HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — State House lawmakers are voting on one of the most controversial bills of the session – repealing the religious exemption for childhood vaccinations.
Last year before the pandemic, 5,000 people gathered at the state capitol to testify in what was a record-breaking 23-hour public hearing.
Two months ago, there was a virtual hearing that lasted 24-hours. On Monday, the debate started at 10:30 in the morning.
A late compromise includes grandfathering in those who currently have a religious exemption. If passed, this law HB 6423 would affect families enrolling students into school in September of 2022.
Right now, 8,000 kids who claim a religious exemption for childhood vaccinations would keep their exemption if this law passes.
Parents enrolling students in school beginning in September 2022 would be mandated to have their child vaccinated. The shots cover measles, mumps, rubella, Diptheria, polio among others. Not COVID19 vaccinations.
State Representative Johnathan Steinberg the Democratic Co-Chair of the Public Health Committee admits. “We do this with our eyes wide open. We are making changes we know will affect families.”
Republicans estimate 20,000 children are currently not compliant with the existing law. But it’s unclear why. And none have been kicked out of school.
State Representative Vin Candelor the Republican House Minority Leader says enforcement of currents laws is the better focus of this policy discussion.
“The majority, the Democrats have decided to take a sledgehammer to an issue as opposed to being more gentle,” added Rep Candelora.
Opponents from Informed Choices Connecticut say it’s about a parents right to decide when their child gets his, or her shots. And government has no right to take that away.
Lee Ann Ducat cofounder of Informed Choices CT says of the compromise to start the new rules in 2022. “They are throwing the babies under the bus.”
News 8 asked Informed Choices CT leaders, “Do you anticipate lawsuits by families?”
Ducat answered, “I’ve already raised $50,000 and we’re raising more. I fully anticipate filing a lawsuit it’s just gonna happen.”
The new law would allow families to put together a plan with their doctor to catch up on vaccinations and still attend school. The Department of Public Health Commissioner would have to create a form for that “plan” and post it on the state website by October 2021.
State Representative Matt Ritter, the Democratic House Speaker says “Other states have this provision they don’t have to educate children. They are allowed to make decisions about public health.”
The proposed bill does not say whether remote learning would be an option for un-vaccinated children.
Speaker Ritter is open to the idea. “I look at remote learning as another bill that indirectly addresses this for some kids and gives them an option and i’m okay with that.”
44-states have religious exemptions. Five states mandate kids have all shots be allowed in the classroom. Connecticut’s vaccination rate is 95 percent according to the latest data cited by Republicans via the state health department.
State Representative Dr. Bill Petit the ranking Republican member of the Public Health Committee says he supports vaccinations. For Petit, it’s less about the science and more about the kids.
“What happens to all the children who don’t have a choice and won’t be vaccinated and may be removed from school. In terms of the impact on their mental health, their formal education and perhaps some nutritionally for those who go to school and get breakfast and lunch, etc.”
There is a price tag to the policy. The state office of fiscal analysis says the state will pay about $91,000 a year to vaccinate children affected by the law.
OFA also says colleges and universities face a $1 million loss in student fees for tuition, room and board.
Debate is expected to go well into the evening.
The House Speaker tells News 8 there are enough votes to “overwhelmingly” pass the bill.
If the proposal passes the State House, the bill will then move on to the State Senate. Governor Ned Lamont has said he will sign the bill.