A controversial bill that would repeal a personal belief exemption from vaccination requirements to attend California schools was passed by the state Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, according state Sen. Richard Pan’s office.
Senate Bill 277, authored by Pan, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, would require students at public and private schools in California to be vaccinated for 10 common childhood diseases unless there was a medical reason they could not receive the vaccination.
It passed the Education Committee 7-2, according to Pan’s office.
The bill was introduced in the midst of a measles outbreak in California that started in Disneyland in December. In all, more than 130 people statewide were infected with the disease.
State health officials last week declared the outbreak over, but are still encouraging vaccinations to prevent another.
The bill has drawn support from San Francisco and Marin County supervisors, physicians’ groups and school districts but organized opponents continue to argue that there are doubts about whether vaccinations are completely safe and effective. If the law passed, opponents argue it would erode parental rights.
In response to some of the concerns, and to strike a balance between students’ right to an education and health concerns for the larger student body, the bill was amended to expand home school and independent study options for unvaccinated children.
Under the current bill, unvaccinated students will need to be either home schooled, attend a multi-family private home school, or use an independent study program.
“Today’s amendments reflect our commitment to increase everyone’s safety against vaccine-preventable diseases while ensuring every child has a place to learn,” Allen said in a statement.
State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, said she now supports the bill and believes in the “validity and importance of vaccinations.”
“My concern has always been to ensure that all children have access to educational opportunities,” Hancock said. “I believe that the current bill, as amended, does a good job of balancing the state’s constitutional requirement to provide access to public education with the public health benefits of vaccinations.”
Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, a social advocacy group that has campaigned for Proposition 8 among other things, criticized Hancock changing her position on the bill.
“What changed in less than a day?” Thomasson said. “How did senators like Loni Hancock go from calling SB 277 ‘draconian’ to calling it ‘good’ and ‘balanced’?”
His group is calling for a religious exemption to the bill and says it denies parents basic rights in decision-making. It claims that if passed, tens of thousands of students could be kicked out of California public schools.
The vaccinations required to attend schools under the bill are diphtheria, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae type b, measles, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus, and varicella, commonly known as chickenpox.