Lawmaker seeks legal opinion on scrapping vaccine exemption

March 29, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A senior lawmaker asked Connecticut’s attorney general on Friday to determine whether it would be constitutional to eliminate a religious exemption to the requirement that schoolchildren be vaccinated.

Democratic House Majority Leader Matt Ritter believes the exemption is being abused and should be scrapped in light of the uptick in measles and other outbreaks across the U.S. But he asked Attorney General William Tong for a formal opinion regarding any potential state or federal constitutional impediments in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

“As you may know, three states — California, Mississippi and West Virginia — currently do not have a religious or philosophical exemption for required school immunizations,” he wrote. “In addition, the lack of either exemption has been challenged and upheld under federal constitutional principles.”

While Ritter believes eliminating the exemption is OK under federal law, he said he wants Tong to review claims by some opponents who say eliminating the exemption would violate Connecticut’s constitution, which includes a provision for free and equitable education. If the exemption was eliminated, unvaccinated children would not be admitted to school, with the exception of those with medical exemptions.

Ritter angered a group of parents when he recently called on the General Assembly to vote on whether to eliminate the exemption sometime within the next 12 months.

“The government has ... zero rights to ask you what your religion is, or for you to explain it, for you to belong to a certain religion,” said Shannon Gamache, of Ashford, earlier this month. She chose not to have her son fully vaccinated after he experienced what she believes were adverse side effects from a vaccine. She is Christian.

It remains unclear whether a vote could be held this session, which ends on June 5.

“Attorney Tong’s legal opinion is the next step in this process,” Ritter said.

Earlier this week, officials in Rockland County, New York, enacted an emergency order to fight a measles outbreak that has infected more than 150 people since last fall. The order bans unvaccinated children under 18 from public places, including schools.