medical exemptions for cash while compromising herd immunity and endangering people with legitimate medical reasons for forgoing vaccinations.
“This bill is necessary to protect our children,” Pan said.
But critics said the bill allows the state to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship while deterring doctors from granting legitimate medical exemptions out of fear of punishment.
“This bill mandates the investigation of any doctor who gives more than 5 medical exemptions in a year,” said Kim Mack Rosenberg, an attorney. “I think they selected this arbitrary number to imply anything above it is unethical conduct, but that’s the ceiling regardless if a doctor maintains a practice of 200 or 2,000.”
The comments of hundreds of people expressing opposition to the bill dwelled on the flouting of fundamental freedoms of parental choice, with many saying the bill reminded them of something out of authoritarian countries.
“Where there is risk there needs to be consent,” said one man during the long period.
When the bill passed out of committee several members of the public shouted at the lawmakers.
“This is America,” screamed one woman.
While those in opposition far outweighed the supporters at the hearing, the bill enjoys support from heavyweights including the California Medical Association, the state’s major hospitals and medical groups.
Pan said the bill is necessary because of measles outbreaks that have occurred around the country, which have been concentrated in communities and schools with low vaccination rates and then subsequently spread.
In California, 52 cases of measles have been reported over the last year. While the number is comparatively low to places like New York where hundreds of children contracted the disease, the medical community maintains the country is susceptible to a disease once thought eradicated.
Governor Gavin Newsom initially expressed skepticism about the bill, saying it might represent government overreach. But Pan made changes and Newsom said he would sign it should it get through the Legislature.
The bill must pass the Assembly Appropriations Committee and then a full Assembly vote before it can reach Newsom’s desk.
Even if it is signed, a large contingent of those in attendance said they will resist it, with several parents saying they will pull their kids from schools rather than subject them to a medical procedure they believe endangers their health.