Bills designed to restrict immunization exemptions from doctors pass despite opposition led by local Republicans
SACRAMENTO – Vaccinating your child has never been more important. And if you ask local representatives, it’s a little too important.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two bills last week limiting vaccination exemptions for school age children. Senate Bill 276, and its companion bill Senate Bill 714, were approved by the Senate and Assembly and signed by the Governor on Sept. 9. SB 276, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, requires the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to standardize medical exemption forms for doctors detailing the medical basis for the exemption and give the agency the power to revoke them if they are deemed “inappropriate.” CDPH is also tasked with reviewing doctors who grant five or more exemptions in a year and to investigate schools with an overall immunization rate of 95% or less. SB 714 allowed children with a medical exemption issued before Jan. 1, 2020 to continue the exemption until that child enrolls in the “next grade span.” Grade spans were defined as birth to preschool, K-6 (including transitional kindergarten) and 7-12.
Gov. Newsom called for the bills after measles outbreaks in Washington, Oregon, and New York earlier year. 2019 already has the highest number of measles cases reported since the disease was officially declared eliminated in 2000.
Both bills passed on partisan votes and local Republicans led the charge to try and paint them as government overreach and endangering the lives and education of medically-fragile children.
“This legislation will unfairly target families with medically-fragile children,” said Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield). “It will harm children because it ignores the judgment of a family’s personal doctor and replaces it with a government bureaucracy. SB 276 is a dangerous intrusion on the doctor-patient relationship.”
Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) also opposed the bill. As a father of a child with spina bifida, a condition that affects the spine and nervous system, Mathis said he understands the need for vaccinations, but doesn’t trust a large bureaucratic organization like CDPH to process the requests efficiently enough to meet school deadlines, which can block a child’s entrance to a school district.
“The fact that every single government agency has a backlog and it scares the hell out of me to think we would have a backlog of getting approval for our kids to go to school,” Mathis said.
Spina bifida can happen anywhere along the spine if the neural tube does not close all the way. When the neural tube doesn’t close all the way, the backbone that protects the spinal cord doesn’t form and close as it should. This often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves.
Both Grove and Mathis also argued that there is already a state agency, the California Medical Board, which investigates doctors for malpractice, including fraudulent prescriptions, notes, and exemptions.
“If the author of this legislation and Sacramento Democrats truly want to crackdown on fraudulent medical exemptions, then the Legislature should focus on offering resources to the California Medical Board and making sure they do their job,” Sen. Grove said.
Mathis added, “The government doesn’t belong in that [doctor-patient] relationship. There are already laws on the books to go after bad doctors.”
AB276 does allow parents to appeal CDPH’s revocation to the Secretary of California Health and Human Services. The appeal would be conducted by an independent expert review panel of licensed physicians and surgeons established by the secretary. The secretary must adopt the decision by the panel and promptly issue a written decision to the child’s parent or guardian. The final decision of the secretary would not be subject to further administrative review or appeal. During the appeal, a child would be allowed to continue attending school as long as the appeal is filed within 30 days of the state’s denial of the medical exemption.