HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The State House of Representatives has voted 95 to 53 overnight in favor of a bill that would eliminate the religious exemption for mandatory childhood vaccines.
The bill now goes to the State Senate for a vote. And if it clears there, it will go to the governor’s desk.
The debate on the House floor took 16-hours; they came to a vote just after midnight.
It’s one of the most controversial bills of the session, and many prior sessions. 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. And just a few months ago, there was a virtual hearing that lasted 24-hours.
A late compromise included allowing the 8,000 or so students enrolled in Kindergarten or higher who already claim the religious exemption to be excluded from the bill. If HB 6423 passes, it would affect families enrolling students into school in September 2022.
The proposed bill does not say whether remote learning would be an option for un-vaccinated children.
Since a now-debunked study a couple decades ago falsely linked vaccines with autism, more and more parents have used the state’s religious exemption to avoid the shots mandated by schools.
Enough parents are using that exemption that public health officials warned some schools were at risk of falling below the levels needed for herd immunity. Herd immunity is necessary for the safety of kids who medically cannot get vaccinated.
Protecting those kids is the rallying cry for Democrats. For Republicans, it’s the warning that thousands of parents will keep their kids out of school rather than get them vaccinated.
State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello (R- Greenwich/Stamford) said, “Who do we go to, to solve the problem of making sure that those who can’t be vaccinated are safe in the schools?”
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport) said, “When it comes to comparing the rights of the immunocompromised, Why don’t they have a right to go to school and feel safe. Why must their rates be subjugated to those of people who would rather not be vaccinated? Because of their religious beliefs? Why have we continued to understate, undervalue the rights to an education of the immunocompromised? Why must we continue to say they don’t have the right to be safe in school?”
Forty-four states have religious exemptions, while five states mandate kids have all shots to be allowed in the classroom. Connecticut’s vaccination rate is 95%.