SACRAMENTO — The controversial bill that would give California one of the country’s strictest vaccination laws headed on Monday to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, with supporters urging him to sign it and opponents promising to stand vigil around the clock to convince him to veto it.
On Monday, a majority of the California state Senate again passed Senate Bill 277, incendiary legislation that would require almost all schoolchildren to be fully vaccinated in order to attend public or private school, regardless of their parents’ personal or religious beliefs.
The only exception would be for medical reasons.
Despite continued objection from Senate colleagues who have called the bill an overreach by the government, the Senate voted 24 to 14 to approve a handful of amendments added to the bill this month in the state Assembly, which passed the bill last week.
Brown has 12 days to act on legislation once it lands on his desk, if that occurs before the legislature’s interim recess in July. He can veto it, sign it or do nothing and it becomes law. Since the 12th day lands on the weekend of July 11, under statute, the deadline is pushed to the next non-holiday business day, in this case July 13.
“The science remains unequivocal that vaccines are safe and vaccines save lives,” Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, one of the bill’s co-authors, told his colleagues Monday before they voted.
Still, hundreds of opponents who during the past few months have swarmed the Capitol, decrying the bill at legislative hearings because they say it violates their parental rights, aren’t giving up. On Monday, they were scheduled to deliver at least 50,000 signed petitions asking Brown to veto the law.
Several celebrities, including actresses Kirstie Alley, Selma Blair and Jenna Elfman, weighed in with their opposition to the bill on Twitter.
“Greed trumps reason again as Gov. Brown moves closer to signing vaccine law in Cali,” comedian Jim Carrey wrote. “Sorry kids. It’s just business.”
Representatives from one group, called A Voice For Choice, say they will stand 24/7 outside the Capitol to remind legislators that “we are keeping vigil on them,” and request Brown to reject the bill.
At a small news conference held on the Capitol steps shortly after the vote, parents with vaccine-injured children pleaded for Brown to veto the bill.
They say their sons and daughters had suffered paralysis, seizures and brain damage because of the vaccines they received as babies. Some said they expect it will be tough to obtain medical exemptions for their younger children despite that trauma.
“If there’s a risk, there must be a choice,” said Julianna Pearce, who said her son suffered intense body rashes and high temperatures after receiving his shots before losing his ability to speak.
While no one can predict what Brown will do, his staff for months has reiterated that the governor “believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit, and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely considered.”
If the bill is enacted into law, California would join only two other states — Mississippi and West Virginia — that permit only medical exemptions as legitimate reasons to sidestep vaccinations.
The clamor around the elimination of the “personal belief exemption” heated up in California after a measles outbreak started last December at Disneyland.
By the time they declared the outbreak over in mid-April, state health officials confirmed 136 measles cases in California. That’s something that Pan and his SB 277 co-author Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, say could have been prevented if more Californians, particularly those in communities with low-vaccination rates, were fully immunized.
The bill has received widespread support from health and education organizations across the state, including the California Medical Association; the American Academy of Pediatrics, California; California State PTA; California Immunization Coalition; and the California Children’s Hospital Association.
Monday’s vote also aligns with the opinions of two-thirds of Californians, who believe children should not be allowed to attend public school unless they are vaccinated, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll.
Still, vocal opponents believe that the bill will be a hardship on many parents whose unvaccinated kids could only attend private homeschools or learn through independent off-campus studies.