A bill that would require more California children to be vaccinated before they enter school passed a key Senate committee Wednesday as more than 100 parents protested that it would deprive many young people of a public education.
The measure cleared the Senate Education Committee on a bipartisan 7-2 vote after its authors agreed to changes that would make it easier for parents to home-school their children if they decided against immunization.
The bill goes next to the Senate Judiciary Committee, a seven-member panel that includes five lawmakers who have voted for or are co-authors of the bill. The proposal must also pass the Appropriations Committee before it can reach the Senate floor and, if it passes there, transfer to the Assembly.
The legislation, by Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica, would eliminate parents' option to exempt their children from state-required vaccinations on grounds of personal belief.
The only waiver available would be for medical reasons.
"While this bill won't reach everyone, it will increase everyone's safety against preventable diseases," Allen told the education committee Wednesday. "We think we've struck a fair balance here that provides more options to parents who are concerned about not vaccinating their children."
Sens. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) and Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster) voted against the bill.
"I just still have a concern it will not go far enough to help a two-income family who can't home-school their child or a single, working parent," Leyva said during the short debate before the vote.
More than 100 opponents of the bill, many wearing red shirts, packed the committee hearing room, although no public testimony was taken.
"I am shocked and disappointed" by the vote, said Tina Kimmel, who identified herself as a former research scientist with the state Department of Public Health.
Many in the crowd said afterward that they would continue their protest as the bill wends its way through the Legislature.
Last week, many parents and children testified against the proposal, saying that they didn't believe vaccines were safe and that they were worried the bill would deprive young people of the right to an education. Committee members including Chairwoman Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) had voiced similar concerns.
Pan and Allen subsequently altered their bill to make it possible for multiple families to join in home-schooling their children without having them vaccinated. Another change added an exemption for students enrolled in an independent study program run by a public school system.
The authors did not agree to an amendment proposed by some committee members that would have retained California's existing exemption from vaccines on religious grounds.
Liu voted for the measure Wednesday, even though she said it "has a long way to go" to fully address her concerns.
More than 13,500 California kindergarten students have immunization waivers because of their parents' personal beliefs, including 2,764 based on religious beliefs, state health statistics show.
Pan and Allen's proposed restrictions were introduced partly in response to a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland and eventually infected 131 California residents and at least 26 people in seven other states, Canada and Mexico.