The public health committee sent two controversial bills that eliminate the religious exemption to childhood vaccinations for elementary school students to the House and Senate.
“Because of the incontrovertible and concerning trend we’ve seen in our communities whereby the percentage of religious exemptions has risen over the past decade,” Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said.
Steinberg said that is why two bills eliminating the religious exemption to childhood vaccinations for things like measles, mumps, and rubella is necessary.
Republicans on the committee argued the state should be educating people on vaccinations instead of forcing them to decide how to educate their children.
“Most of my constituents are not for this bill because it is an overreach of government,’ Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Bethany, said.
Zupkus said the state shouldn’t be interfering with the medical decisions of parents.
“It is there right as a parent to choose what goes into their kids bodies,” Zupkus said.
Hundreds of people rallied against the bills at Capitol rallies and nearly 2,000 people signed up to testify on the bills, but the 24-hour cap on the public hearing meant only about 226 got to testify. Most of those who got a chance to address the committee opposed the bills.
“There is a significant portion of the population that was not present at the public hearing that does feel that we are in a situation where we need to have the religious exemption removed,” Rep. Eleni Kavros DeGraw, D-Canton, said.
Dr. William Petit Jr. said he’s struggled with this issue.
“It’s been really a struggle for me you know because the simple medical point of view- vaccines are good, you should take them, if you don’t too bad,” Petit said.
At the same time children have missed a lot of school this year due to the pandemic. If the bill passes students who don’t get vaccinated would not be allowed to attend school.
“I hate the concept of leaving children without education,” Petit said.
The bills now head to the House and the Senate.