California Vaccination|Bill Passes Assembly

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A hotly contested bill mandating vaccinations for California schoolchildren cleared its final vote Thursday with bipartisan support in the state Assembly.
     Despite testimony from both parties regarding the constitutionality of SB 277 and the possibility of forcing large numbers of students out of public schools, the Assembly voted 46-30 in favor of the bill.
     The split included two Republicans voting for the bill and five Democrats voting against. It heads back to the Senate now for approval of its amendments.
     Two Democratic Senators introduced the bill in February, igniting a debate about public health and civil liberties.
     Rep. Catherine Baker, R-San Ramon, spoke to that division on the heels of Thursday’s vote.
     “I’m a fierce supporter of parent choice in this decision,” said Baker, a co-author of the bill. “But I also believe choice comes with personal responsibility.”
     The bill requires children entering kindergarten to be vaccinated against 10 diseases, including measles and whooping cough, and removes personal-belief exemptions as a justification for parents unwilling to vaccinate their children.
     Brown’s signature on the bill means California will have enacted the nation’s most-stringent immunization requirements for schoolchildren, joining Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states without religious or personal-belief exemptions for parents.
     Opponents call the measure intrusive and unnecessary.
     “Could the state metaphorically invade our bedrooms and mandate that everybody have protected sex so that an STD epidemic does not spread?” asked Rep. Mike Gatto, D-Glendale.
     No bill has been as intensely debated by parents and lawmakers at the Capitol this year, with both sides expressing anger and distrust of the information circulated around SB 277 . The bill’s authors say they’ve received death threats and the Capitol beefed up security at each SB 277 hearing.
     “When was the last time you saw so many different people from so many walks of life across political persuasions that came to this capitol to protest?” said Rep. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, in opposition of the bill. “We have awoken a sleeping giant.”
     Parents have packed the Capitol for committee hearings and votes, criticizing SB 277 for extending the government’s reach into their private lives. Opponents of the bill have been criticized for linking vaccinations to autism without scientific evidence and sensationalizing the side effects of vaccinations on minorities.
     Lawmakers have also been unclear on aspects of the controversial bill.
     Among the Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill today, one mischaracterized SB 277 as forcing children to get flu shots while another said it forces children to receive HPV vaccinations.
     Democrats tended to sideline the rhetoric. “I will not be deterred by some of the alarmist rhetoric that I’ve heard on the floor today,” said Rep. Marc Levine, D-San Rafael.
     The bill proposed by Dr. Richard Pan, D- Sacramento, came in response to a measles outbreak in December that started in Disneyland and infected 134 Californians.
     Pan and supporters say that increasing vaccination rates improves herd immunity and protects children who may not be able to receive vaccinations for medical reasons.
     Rep. Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego, carried the bill and told a story of a child in her district who is in hospice care because of complications from measles, calling him a “victim of herd immunity.”
     “How many subsequent, unnecessary and heart-wrenching deaths until we act to improve herd-immunity and individual immunity in this state?” Gonzales testified.
     While Brown rarely comments on proposed bills before they reach his desk, he has commented on the importance of vaccines in the past. The Senate will receive the amendments to the bill and it could reach Brown’s desk as soon as Monday.

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