Gov. Gavin Newsom defends his actions on new California vaccine laws

Gov. Gavin Newsom, seen here in a file photo, defended his position on controversial vaccine legislation in comments to reporters on Monday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom defended his actions on the newly enacted vaccine law Monday, downplaying questions about why he demanded additional changes to the contentious legislation after agreeing to sign it.

Newsom said he “felt that we needed to clarify some additional points to help with the implementation.”

“I’m proud of the fact that I listened to my administration, I listened to both sides of this debate, and I supported the vaccination bill, because I felt that it can be implemented in an effective manner,” Newsom said. “And forgive me, sincerely, for reading the bill. Sometimes I have to ask myself if people read things.”


Senate Bill 276 will create state oversight of vaccine exemptions issued by doctors in an effort to weed out those given for non-medical reasons. Newsom’s late changes, which appeared in SB 714, pushed back the timeline for the state to begin scrutinizing medical exemptions.

The governor, during his first press conference in more than two weeks, responded with an adamant “no” when asked if he was aware of any family or friends who received medical exemptions for vaccines required to attend school.

At times, Newsom appeared frustrated with the line of questioning and criticism from some that he appeared to have waffled on the bill. He described the concerns about his decision-making as a “novel thing” and said he did not believe he would be similarly criticized for requesting late amendments on legislation related to other issues.

Newsom’s signature on the bills came after questions were raised by lawmakers and advocates about his evolving position on the vaccine proposals. The governor first raised concerns about Senate Bill 276 in June, and his aides worked with Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the bill’s author, to limit when the state would review vaccine medical exemptions. Afterward, Newsom pledged to sign the bill.

Just after the Assembly passed SB 276, however, Newsom’s office tweeted that he had new “technical” concerns, taking Pan and supporters by surprise. Changes made as a result of a round of new negotiations — to address Newsom’s demands to further limit the scope of the bill — were included in a second bill, SB 714, both of which were signed on Sept. 9.

Newsom last held a press conference on Aug. 29, marking an unusually long public hiatus for a governor who had hosted almost weekly events on a variety of public policy topics.

The governor said little during the last two weeks as the size and intensity of anti-vaccine crowds grew at the state Capitol. Tensions reached a breaking point on Friday, when a woman seated in the Senate visitors gallery doused senators with a red liquid that the California Highway Patrol later said “appeared to be blood.”

The woman, Rebecca Dalelio, 43, was arrested on charges including assault and vandalism. A voice in the crowd said it was “for the dead babies” as she threw a menstrual cup filled with the liquid. Lawmakers were unable to continue proceedings in the historic chamber and finished their work inside a nearby committee room. She is scheduled to be arraigned in a Sacramento courtroom on Tuesday.


Vaccine critics continued to interrupt legislative sessions long after Newsom signed the two bills designed to increase state oversight of vaccine exemptions granted by doctors for medical reasons. They stood outside his Capitol office and repeated chants begging him, and at times his wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, to stop the legislation from taking effect.

Opponents of the legislation were at one point invited into the governor’s office for a meeting with top staff members. Some said they also met privately with Siebel Newsom’s chief-of-staff. The governor’s office declined to answer questions about whether Siebel Newsom held similar meetings. On Monday, Newsom declined to explain the extent to which his wife was involved in the process.

“Everyone has opinions,” Newsom said. “I’ll leave it at that. I did what I needed to do to make it more successful and to make sure we implement it in an effective way and I’m proud that I signed the bill.”