Vaccine mandate bill revamped to ease home-schooling waiver

Vaccine mandate bill revamped to ease home-schooling waiver

A proposal to require more children to be vaccinated before entering school in California was revamped Tuesday to address concerns that it might bar many young people from a public education.

But key members of the Senate Education Committee, which is scheduled to vote on the measure Wednesday, remained noncommittal about it.

The legislation, by Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica, would eliminate parents' ability to exempt their children from state-required immunizations based on a “personal belief.” The only waiver available for students at public and private schools would be for medical reasons.

On Tuesday, Pan and Allen released proposed amendments to their bill to broaden an exemption for home-schooled children, deleting a reference to exempted students being members of the same household or family.

The change would allow multiple families to join in home-schooling their children without having to be vaccinated.

Pan and Allen also proposed an additional exemption for students in independent study programs run by school systems.

At a Tuesday news conference with polio victims, Pan said he believed the changes addressed the education committee's concerns and was optimistic that the bill would pass.

But he added, “I am not counting my chickens before they hatch.”

A spokesman for state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who chairs the committee, said she “supports vaccination but she wants to hear what other members think of the proposed amendments.”

The bill needs at least five votes from the nine-member committee to advance to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Two members, Pan and Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), are the only committee members who have previously voted for the bill, when it was in the Senate Health Committee.

Panel member Tony Mendoza, a Democrat from Artesia, said he is “leaning towards supporting” the legislation, SB 277, “but I would like the opportunity to read and analyze amendments ... from the author and hear his response to questions posed by Senate Education Committee members last week.”

A few members had asked that the state's existing exception for religious reasons be maintained, but the bill does not provide for that.

“Religious exemptions are vulnerable to abuse and indeed are abused by people whose reasons for not vaccinating are not religious,” said Shannan Martinez, a spokeswoman for Pan.

Undecided panel members include Democratic Sens. Marty Block of San Diego, Loni Hancock of Berkeley and Connie Leyva of Chino.

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