HARTFORD, CT — The Children’s Committee forwarded a bill to the House Tuesday that changes vaccine exemption forms to notify parents of the current law.
The bill had initially sought to remove school nurses as a person approved to witness a parent’s signature on a religious exemption form. That language was scrapped in favor of adding a disclaimer to the top of the form to let parents know a nurse has the right to refuse to witness their signature.
CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 HB 7005: An Act Prohibiting The Acknowledgment Of Parental Statements Concerning Religious Objections To Vaccination By School Nurses And Permitting Members Of The Clergy To Acknowledge Such Statements
The bill squeaked through committee on a 8-6 vote. Three Democrats joined three Republicans in voting against the measure.
The new language would also require the Department of Education to send one written notice to each local and regional board of education and the Association of School Nurses of Connecticut a statement that says any school nurse can acknowledge or refuse to acknowledge a religious exemption.
Connecticut allows attorneys, judges, family support magistrates, town clerks, justices of the peace, and school nurses to sign the religious exemption forms.
“There are some nurses that have problems signing these papers and they have rights as well,” Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said.
She said there are other people who can sign the form.
However, some parents objected to the legislation because not all the officials capable of signing the form also have to comply with health privacy laws under HIPAA.
Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Shelton, said individuals have the right to privacy regarding their medical records.
He said the other individuals on the list are not bound by HIPAA like the school nurses. He said asking them to have others acknowledge their forms are “asking them to breach the privacy they have in their medical records.”
In 2015, the General Assembly passed a law that required parents to acknowledge their religious exemption annually. That was a year after one of the worst measles outbreaks in the U.S. following its elimination in 2000.
“This seems not to be a legislative issue. This seems to be an education issue,” Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, said. She said the legislation does nothing that isn’t already current law.
“Why would we need more legislation to educate people when it’s the law?” Kokoruda, who voted against the bill, said.
Rep. Gary Turco, D-Newington, said the best practices say vaccinations are very important to children’s well-being.
“We’re seeing cases across this country now where people aren’t vaccinating and there are serious consequences to that,” Turco said.
He said Connecticut allows for a religious exemption and there’s nothing in this legislation that changes that.
Rep. Patricia Wilson Pheanious, D-Ashford, who also voted against the bill, said the nurses are only being asked to acknowledge the signature of the parent.
“They’re not being asked to make a judgment,” Wilson Pheanious said.
Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, said he knows they’ve been getting a lot of emails from constituents on both sides of the issue and one of the arguments against the bill is the “slippery slope” argument.
“This is not getting rid of a religious exemption,” Slap reiterated. “This is not putting another obstacle in the way of parents claiming a religious exemption. This is simply restating what current statute already says.”
Those who oppose vaccinating their children for religious reasons believe the bill could be used as a vehicle to eliminate the religious exemption to vaccines.
Kokoruda said parents have every reason to be concerned that the bill could be used to eliminate their religious exemption. She said legislation intending to do one thing becomes something else all the time.
“It’s the nose under the carpet,” Kokoruda said. “…I just think this is the first step toward totally getting rid of religious exemptions.”
Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said she’s given everyone her word that she has no intention of using this bill a vehicle for getting rid of religious exemptions.
Linehan said she would like to eliminate the religious exemption, but will use another piece of legislation to accomplish it.
“I’ve made it very clear that I’m 100 percent for getting rid of the religious exemption, but you have my word that this bill is not the vehicle,” Linehan added.