Hundreds of protesters blocked entrances to the California state Capitol on Monday as lawmakers approved changes to a controversial bill to curb medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements.
The California Highway Patrol arrested several demonstrators for blocking entry into the government building, including three women who were obstructing a garage entrance used by lawmakers.
The state Assembly and Senate passed Senate Bill 714 on Monday, sending the legislation to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk after a hectic day of protests. The bill is a retooling of the contentious SB 276, which passed in the state Assembly and Senate last week. Newsom signed both bills on Monday evening.
Introduced by Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, SB 276 requires public health officials to review exemptions at any school found to have an immunization rate of less than 95%. The legislation also mandates a public health review of any doctor who grants more than five medical exemptions in a calendar year, and it authorizes the state to revoke exemptions it deems fraudulent or medically inaccurate.
SB 276 underwent revisions in June after Newsom raised concerns about the government interfering with doctor-patient relations. The governor again expressed doubts about the bill last week, signaling he wasn’t ready to sign it as is.
“The governor appreciates the work the Legislature has done to amend SB 276. There are a few pending technical ― but important ― changes to the bill that clarify the exemption and appeal process that have broad support,” his office said in a pair of tweets. “The governor believes it’s important to make these additional changes concurrently with the bill, so medical providers, parents and public health officials can be certain of the rules of the road once the bill becomes law.”
Additional changes to the legislation, wrapped into SB 714, allow for a delay in the state review of some medical exemptions as well as incorporate Newsom’s proposal that all existing medical exemptions are grandfathered in by Jan. 1, according to the Los Angeles Times.
But it also includes provisions that have angered critics, including the requirement that families obtain new medical exemptions upon their child entering kindergarten, starting seventh grade or changing schools.
It also invalidates any medical exemptions written by doctors who have faced disciplinary action, even in cases not pertaining to immunizations.
“SB 714 did not make the underlying bill better; in many respects it made it much worse,” Leigh Dundas, a member of the opposition group Advocates for Physicians’ Rights, told the Times.
After the vote in the Assembly, protesters temporarily delayed the state Senate from taking up the bill by unfurling an upside-down American flag from the chamber’s public gallery and chanting “My kids, my choice” and “We will not comply,” according to The Associated Press.
“This legislation provides new tools to better protect public health, and does so in a way that ensures parents, doctors, public health officials and school administrators all know the rules of the road moving forward,” Newsom said in a statement on Monday.
The U.S. is currently experiencing the worst measles outbreak in decades, with over 1,240 cases of the highly contagious disease confirmed this year across 30 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California has confirmed at least 67 measles cases this year.
This story has been updated to note the bill’s passage in the state Senate and Newsom’s signing of the legislation.