By NICK CAHILL
SACRAMENTO (CN) – California lawmakers advanced a hotly contested and controversial vaccination bill Wednesday, accepting changes that give more home-schooling options to unvaccinated children.
State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, was given a second chance to try his vaccination bill with the Senate Education Committee after being told last week –following hours of testimony – that SB 277 “wasn’t fully cooked” and wouldn’t make it out of committee.
Pan eased the committee’s concerns about forcing unvaccinated children to be home-schooled by including two amendments that will expand independent study and home-schooling options for parents.
The committee voted 7-2 to send SB 277 through by virtue of bipartisan support. Of the seven Democrats on the committee, six voted yes.
“We don’t need to be worried about whether there is going to be an outbreak of some sort or if every kid is fully immunized or not,” said Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, in support of the bill.
Committee chairwoman Carol Liu, D-La Canada Flintridge, advised the bill’s authors to delay an initial vote last week, citing several concerns around the process of removing unvaccinated children from California’s schools. While Liu did vote yes Wednesday, she told the bill’s authors “this bill does have a long way to go.”
“In terms of public health it’s necessary, but I am concerned about the rights of our parents,” Liu said.
The amendments to the bill will allow parents choosing to forgo immunizations to enroll their children in independent study programs. In California, many school districts allow students to participate in off-campus learning programs which are guided by teachers through scheduled meetings and tests and the bill would allow unvaccinated students to join these independent study programs.
Pan’s amendments didn’t go far enough for two members of the committee, including Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, who said the changes don’t address families who can’t afford to home-school their children and don’t want to vaccinate.
“I still have a concern that this will not go far enough to help a two-income family who cannot home-school their child, or a single working parent,” Leyva said.
While the prior two Senate committee hearings on the contentious vaccination bill were rife with public outbursts and passionate testimony, Wednesday’s hearing featured only input from the bill’s authors and committee members and no public comment – although the room was still packed with opponents in red shirts and the hearing still contained an air of controversy.
There were two new members added to the committee this week, including Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who voted yes on SB 277 in a prior hearing in the health committee. Opponents of the bill refuted the explanation that the seat-changing was a scheduled event, accusing lawmakers of stacking the deck prior to the hearing.
“This is yet another example of the lack of transparency and accountability in government. It should not be allowed,” Sylvia Pimentel, of the California Coalition for Health Choice, said in a statement.
The vaccination bill was authored by Pan – a practicing pediatrician – and Sen. Ben Allen, largely in response to a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland this past December and infected 173 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia.
This past Friday, the state’s public health department declared the outbreak had ended after four months.
Allen said he has received death threats and Pan has been assigned increased security during the last two weeks because of threats via social media. Pan told the committee SB 277 is vital to increasing herd immunity and preventing future preventable outbreaks.
“If our immunity continues to decline, we will see larger outbreaks,” Pan said. “You would see many more people not only exposed but infected, and we saw a taste of that in real life with the outbreak in Disneyland.”