SACRAMENTO (AP) — A California vaccination bill that has generated intense debates pitting personal rights against public health stalled in the state Senate Wednesday, with lawmakers saying it could unconstitutionally create a second-class by depriving unvaccinated children of an adequate education.
The measure would have prevented parents from seeking vaccine exemptions for their children because of religious or personal beliefs, making California the largest of only three states with such strict requirements.
Supporters plan to bring the bill back next week after revisions to address the concern raised in the Senate Education Committee.
Parents took opposite sides in the hearing, with some calling it an unconstitutional government overreach and others countering that it was necessary to save lives.
The bill was drafted in the wake of a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in December. The topic has generated such an acidic debate that the proposal’s author, Sen. Richard Pan, a Democratic pediatrician from Sacramento, received added security.
In addition to threatening messages sent to his office, opponents of the legislation have posted images online comparing Pan to Adolf Hitler.
Carl Krawitt, of Corte Madre near San Francisco, told lawmakers Wednesday that he feared for his 6-year-old son’s life during the measles outbreak because the boy, Rhett, could not be vaccinated while he was treated for leukemia. Krawitt said his family has already bore the financial and emotional toll of a child with cancer.
“We’re here for the community,” Krawitt said. He added, “You have a duty to legislate from solid evidence, not from fear, and keep our schools safe.”
Opposing parents told lawmakers that the vaccine came with risks, saying shots could be tainted or otherwise dangerous. They also worry about the drugs’ links to autism and other developmental diseases, even as the medical community says such claims have been scientifically disproved.
Hundreds of critics, many with babies and young children, lined up outside the committee room for a chance to voice their opposition.
Robert Moxley, an attorney from Wyoming who represents families injured by vaccines, testified that the bill violates freedom of choice. He told lawmakers that the proposal would not stand up in a court challenge.
“It seems to me this is a solution in search of a nonexistent problem,” Moxley said.
The bill would have joined California with Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states with such strict vaccine rules.
Medical waivers would be available only for children with health problems and the personal and religious belief exemptions would be eliminated. Unvaccinated children would have to be homeschooled.
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