By Nick Cahill
SACRAMENTO (CN) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed two bills meant to deter doctors from writing sham exemptions for mandatory school immunizations, capping a heated months-long dispute between Democratic lawmakers and vaccine skeptics.
After a day of demonstrations that interrupted hearings and resulted in the arrests of several protestors, Newsom signed the final piece of the vaccine package late Monday just minutes after it landed on his desk. The Democratic governor and father of four said the bills “provide new tools to protect public health.”
The focal piece is Senate Bill 276 which will allow the state to investigate doctors who issue five or more medical exemptions in a calendar year, and any medical exemption issued to children attending schools with immunization rates below 95%.
The bill’s author, state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a pediatrician, says the bill is needed to crack down on “unscrupulous doctors” who peddling false exemptions to parents.
Critics call the bill government overreach and an assault on the doctor-patient relationship. It has attracted criticism from longtime vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Jessica Biel.
Pan also introduced a contentious bill in 2015 that requires California parents to immunize children against 10 diseases and removed a longstanding personal belief or religious exemption. That measure was signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
Lawmakers cleared Pan’s latest vaccine bill last week in a pair of party-line votes, only to have Newsom publicly ask for additional amendments. Pan agreed to introduce the companion Senate Bill 714 in exchange for Newsom’s signature on SB 276.
The companion SB 714 was passed by both houses without a committee hearing and signed by Newsom in less than a week.
Republicans and the parents that packed Monday’s floor sessions criticized the Democrats’ decision to fast-track SB 714 and called the bill an “overreach.” Protesters blocked entrances, gathered outside Newsom’s office and caused delays in both houses.
Pan, who bolstered his security detail after being shoved by a protester last month, thanked Newsom for “safeguarding” California children.
“It is my hope that parents whose vulnerable children could die from vaccine-preventable diseases will be reassured that we are protecting those communities that have been left vulnerable because a few unscrupulous doctors are undermining community immunity by selling inappropriate medical exemptions,” Pan said after Newsom signed the bills.