Maine House gives initial OK to removal of nonmedical vaccination exemptions
AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House of Representatives initially approved a bill on Tuesday that would repeal all nonmedical exemptions to school vaccination requirements, putting it on track to pass and create some of the most stringent immunization laws in the country.
The bill from Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, is aimed at addressing rising opt-out rates in Maine. Only six states had a higher opt-out rate than Maine in the last school year and the share of kindergartners vaccinated for measles dropped in this school year for the third straight year.
The votes came after more than 90 minutes of floor speeches, with Republicans criticizing it as legislation that would remove parental and individual rights, while Democrats touted it as a necessary public safety measure.
In the 2018-19 school year, the share of students citing nonmedical exemptions rose from 5 percent to 5.6 percent, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that mark risks the state’s “herd immunity,” a threshold where it becomes nearly impossible for contagious diseases to spread.
Echoing an argument wielded by supporters of the bill on the House floor, Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, said, “I respect individual liberties … but nobody in this state has a religious exemption or philosophical exemption that compromises the welfare or the health of children and families in this state.”
Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, who proposed the amendment that failed narrowly, would have removed the philosophical exemption option while retaining the avenue for people to claim a religious exemption, called Tipping’s bill “un-American” and a “civil rights violation.”
Only three Republicans — Assistant Minority Leader Trey Stewart and Reps. Scott Strom of Pittsfield and Ted Kryzak of Acton — voted with Democrats to endorse the bill.
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This article originally appeared on www.bangordailynews.com.