The California Legislature passed and on June 29, 2015 Governor Jerry Brown signed California Senate Bill 277 into law. The law, which does not take effect until July 1, 2016, removes the personal belief vaccine exemption for children attending daycare and public and private schools.
Despite some of the most articulate, accurate, passionate and vocal opposition the legislature has seen from citizens spanning all political, socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, and medical backgrounds, a pro-mandatory vaccination lobby backed by the pharmaceutical, medical trade and public health industries prevailed. Education for California public and private school children and day care attendees is now dependent upon receipt of multiple doses of 10 federally recommended and state mandated vaccines regardless of a parent’s personal belief or religious belief objections.
California Stands Alone
Against the backdrop of the rest of the United States, California stands alone in the minority. Out of the 11 states that had bills filed to remove either the personal belief/conscientious/philosophical or religious exemptions during the 2015 legislative cycle (CA, MD, ME, NC, OK, OR, PA, RI, TX, VT and WA), California was the only state where the legislature passed a bill leaving only the medical exemption. Vermont retained a broad religious exemption, but the legislature removed the philosophical exemption. The other nine states rejected the removal of any non-medical exemption.
NVIC and Many Non-Profits Opposed SB 277
The National Vaccine Information Center(NVIC), a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to preventing vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and securing informed consent protections in vaccine policies and laws, vigorously opposed this bill throughout the legislative process. NVIC wrote testimony opposing SB277 and gave testimony opposing the bill in legislative hearings and published NVIC Newsletter articles and statements of opposition, as well as issued multiple email action alerts through the NVIC Advocacy Portal and NVIC Facebook page.
The bill was also opposed by Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, California Chiropractic Association, California Naturopathic Doctors Association, California Nurses for Ethical Standards, California ProLife Council, California Right to Life Committee, Inc., Canary Party, Capitol Resource Institute, Educate Advocate, Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT), Homeschool Association of California, Pacific Justice Institute Center for Public Policy, ParentalRights.org and Safeminds.
Industry and Medical Trade Proponents of the Bill
The lobbying effort in support for SB277 was led by Vaccinate California and California Immunization Coalition, a project of the Immunization Action Coalition that is funded by Astra Zeneca, BioCSL, Merck, Novartis Vaccines, Pfizer and Sanofi Pasteur and CDC. The American Academy of Pediatrics and California Medical Association, which are also funded by pharmaceutical companies, were among the bill’s supporters, as well as Biocomthat represents Pfizer, Merck, GSK, Novartis, Sanofi, Monsanto and Kaiser Permanente.
Other proponents of SB277 included a long list of medical trade and government employee associations that receive state and industry funding, as well as the Secular Coalition for America, which is a 501C4 anti-religious belief lobbying organization with 50 state chapters. The Coalition recently issued a press release in Oregon stating the Secular Coalition “played a key role in passage of the bill” in California. A June 2015 article in the Sacramento Bee revealed that “drug companies donated millions to California legislators before vaccine debate.”
What the New Law Does and Does Not Do
The new law eliminating the personal belief vaccine exemption is a significant change to current vaccine exemption law and will have a profound impact on families who have chosen to delay or decline one or more vaccines for their children and want their children to have a public or private school education. Naturally, families in California are concerned and confused about how and when the new law will affect them. To help clear up some of this confusion, following is an outline of provisions in the new law and NVIC’s perspective on best options for actions that California families can take to restore the personal belief vaccine exemption for school attendance.
In summary, here is what SB 277 does and doesn’t do:
- SB 277 removes the personal belief exemption from statute for government mandated vaccines required for children to attend elementary, middle and high school public and private schools, child care centers, day nurseries, and nursery schools.
- SB 277 applies to state mandated vaccines for diphtheria, Hib, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis, Polio, Rubella, Tetanus, Hep B (except for 7th grade and up), Varicella and “any other disease deemed appropriate by the department.”
- SB 277 does not require home school students or students who do not receive classroom-based instruction to be vaccinated.
- SB 277 does not prohibit a student who qualifies for an Individualized Educational Program from accessing any special education and related services required by his/her IEP.
- SB 277 does not fully go into effect until July 1, 2016.
- SB 277 provides for a limited grandfathering of students who submit a personal belief exemption affidavit to the school prior to January 1, 2016 to continue attending public or private school after July 1st, 2016 until they enroll in the next “grade span.” The three grade spans are defined as birth to preschool, kindergarten to sixth grade, and grades 7 through 12.
