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State Public Health Committee uncertain about fate of bill to ban religious exemption surrounding childhood immunizations

Politics

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The state legislatures Public Health Committee is looking to bring back a controversial bill: the ban on religious exemptions for parents who don’t want their children vaccinated.

Legislative researchers say only five states in the nation have this ban. The Public Health Committee debated for nearly an hour this week on whether to bring the bill back up in a virtual legislative world.

RELATED: Lawmakers plan to push ahead with religious exemption bill for school kids

Many argue such a controversial idea should not be debated over zoom. Last year 5,000 people converged on the state capitol. Many of those gathered were concerned parents who didn’t want their child vaccinated because of religious beliefs.

“In the longest hearing in legislative history, longer than the gun bill; that says that bill is pretty controversial,” recalls ranking Public Health Committee member, Republican State Senator Heather Somers.

There were also parents who wanted to protect kids at risk. Children, who may have cancer, and can not be vaccinated.

Democratic State Senator Mary Daugherty Abrams is co-chair of the Public Health Committee.

“We have to remember it’s our responsibility to make sure those kids are safe. They don’t get a choice,” she said.

The pandemic eventually closed the capitol. Now, in a virtual legislative session, the bill may come back up.

Seventy-eight-hundred families currently use the religious exemption, opting not to vaccinate their children against diseases like measles, mumps, or rubella.

Dr. Jason Jenkins, Health Choice for Action Connecticut said, “government leaves people with little choice. I do think people will leave the state.”

Dr. Jenkins is part of Health Choice Connecticut, a grassroots organization against the ban. He says some people have beliefs whether it’s religious or for health concerns that they don’t want their children exposed to the vaccine.

“People will be forced to homeschool children. We’ve seen this year how difficult that can be,” added Jenkins.

This week the state Public Health Committee debated whether they could handle hundreds of people on a virtual public hearing. State Senator Daugherty Abrams says she’s confident the process will work.

Ten thousand people signed a petition and emailed it to lawmakers pleading with them to hold off on this legislation until everyone can debate the idea in person. It’s unclear whether lawmakers will honor that request.

State Senator Somers added, “we have just been through a time when people have lost faith in our government and we need to do everything we can to show them that we do care.”

News 8 has learned language being drafted would be based on a bill that made it out of committee last year. It contained at that time a “grandfather clause” allowing those who currently use the religious exemption to keep it. No child would be kicked out of school, but families would have to get a medical exemption. The bill would only apply to currently mandated vaccines like measles, mumps, and rubella.

The Public Health Committee meets again on Monday at 9 a.m.

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