Two of the top Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly said Tuesday that the state has an obligation to consider ending religious exemptions from vaccinations for public school students.
“I think we have to have some conversations now,” said Rep. Matt Ritter, (D – Hartford), the majority leader of the Connecticut House of Representatives.
The discussion is happening now because of the measles outbreak around the country that’s seen more than 760 confirmed cases, with fewer than half a dozen of them in Connecticut.
Connecticut lawmakers have a measure before them that would modify who could sign off on exemptions, but a prohibition on the religious exemption, Ritter admits, would be an aggressive step forward. He said that step may be necessary.
“If you change the law and you get rid of the religious exemption like West Virginia, Mississippi and the state of California, you’re not forced to vaccinate your children, but you’re not allowed to enroll in public schools.”
Opponents to the idea argue the state of Connecticut has no place making such demands of parents.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, (R – North Branford), says because the state is so highly vaccinated on the whole, Democrats are searching for a problem to solve.
“We have the highest vaccination rate in the country, so Connecticut doesn’t have these issues of outbreaks that other states have, which is why I feel like rushing to address something where we don’t see evidence of an issue is a mistake.”
The Connecticut Department of Public Health unveiled data from the 2017-18 school year last week that showed some school districts had vaccination rates for measles and rubella below 95 percent.
The question of religious exemptions and the state’s ability to limit them was then posed to Attorney General William Tong for an opinion on the matter. He responded saying the state is well within its right to limit exemptions for parents.
Tong said Tuesday, “The Supreme Court spoke more than 100 years ago, and so did the Connecticut Supreme Court that the state clearly has the authority to require and regulate immunization here in this state and across the country.”
He added, “It’s frankly one of the first things we learn in law school, any state’s authority to take steps to protect public health and safety. That power is very broad and it always has been.”
If Connecticut is going to move on the issue, it will have to happen quickly, since the legislature adjourns next month.
That’s a reason, Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, (D – Berlin), the House Speaker says, to move on the issue.
“Do we want to wait until there’s an outbreak? I mean, that’s not the best argument,” he said.