New Jersey’s state senators gathered enough votes on Thursday to pass a bill that would eliminate religion as a recognized reason for parents to exempt their children from getting vaccinations required to attend public schools.
In a last-minute effort to save the bill that was one vote shy of the required 21 votes, Democratic state senators made a series of amendments to the legislation to convince a Republican senator to cast the deciding vote, allowing it to narrowly pass.
“I realize this isn’t a perfect solution,” Republican state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, who provided the Democrats with the one much-needed vote, wrote on Twitter. “But it’s a balance that I think is fair.”
Thousands of parents gathered outside the Statehouse in Trenton in protest of the bill, NJ.com reported. Many decried it as a violation of their civil rights, especially the freedom of religion.
“My God, My Choice, Protect Religious Freedom,” read a sign held by one of the protesting parents.
The controversial Bill 3818 passed the New Jersey State Assembly by a 45-24 vote with seven abstentions on Dec. 16, 2019. A final vote is expected to happen on Jan. 13, the last full day of New Jersey’s two-year legislative session. The Assembly would also have to vote on the bill again because it has been amended.
If the bill passes both the state Assembly and Senate next Monday and is signed by Gov. Phil Murphy into law, New Jersey will join California, Maine, Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia in becoming the sixth state that removes religious belief as a valid reason for childhood vaccine exemption.
Current immunization law in New Jersey requires babies and children to be vaccinated against more than a half-dozen diseases before they enroll in licensed child care programs and preschool. By the time they begin grade school, they need to receive nearly twice as many shots, including vaccines against measles, polio, tetanus, and whooping cough, among other infections. All college students will need a meningitis vaccine as well.
The New Jersey vote on the vaccine bill came shortly after hundreds of students in Seattle, Washington, were barred from attending classes for failing to present vaccination record required by state law. Washington House Bill 1638 (pdf), which took effect in July 2019, removed personal and philosophical exemptions to MMR vaccines for every child at every public and private school, as well as every daycare center in the state.