HARTFORD, CT — For opponents it’s a slippery slope to eliminating religious exemptions and parental choice, but for those who support the bill it simply reminds school districts that school nurses also have discretion when it comes to acknowledging religious exemptions for vaccines.
“I have made it no secret that we do need to look at the religious exemption, but this bill does not do that,” Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, said Tuesday during the Education Committee meeting on the bill.
She said the bill, which was forwarded to the House by a 19-13 vote of the Education Committee, compels the State Education Department to alert school nurses of their rights under current law. She said it also adds language to the exemption form that says a nurse or other signor can’t be fired if they decide not to sign the form.
Melissa Sullivan, executive vice president of Health Choice Connecticut, said there’s nothing in state law that requires parents to use the form provided by the Department of Public Health. In fact, she encourages parents not to use the form.
She pointed out that when the school nurse signs the form they are only being asked to acknowledge the signature.
Linehan said the bill doesn’t change a parent’s opportunity to write their own religious exemption note to a school. She said the legislation does not require the use of a form.
Rep. Irene Haines, R-East Haddam, said the “chemical makeup” of these vaccines is not going to work for everyone.
Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, said she doesn’t know why they have to legislate nurses being aware of their rights.
“We have too many laws in this state,” Kokoruda said.
She said “anybody who thinks this bill is not just the first step to totally taking parents’ rights away and religious exemptions away is wrong.”
Kokoruda said hours after this bill passed the Children’s Committee on March 12 there was a press conference held by House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, who said within the next year he wanted to vote on removing the religious exemption.
She said it might not happen with this bill, but there will likely be a vote on getting rid of the religious exemption and every parent has the right to be worried.
Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said she doesn’t even know why they are debating this bill.
“Why are we doing this today? I have to admit that I can’t see a single reason for it. Is it just to get everybody ginned up now before everything happens next year?” Lavielle said.
At some point in May, Attorney General William Tong is expected to release his opinion on whether eliminating the religious exemption is constitutional. Ritter asked Tong for the decision in early April.
The discussion is taking place in the middle of one of the largest measles outbreaks in the United States in several decades. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention on Monday said 503 of the 704 measles infections were in people who were not vaccinated. The vaccination status was unknown for 125 patients, and 76 said they had been vaccinated and got sick anyway.
The committee meeting occurred before Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell announced that by the end of the week she would release data on how many children in each school are unvaccinated.