The Public Health Committee argued over transparency Friday after Democratic leaders delayed the advancement of legislation to eliminate the religious exemption to childhood vaccination requirements in order to prepare a second vehicle for the proposal.
The committee has had two proposals on the controversial subject since February, but on Friday, co-chairman Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, tabled the advancement of one of those proposals so the two could be made identical. He acknowledged the delay was unusual.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I’m learning things even at this advanced point. Since we also have a Senate bill, we were advised to get these two bills into alignment,” he said.
The removal of religious exemptions is one of the most-watched issues of the session. A February hearing on the bills resulted in so much public testimony that the hearing was capped after it stretched over 24 hours.
Although it is not unusual for the legislature to entertain more than one similar proposal, Republicans on the committee said the majority party’s careful maneuvering of the controversial bills felt like political gamesmanship.
Rep. Christine Carpino, R-Cromwell, said it raised transparency issues for members of the public trying to follow the process.
“This looks like a sleight of hand. This is actually appearing as deceptive to many members of the public,” she said. “When folks don’t trust government, looking like you’re pulling a rabbit out of a hat when no one’s looking isn’t really helping our cause.”
Steinberg said the delay would allow committee members more time to read the reams of public testimony submitted to the committee by members of the public. But he suggested that decisions about how the proposals would navigate the legislative process were made by leadership and no one was trying to mislead the public.
“That’s why they call it sausage-making in the legislature. It’s often not pretty. It’s the way we often do things. If people have other suggestions to improve the process I recommend you take it to respective caucus leadership. Maybe we can make the rules better going forward,” he said.
The committee voted 20-11 to draft the Senate version of the proposal as a committee bill. The committee expects to vote on the bills at a future meeting.