April 29, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Public Health Vaccination
The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill requiring most school children to be vaccinated as a condition of enrollment.
In its third hearing in the state legislature, Senate Bill 277 (Pan/Allen) was once again the center of attention, attracting hundreds of people to the state Capitol to hear the discussion in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Committee chairwoman Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson laid out the ground rules before the hearing began. “It is our responsibility to protect the public health and safety,” she said. “Here, it is our responsibility, in this committee, to honor and protect the constitution and its rights and its responsibilities.”
SB 277 would remove the personal belief exemption (PBE) from school vaccination requirements, allowing exemptions only for medical reasons. The bill was recently amended in last week’s Senate Education Committee hearing to expand the home-school option and to create another public school avenue, independent study, for families who choose not to vaccinate.
Under the proposal, immunizations would be required of children who first enter a new school system, with checks at kindergarten and seventh grade. This means students currently in eighth grade wouldn’t need to show proof of vaccination throughout high school unless they switch to a new school system.
Allen spoke about the legality of SB 277, which he said is similar to questions about laws the U.S. courts have already answered. He said their answers are clear — states have a right to require vaccinations for attendance in school. “The courts over and over again have said that this is an appropriate place for the state to be involved,” Allen said.
Recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and a rising number of unvaccinated children have underscored the need for stronger immunization laws. California alone has had 136 confirmed cases of measles across 13 counties since December 2014.
“No vaccine is 100 percent effective,” said Leah Russin, a mother from Palo Alto who testified in support of SB 277 on Tuesday. “So even though we followed our pediatrician’s advice and vaccinated our kids, if exposed to a highly infectious disease, they may still get sick. The best protection requires everyone else to be vaccinated, too. Our kids deserve that, but it won’t happen unless you act.”
After about three hours of testimony and discussion, the Judiciary Committee advanced the bill with overwhelming 5-1 support. SB 277, a California Medical Association (CMA)-sponsored bill, now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
CMA President Luther F. Cobb, M.D., released this statement after SB 277’s passage: “Our thanks to the Senate Judiciary Committee along with Senators Pan and Allen for their commitment to this very important issue. Vaccines are a proven way to keep children healthy and communities safe and SB 277 will help to ensure more kids get care to prevent them from getting once eradicated diseases.”