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California Lawmakers Vote To Remove Vaccine Exemptions For Schoolchildren

Leukemia survivor Rhett Krawitt, 7, carries a box of petitions representing more than 30,000 people supporting a measure requiring nearly all California schoolchildren to be vaccinated. He took them to the governor's office at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday. The state Assembly voted Thursday to remove so-called "personal belief exemptions" for immunizations.
Rich Pedroncelli
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The California Assembly has joined the state Senate in voting to approve a controversial bill requiring all children attending school to be vaccinated against measles and other common, preventable illnesses — effectively eliminating so-called "personal belief exemptions" that allowed parents to opt out.

The bill is aimed at increasing immunization rates following a serious measles outbreak in December that was traced back to Disneyland and that sickened dozens.

The measure passed the California Assembly on a 46-30 vote, with two Republicans joining the Democratic majority.

"We do not have the right, nor should we have the power, to take away a parent's right to choose," complained Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia.

According to The Contra Costa Times, "over the past few months, hundreds of parents who oppose the legislation have rallied lawmakers at the Capitol saying the bill violates their parental rights, and their belief that some vaccines are unsafe for some children. Then, often with their children in tow, they testified at the public hearing where the measure was considered."

As The Associated Press notes, the measure "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."

The Contra Costa Times says that only Mississippi and West Virginia have a law as strict as the one that just passed the California Legislature.

The Senate version of the measure requires children attending any public, private or parochial school to be immunized against 10 specified diseases. It would allow only medical exemptions.

A similar bill was already passed by the Senate last month, but because it was amended in the Assembly, it must return to the Senate before going to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not said whether he would sign it into law.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.