- SB 277 still allows for a medical exemption and defines a medical exemption as follows: “If the parent or guardian files with the governing authority a written statement by a licensed physician to the effect that the physical condition of the child is such, or medical circumstances relating to the child are such, that immunization is not considered safe, indicating the specific nature and probable duration of the medical condition or circumstances, including, but not limited to, family medical history, for which the physician does not recommend immunization, that child shall be exempt from the requirements of Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 120325, but excluding Section 120380) and Sections 120400, 120405, 120410, and 120415 to the extent indicated by the physician's statement.”
How close was it?
The final vote on SB 277 in the Assembly on June 25, 2015 was 46 in favor and 31 opposed with three votes not recorded. That means if only eight Assembly members out of the 46 who voted in favor of the bill had changed their vote to a NO, SB 277 would be dead. Only eight votes!
The final vote on SB 277 in the Senate on June 29,2015, was 24 in favor and 14 opposed with two votes not recorded. This means that if only six of the Senators who had voted “yes” changed their votes to “No,” SB 277 could have been dead in the Senate. All of the votes are recorded here under the “Votes” tab.
Options to Restore the Personal and Religious Belief Vaccine Exemptions
It is crucial for all families in California, who currently want to exercise a personal belief vaccine exemption so their children can attend school, to understand that under the new law’s grandfather clause, children can continue to attend daycare or school with the personal belief vaccine exemption IF their parents have filed that exemption by Dec. 31, 2015. If your child’s personal belief vaccine exemption is not filed before that date, your child will not be able to attend school or day care with the personal belief exemption after July 1, 2016.
With that said, the people of California still have the interim period between now and the beginning of the 2016 legislative session in January 2016 to educate their elected state Assembly Member and Senator about why it is important to restore the personal belief vaccine exemption for conscientious or religious beliefs. Given that the final votes only needed a switch of eight votes in the Assembly and six votes in the Senate to kill the bill in either chamber, there is a very strong foundation to find an Assembly or Senate member to forward a bill that will restore exemptions for religious and conscientious beliefs.
California families should register for the NVIC Advocacy Portal at http://NVICAdvocacy.org and continue to contact their state legislators and advocate for a new bill to restore personal belief vaccine exemptions in school and daycare attendance laws. It is important for California families to keep in perspective that even though SB 277 passed, a defeat was within reach in both chambers of the legislature. Also, the bill was significantly amended throughout the legislative process with multiple concessions in response to concerns voiced by legislators sympathetic to opposition to the bill. The final version of SB 277 was very different than the filed version due to strong citizen opposition.
While the final outcome that saw SB 277 signed into law by Governor Brown was still very disappointing, there is a substantive pro-informed choice foundation and public platform that has been developed this year that families in California can build upon. It is important to keep citizen support for non-medical vaccine exemptions on the front burner in the California legislature and continue one-on-one education of legislators from now until the next session.
This is not the time to stand back. Many more families and enlightened health professionals are needed to contact their legislators during this period leading up to and during the 2016 legislative cycle in order to restore non-medical exemptions prior to the effective date of SB 277 on July 1, 2016.
Other vehicles to restore the exemption are a civil court challenge or a referendum to put the question to the voters on the 2016 ballot. Because vaccine mandates are state laws, the most effective and inexpensive way to affect the laws that govern us is to educate our elected officials to pass laws that protect our human and civil rights. Again, with only eight votes in the California Assembly and six votes in the Senate making the difference between SB277 passing or failing, it makes sense to find legislators in the Assembly and Senate to carry a new bill that will restore personal belief and religious exemptions and close the gap between the handful of legislators who stand between “no exceptions” vaccine mandates and protection of informed consent rights.
What Californians Can Do Now
Responsible and consistent grassroots efforts to educate those who we elect to represent us, is the most direct and cost effective, likely to succeed strategy we can take to make and protect good laws and overturn bad laws. California residents who want to work with their legislators can start by personally meeting with and sending a letter to your California Assembly Member, Senator, and their staffs requesting that they work to reinstate the vaccine exemptions for conscientious and religious beliefs in the next session. Give your legislator a copy of NVIC’s fully referenced, illustrated guide Reforming Vaccine Policy and Law. When you see a credible news report or medical literature article that raises questions about vaccine science, policy and law or supports informed consent rights and vaccine exemptions, make an appointment with your legislators to discuss it or send it to them in a letter.
It has taken decades for pro-forced vaccination lobbyists to erode informed consent rights in vaccine laws and those rights will not be preserved or restored overnight without a lot of hard work at the grassroots level by millions of Americans taking action. While there are some organizations advocating different strategies for restoring the personal belief and religious exemptions in California, the National Vaccine Information Center will continue to advocate for active education of legislators and their staffs on a consistent basis.
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