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California vaccine bill clears major legislative hurdle

June 25, 2015

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — California’s legislature 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 governor’s desk.

The bill aims to increase immunization rates after a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland in December sickened over 100 people in the U.S. 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.

“Do we wait until we have a full-fledged crisis to protect the most vulnerable?” legislator Lorena Gonzalez asked as she presented the bill.

The measure passed after weeks of vocal opposition with thousands of parents protesting at the Capitol. The bill now must be approved by state governor Jerry Brown, who has not indicated yet whether he would sign it.

Opponents of the vaccine bill have already taken out paperwork to recall at least two senators who voted for the proposal.

Opposition was fierce during the Assembly debate. Both Democrats and Republicans spoke against the loss of parental autonomy.

“We do not have the right, nor should we have the power, to take away a parent’s right to choose,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis.

A large outbreak tied to Disneyland sickened 147 people in the U.S., including 131 in California in late 2014. Infections also spread to Mexico and Canada where 159 people fell ill in Quebec. Many stricken with measles were not immunized because of personal reasons or their age.

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Associated Press Writer Judy Lin contributed to this story.

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