SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation giving the state more oversight over doctors who help parents skirt mandatory school vaccinations – sending the contentious bill to Governor Gavin Newsom, who wants more changes.
In a partisan vote, the Democratic-controlled Senate approved the vaccine bill 28-11. The result came less than 12 hours after the Assembly also cleared it via party-line vote.
“We want the freedom to be able to go about our communities, be safe and not worried about having to catch a dangerous disease,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. “We all want the freedom to be able to send our kids to school and know that they’ll be safe.”
Pan’s measure faces an uncertain fate with Newsom, who has pushed for amendments throughout the legislative process and is after more protections for doctors. After Tuesday’s vote, Newsom took the unusual step of commenting on the bill publicly before it even reached his desk and signaled that SB 276 may not be fully cooked.
“The governor appreciates the work the Legislature has done to amend SB 276. There are a few pending technical – but important – changes to the bill that clarify the exemption and appeal process that have broad support,” his office said in a pair of tweets. “The governor believes it’s important to make these additional changes concurrently with the bill, so medical providers, parents and public health officials can be certain of the rules of the road once the bill becomes law.”
Wednesday’s vote means that Newsom’s “pending technical changes” will have to come through separate legislation which must be proposed and passed by both houses before a Sept. 13 deadline.
On the Senate floor, Pan said he was open to working with the governor’s office on another bill but added that Newsom has agreed to sign SB 276.
Pan’s measure will allow the state to investigate doctors who issue five or more medical exemptions in a calendar year, and any medical exemption issued to children attending schools with immunization rates below 95%. The pediatrician says that giving the state more oversight over the exemption process will cut down on “unscrupulous doctors” who are threatening community vaccination rates by peddling fake exemptions to parents.
Critics call the bill government overreach and an assault on the doctor-patient relationship.
Hordes of vaccination critics have packed the state Capitol this summer in opposition to SB 276, including longtime vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Jessica Biel. Some protests delayed hearings, and one opponent posted a Facebook video of himself heckling and pushing Sen. Pan from behind outside the capitol.
Pan, 53, has been a target of vaccine skeptics ever since 2015, when he introduced landmark legislation that required California parents to immunize children against 10 diseases and removed a longstanding personal belief or religious exemption. The hysterics caused Pan to hire extra security in both 2015 and again this year.
Protests erupted in the Senate balcony and outside the chambers after the vote, prompting the Senate to recess.
In pushing for his latest bill, Pan has cited statistics showing that the number of medical exemptions issued by doctors has tripled in the past four years. He says doctors are peddling fake exemptions to parents eager to bend the new vaccination laws.
Not a single Republican voted in favor of the bill Tuesday or Wednesday, and a few Assembly Democrats joined in opposition. The measure is sponsored by a host of doctor groups, including the California Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, California.