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Bill to Require Vaccination of Children Advances in California

A bill that would require nearly all children in California to be vaccinated by eliminating “personal belief” exemptions advanced through the State Legislature on Wednesday, though it still has several hurdles to clear. If approved, California would become one of only three states that require all parents to vaccinate their children as a condition of going to school, unless there is a medical reason not to do so.

Under the bill, introduced after a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland, parents who refuse vaccines for philosophical or religious reasons would have to educate their children at home. The legislation prompted a roiling debate in Sacramento, and last week hundreds of people protested at the Capitol, arguing that it infringed on their rights and that it would unfairly shut their children out of schools.

Last Wednesday, the legislation stalled in the Senate Education Committee as lawmakers said they were concerned that too many students would be forced into home schooling. This Wednesday, however, the bill passed that committee after its authors tweaked it, adding amendments that would expand the definition of home schooling to allow multiple families to join together to teach their children or participate in independent study programs run by public school systems.

“We think we’ve struck a fair balance here that provides more options for parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children,” said Senator Ben Allen, a Democrat from Santa Monica and a co-author of the bill.

The legislation still must clear at least one other committee before coming to a vote by the full Senate. If it is approved, it would then go through several committees in the State Assembly before being considered during a floor vote.

“This bill still has a long way to go,” said Senator Carol Liu, a Democrat and chair of the Senate Education Committee. Ms. Liu requested some changes to the bill last week and said she was still not “completely satisfied.”

“I do think in terms of public health it is necessary, but I am concerned about the rights of our parents,” she said.

Ms. Liu joined six other senators who voted in favor of the bill; two voted against it.

Unlike last week, there was no public comment at the committee meeting. Still, opponents of the bill stood outside the Capitol holding signs that read “Let freedom win” and “Because there is a risk we must have a choice.”

Senator Richard Pan, a physician and the lead author of the bill, said he would not agree to an amendment to allow exemptions for religious reasons, saying that they could be easily be abused.

The number of personal belief exemptions has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2014, there were about 535,000 kindergartners in California, and more than 3 percent had a personal belief exemption, compared with less than 1 percent in 2000. In some school districts, more than 20 percent of kindergartners received personal belief exemptions. Mr. Pan, like other doctors, has repeatedly said that the vaccination rate has fallen so low in some communities that “herd immunity” that prevents infectious diseases from spreading has been compromised.

“Let’s not forget there are children who cannot be immunized,” Mr. Pan said. “These children deserve protection, they need to be safe.”

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