The California Senate voted 32–8 to approve the bill on Aug. 29, about three months after the California Assembly passed it 53–20.
All Democrat state senators voted yes, along with Republican Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh.
All Republican assembly members voted no, along with Democrat Assemblyman Ken Cooley.
The legislation, Assembly Bill 2098, says that “It shall constitute unprofessional conduct for a physician and surgeon to disseminate misinformation or disinformation related to COVID-19, including false or misleading information regarding the nature and risks of the virus, its prevention and treatment; and the development, safety, and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Misinformation is defined as “false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.” Disinformation is defined as “misinformation that the licensee deliberately disseminated with malicious intent or an intent to mislead.”
Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said it would give medical boards in California tools to discipline a licensee who promotes misinformation or disinformation.
“Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore must be held to account. The spreading of misinformation, of inaccurate COVID-19 information, contradicts that responsibility and threatens to further erode the public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk,” he said in a statement.
The California Medical Association is among the supporters of the bill.
“We stand as sponsors of #AB2098 to protect against physicians who flagrantly disregard their ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interest of their patients,” the group said in a previous statement.
Some groups oppose the bill, including the Californians for Good Governance.
The group has said that the bill contained “unconstitutional restrictions on free speech” and thus appeared to violate the U.S. Constitution.
That’s because the definition of misinformation “is too vague to comport with constitutional standards of due process,” it said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has 12 days to sign the bill, approve it without signing, or veto it. He has not appeared to signal what he intends to do.
If Newsom does veto the legislation, the legislature can override the veto with a two-thirds vote from each chamber. There are currently 31 Democrats and nine Republicans in the state Senate and 60 Democrats and 19 Republicans, along with one independent, in the state Assembly.