By NICK CAHILL
SACRAMENTO (CN) – Before a hostile audience of parents threatening to take their children out of public school, a California Senate committee Wednesday delayed a vote on a bill to remove an exemption for parents who do not want their kids to be vaccinated.
The bill’s author has been assigned extra security because of threats to him.
The Senate Education Committee told the authors of the bill that it was “not fully cooked,” and that they had major concerns about the implications on public education if large numbers of parents choose home schooling over vaccination.
After three hours of testimony from both sides, committee Chairwoman Sen. Carol Liu said the bill contains no process or direction for schools to remove unimmunized children, and advised the authors to postpone a committee vote until next Wednesday.
“If I were you, I would not take a vote today. I would try to get answers to all the questions that have been raised,” Liu told Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. “Otherwise, I don’t think your bill proceeds out of this committee.”
Flanked by television cameras and reporters, Pan huddled with his staff before reluctantly accepting a no vote.
The Senate Health Committee voted 6-2 last week in favor of SB 277 , after a four-hour emotional hearing during which several opponents were removed from the room.
On Wednesday opponents of SB 277 packed the John L. Burton hearing room, lining up in the hallways of the Capitol to get a chance to tell the committee what they think of Pan’s bill. An assortment of parents, educators, children and several doctors opposed of removing personal belief exemptions from California law.
Many parents testified they would remove their children from schools; some told the committee they would leave California if the bill is approved.
“You gave me a choice to abort, give me the choice to vaccinate!” a woman yelled into the microphone.
Parents from around the Golden State, some with kids in tow and many pregnant, waited hours to tell lawmakers they would rather keep their kids out of schools than vaccinate them.
Robert Moxley, an attorney with the Vaccine Injured Petitioners Bar said removing the exemptions won’t fix the problem and that the bill is unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court will not tolerate a mechanism for medical exemptions only; it is a denial of due process and a violation of the right to free exercise of religion,” Moxley said.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said the tradeoff of taking away a parent’s right to choose and forcing home schooling is too large when compared to the possibility of disease outbreaks.
“I’m concerned we’re setting up a framework that excludes a significant portion of people that we’ve mandated, because we’ve said it’s in our best interest to have an educated population,” Huff said. “I’m struggling here trying to figure out which is the greater good, which is the societal choice we should be doing.”
Before Wednesday’s education committee hearing, it was revealed that Pan has been receiving threats via e-mail and racist Facebook comments, and that extra security has been assigned to him.
Pan again told the committee that his bill is essential to protecting the public’s ability to fight and eliminate diseases such as measles and mumps and that California is below the necessary 92 percent vaccination rate for so-called herd immunity.
Under SB 277, parents will be allowed to forgo vaccinations for their children but they must provide their school district with a medical exemption.
Opponents told the committee that medical exemptions are difficult to attain and that fewer than 1 percent of vaccine exemptions are medical.
While the committee acknowledged the importance of immunizations, they took issue with the possibility of thousands of children being pulled from schools.
Sen. Lori Hancock, D-Berkeley, asked the authors of the bill why it includes restricting unvaccinated children from private schools and questioned a clause in SB 277 that allows for future immunizations to be added to the 10 currently on the list.
“I really think adding in diseases when there’s this level of questioning really ought to be done by the Legislature and not just a blanket permission to add,” Hancock said.