Vaccine Bill Passes Legislature, Unclear if Newsom Will Sign

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Alexis Tjian holds her 5-year-old daughter as she receives a vaccination from Etzel Rubio at Berkeley Pediatrics. Senate Bill 276 would bar physicians from charging for vaccine exemptions, and allow the state to review certain exemptions that have already been granted. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

A bill that gives state health officials  more oversight over medical exemptions for child vaccines made it past its final vote Wednesday.

But it’s unclear whether Governor Gavin Newsom will sign it.

The Senate passed SB 276 on a 28-11 vote.

The bill requires more oversight for medical exemptions given by doctors to school kids in California, where children are required to be vaccinated to attend public schools.

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State health officials would review exemptions issued by doctors who grant five or more exemptions in a year. Exemptions for students from schools with an immunization rate below 95 percent would also be reviewed under the legislation by Senator Richard Pan, D-Sacramento.

Pan said the bill is vital for promoting herd immunity.

"We all want to freedom to be able to send our kids to school and know they'll be safe," Pan said. "And so this bill, again, is about being sure that the children who really need the medical exemptions, and therefore can not be vaccinated to protect themselves, have the protection of the others in the school."

But even though it’s passed through the Legislature, Governor Newsom is calling for several changes his office said will clarify the exemption and appeals process. Those changes include beginning to count the annual number of exemptions doctors issue on January 1, 2020. His office also wants to allow the panel considering appeals to also  be able to consider additional information outside of the doctor's medical exemption.

And Newsom wants to remove the phrase "under penalty of perjury" regarding the information doctors include on medical exemption forms.

Newsom's office said it's been working on the amendments for weeks. But Pan said that, outside of some preliminary discussions, he was never formally contacted about the changes. He said Newsom had already pledged his support for the measure as it’s currently written.

“We came to an agreement," he told Senators during Wednesday's debate. "That's the version of the bill that’s before you. This is the bill that the governor’s office agreed to and said that they would commit to sign.”

The governor’s proposed changes would need to be taken up in a companion bill, and the Legislature would need to act quickly: The session ends for the year next week.

The Senate floor debate over SB 276 was lively, with those opposing the measure often yelling and chanting from the chamber’s viewing gallery. The protesters gathered outside Newsom's office after the vote, and Newsom adviser Daniel Zingale was seen taking several aside for a private meeting.

"The most important Democrat, the only one left now, is Gavin Newsom," Heidi Munoz Gleisner, who stood in front of Newsom's office door, told a crowd that had gathered. She urged people to post on social media that the bill is not creating a "#CaliforniaForAll," the slogan Newsom's office has used to promote his policies, and to send similar messages to Newsom's wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

The Associated Press Contributed to this Report.