A proposal that would require more children to be vaccinated in California ran into trouble Wednesday amid objections that it would force thousands of non-immunized students out of public schools.
The measure’s author, Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), agreed to delay a vote on it after being warned by the Senate Education Committee chairwoman that it would not win the panel’s approval in its current form.
“If I were you, I would not take a vote today,” said the chairwoman, Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge).
She urged Pan to try to resolve the deep-seated concerns of a majority of committee members. “Otherwise, I don’t think your bill proceeds out of this committee,” she said.
The senators say the bill, which would remove the “personal belief” exemption from the state’s vaccination requirement, would mean that students whose parents refuse to immunize them would be barred from public schools.
“The penalty for not immunizing their kids is you either have to home-school or take your kids out of public schools, and I don't think that’s a solution to the problem,” Liu said during the hearing, which lasted more than two hours as hundreds of parents and children testified.
Many parents refuse to immunize their children because they believe vaccines can have serious negative health effects, including autism. Medical studies say the shots are safe.
Pan said that when many parents don’t immunize their children, it increases the risk to other children who have immune-compromised systems.
“We need to protect children,” Pan told the committee.
Some panel members, including Liu, said they want to preserve California’s exemption allowance for those with religious objections to vaccination.
Committee member and Senate Republican leader Robert Huff of Diamond Bar said he did not see enough evidence of a health risk to justify taking away parental choice.
“When do you take personal freedoms and subject them to government mandates?” he asked, calling it the central question at issue in the immunization debate.
Other members voiced concerns about requiring many children to be home-schooled when some parents cannot afford, or are not qualified, to do so.
“A lot of parents simply cannot home-school their kids,” said Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego).
Pan said he was open to some compromises, such as the possibility of maintaining the state’s existing religious exemption and a stricter limit on the number of required vaccines. He added that he was also willing to make sure children can get home-schooled with the help of public schools.
Before the vote, several parents objected to Pan’s bill, SB 277.
“My son will be pulled from public school if this bill passes,” said Heather Kovac of South Lake Tahoe.
Other parents supported the legislation. They included Carl Krawitt, who arrived with Rhett, his 7-year-old son, a leukemia survivor whose lowered immune system makes him susceptible to diseases transmitted by children who are not vaccinated.
For the Record
April 15, 9:08 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Rhett Krawitt is 6. He is 7.
“We believe this is sound public health policy because it keeps our children safe,” Krawitt said.