California Vaccine Bill Clears Major Legislative Hurdle

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -
Rhett Krawitt, 6, who could not be vaccinated while he was being treated for leukemia, speaks to lawmakers about approval of a measure requiring California schoolchildren to be vaccinated during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rhett Krawitt, 6, who could not be vaccinated while he was being treated for leukemia, speaks to lawmakers about approval of a measure requiring California schoolchildren to be vaccinated during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California’s Assembly on Thursday approved a hotly contested bill requiring that nearly all public schoolchildren be vaccinated, clearing one of its last major legislative obstacles before the measure heads to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bill aims to increase immunization rates after a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland in December sickened over 100 people in the United States and Mexico.

It would give California one of the nation’s strictest vaccine laws by striking the state’s personal belief exemption. Only children with serious health issues would be allowed to opt out of mandatory vaccine schedules. Unvaccinated children would need to be homeschooled. If the bill becomes law, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states with such strict requirements.

The measure passed on a bipartisan 46-30 vote after weeks of vocal opposition, with thousands of parents placing calls to representatives and donning red shirts to protest at the  Capitol.

But proponents have been equally resolute, standing by 7-year-old leukemia survivor Rhett Krawitt Wednesday as he delivered a petition with over 30,000 signatures to the Democratic governor. Krawitt’s parents said that because he could not be immunized for a year after receiving chemotherapy, they were nervous to send him to school in the chronically under-vaccinated Marin County.