The Assembly yesterday approved a measure to require parents to meet with a licensed medical provider if they want to exempt their children from immunizations. After consultation, practitioners would sign an exemption form for parents.
Bill author Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said AB 2109 makes sure parents make an informed decision about vaccinations.
"So they can make an informed decision about the impact this would have, not just on their own children but on the school and in the greater community," Pan said. "This is extremely important, to protect the public safety in our communities. Immunizations are one of the most important preventative measures, one of the most-effective measures we've had, to try to protect our communities from infectious diseases."
California recently has had several outbreaks of preventable disease, Pan said, such as whooping cough and measles. Schoolchildren are not the only ones who could be hurt by these diseases, he said.
"People who cannot get immunized, such as young children, infants, people who have immunodeficiency such as HIV, or if they're on chemotherapy, or if they have an allergy to a vaccine component and so can't receive the vaccination" and could be harmed if they caught a preventable disease from a non-immunized child, Pan said.
"It's very important that we make sure parents are able to make an informed decision," he said, "before they send their children into a school, into an environment where there are other students, into the larger community."
Opposition to AB 2109 has centered on the difficulty of getting a signed exemption from a medical provider, the possible discrimination encountered by parents who don't want to immunize their children and even the legality of imposing the requirement.
On the Assembly floor, objections were raised on religious grounds.
"In list of providers [in the bill], there is not [a listing for] Christian Scientist practitioners," said Assembly member Linda Halderman (R-Fresno)."
Assembly member Dan Logue (R-Linda) said that discriminates against those families. "If you have a religious objection to this [as a Christian Scientist], you are not able to opt out. If a doctor or physician refuses to sign, then that child cannot go to public school," Logue said. "I would urge us to be clear that we will stand with the parents when it comes to making a choice for the child and the parents."
Pan said anyone with religious objections can be exempt after a single discussion. "We're not using an insurance list to decide the provider list," he said.
Assembly member Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) brought up the emotional tenor of some of the testimony in the Assembly Committee on Health hearing last month.
"As a member of the health committee, [we] sat through a very robust debate. We heard from constituents on both sides of this issue," Mitchell said. At the hearing, she said, "There were hundreds of health care providers [there], and while they were there in support of the bill, they made it very clear that they were willing to sign the form for any patient or parent who came before them, if that was the parent's desire."
The bill passed the Assembly on a 44-19 vote and now heads to the Senate.