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California’s Assembly on Thursday approved a hotly contested bill requiring that nearly all public schoolchildren be vaccinated, clearing one of its last major legislative obstacles before the measure heads to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bill aims to increase immunization rates after a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland in December sickened over 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico. Experts blame the outbreak a small but growing number of parents who have chosen not to have their children vaccinated, due largely to what infectious-disease experts call mistaken fears about childhood vaccines. The outbreak ultimately infected 131 Californians (no deaths were reported), and left the state in need of stricter regulations.
The bill would give California one of the nation’s strictest vaccine laws by striking the state’s personal belief exemption. Only children with serious health issues would be allowed to opt out of mandatory vaccine schedules. Unvaccinated children would need to be homeschooled.
In February, lawmakers said they would introduce legislation requiring all school children to be vaccinated unless a child’s life is threatened. In Ohio, a law requiring children enrolled in a licensed childcare facility to be immunized against measles and other diseases took effect in March. Oregon, with some of the country’s lowest immunization rates, passed a 2013 law requiring parents to obtain a doctor’s signature or watch an educational video on vaccination risks and benefits. Colorado forces schools to collect and publish data about vaccination and exemption rates.
“Do we wait until we have a full-fledged crisis to protect the most vulnerable?” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, asked as she presented the bill.
The measure passed on a bipartisan 46-30 vote after weeks of vocal opposition, with thousands of parents donning red shirts to protest at the Capitol. Two Republican assemblywomen joined the Democratic majority in support.
The Senate already approved the bill once, but still must approve amendments before it is sent to Brown, a Democrat.
Brown has not said whether he would sign the bill authored by Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica.
Opponents of the vaccine bill have already taken out paperwork to recall at least two senators who voted for the proposal.
Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said Thursday that he and Pan have been targeted for recall. Monning said his district, which includes Santa Cruz, has a high number of parents who seek vaccine exemptions for their children and he has had to shut down his district office out of safety concerns.
Opposition was fierce during the Assembly debate. Both Democrats and Republicans spoke against the loss of parental autonomy.
“We do not have the right, nor should we have the power, to take away a parent’s right to choose,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report
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