California Senate to take up vaccination mandate Thursday

California Senate to take up vaccination mandate Thursday
State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) left, talks with Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) last month about concerns she had over the measure Pan and Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), right, co-authored, requiring California schoolchildren to be vaccinated. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

After weeks of contentious public hearings, a bill that would significantly increase the number of children vaccinated in California is expected to come up for a vote on the Senate floor Thursday. When it does, it is expected to win bipartisan approval and advance to the Assembly.

Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica introduced the measure after declining inoculation rates were blamed for an outbreak of measles this year that began with some visitors to Disneyland.

The legislation would abolish a "personal belief" exemption that currently allows the parents of 13,500 kindergartners to be excused from vaccinating their children. The bill would allow exemptions only for medical reasons.

The measure survived three public hearings in recent weeks, at which hundreds of parents testified in opposition to it on grounds that they believe vaccines to be unsafe and don't want the state to dictate what medical treatment they must provide their children.

To get the measure to the floor, Pan and Allen deleted a provision that would have required school districts to report their vaccination rates each year and they agreed to allow flexibility for children to not be vaccinated and attend home-schooling or independent study programs.

"This measure will ensure that students whose parents choose to not vaccinate them have several educational options that don't put other children at risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases," Pan said.

Some Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, have voted against the measure, SB 277. But others have cast committee votes in favor of the bill.

"The [Republican] caucus does not have a position on SB 277,'' Huff spokesman Bill Bird said Wednesday. "Members are free to vote the way they wish."

If the bill also passes the Assembly and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California would join 32 other states that have no immunization exemptions based on personal beliefs.

The California bill would require children without medical exemptions to be vaccinated before entering kindergarten. But unvaccinated students already in school because their parents have personal belief exemptions would not be required to get shots until the seventh grade or when changing school districts.