Authors of California vaccination bill fast-track proposal

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The authors of a bill aimed at boosting California school immunization rates said Monday that they have cut a reporting requirement out of their proposal, a maneuver that fast-tracks the bill and avoids another contentious hearing in the Senate.

Sens. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, said they amended their bill to remove a requirement for schools to notify parents of immunization rates. Doing so allows SB277 to bypass the Senate Appropriations Committee and enables the full Senate to vote as early as this week.

Pan, a Sacramento pediatrician, said the change was made to keep the bill's focus on eliminating religious and personal belief exemptions after a measles outbreak at Disneyland in December sickened more than 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico and revealed low immunization rates in pockets of the state.

"We took it out so we wouldn't get entangled," Pan said. "We wanted to keep the bill focused ... so it's not unusual to do that."

But opponents, who have flooded the Capitol for recent hearings and held emotional rallies, immediately criticized the maneuver as a way to avoid public debate.

"They're pulling out all tricks," said Brian Stenzler, president of the California Chiropractic Association. "They're not stopping anywhere until this gets out of the Senate."

The bill would bar parents from seeking vaccine exemptions for their children because of religious or personal beliefs, joining California with Mississippi and West Virginia in such strict requirements. Medical waivers would only be available for children with health problems, forcing unvaccinated children to be homeschooled.

In keeping with current standards, school children entering kindergarten and seventh grade in California will have to be checked for vaccinations, as well as when they enroll in a new district.

Stenzler said it's frustrating and disheartening for parents who feel passionate about maintaining parental rights. He noted that many parents have taken time out of their busy lives to be heard in Sacramento.

Parents who support the bill have also testified with equal fervor, but have been outnumbered at hearings. The bill has the backing of the Senate's leading lawmaker as well as broad support from doctors, hospitals, teachers, public health officials, local governments and unions.

Allen, whose father suffered polio, said the goal of the bill is to improve vaccination rates. He said he was OK with taking out the local reporting requirement because parents can already find out about their children's school vaccination rates through the Department of Public Health.

If the bill passes out of the Senate, it will still need to be heard in the Assembly.

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