SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Changes demanded by California’s governor as a condition of signing a vaccine bill cleared their first hurdle Monday, when the state Assembly passed the companion bill and sent it to the Senate.
Gov. Gavin Newsom sought the changes as a condition of signing legislation intended to crack down on doctors who sell fraudulent medical exemptions.
Lawmakers sent Newsom the original bill last week. Democratic Sen. Richard Pan of San Francisco agreed to also carry follow-up legislation that among other things would give school children grace periods that could last several years on existing medical exemptions.
The Senate was expected to take up the bill later Monday, but action was delayed as protesters unfurled an upside-down American flag from the Senate’s public gallery in a traditional signal of distress while opponents chanted “My kids, my choice” and “We will not comply.”
An apparent counter-protester unfurled a black banner reading: “We the People v. the Vaccine Extremists.”
The two bills are needed “so we can keep children safe from preventable diseases,” Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood of Santa Rosa said before the Assembly approved the measure with a 43-14 vote.
Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis of Visalia objected that there were no committee hearings on the last-minute bill.
“This goes past vaccines and is again a major government overreach,” Mathis said, adding that, “Our medically fragile children are what are at stake.”
Newsom demanded a phase-out period for medical exemptions similar to one allowed when California eliminated personal belief vaccine exemptions in 2015. A kindergartener with an exemption could retain it through 6th grade, for instance, while a 7th grader could be exempted through high school.
Several opponents of the bill were detained before the legislative session as they blocked entrances to the Capitol, including two women who briefly chained themselves to an outside doorway. About 200 others filled the hallway in front of the governor’s office, asking Newsom to veto both vaccine bills.
The companion bill also would allow officials to revoke any medical exemptions written by a doctor who has faced disciplinary action.
The bill would make it clear that enforcement will start next year, meaning doctors who previously granted a high number of medical exemptions won’t face scrutiny.