Legislation that would end religious exemptions to New Jersey’s mandatory vaccination rules stalled Monday in the Senate amid fierce daylong demonstrations in and outside of the Statehouse.

The bill, S2173/A3818, was passed by the Assembly in a 45-25 vote, with six abstentions. It wasn’t able to muster the 21 votes needed to pass in the Senate, apparently one short, but Senate President Steve Sweeney said he plans to try for another vote at the Jan. 9 or Jan. 13 voting sessions.

“We’re short, but we’re not done with it. They can cheer all they want. We’re not walking away from it,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “It’s the right policy decision. It’s absolutely the right health care policy decisions. And we’re going to move forward.”

“I am disappointed, but it’s another roadblock,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. “I am looking forward to getting this bill passed at some point. It is the right thing to do. I’m a mother. I’m a grandmother. They have passed so much misinformation around. I don’t mind getting into an argument about what’s in the bill, but it’s very difficult to have debates about what’s not in the bill.”

In the Assembly, two Republicans – Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, and Nancy Munoz, R-Union – joined 43 Democrats in voting for the bill. Two Democrats – Jamel Holley, D-Union, and Gary Schaer, D-Passaic – joined 23 Republicans in voting no. Six Democrats voted to abstain.

The state Department of Health collects immunization data from schools about students in pre-K, kindergarten, first and sixth grades and transfers. For 2018-19, nearly 14,000 students – roughly one in 38 – had religious exemptions to immunization requirements.

“This legislation attempts to write freedom of religion out of the law,” said Assemblyman Chris DePhillips, R-Bergen.

“In America, no government can abridge freedom of religion and take it away from the people,” DePhillips said. “This bill forces parents to vaccinate their children against their religious beliefs or they will have to take their children out of school. That is an unconscionable choice.”

After the bill passed, opponents sitting in the chamber chanted, “We will not comply!”

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, said measles cases are on the rise “because of junk science propagated across the internet and I would say paranoia about the proven validity of vaccines.”

“States have a compelling interest in preventing disease and death. And that interest outweighs an interest in education, outweighs an interest that might be put forward in terms of liberty,” Conaway said.

Sweeney said potential amendments are being discussed but wouldn’t divulge details.

He described the protestors who jammed the halls and raised a ruckus outside the Senate chamber’s doors and windows as anti-science.

“All the conspiracy theories, that it causes autism and anything else they want to claim, there’s no proof whatsoever that any of that is real,” Sweeney said. “… It’s just remarkable how people are looking at this and not trusting science at all. They’re trusting what’s on the internet because that must be true, or social media, but it’s the furthest thing from the truth.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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