NJ Senate closer to nixing religious exemption for vaccines
TRENTON — The state Senate is expected to vote Monday to eliminate the religious exemption from the state's immunization requirements.
The proposed law — S2173/A3818 — was approved in the Assembly last month but stalled in the Senate when leaders could not muster the 21 votes needed to pass it.
The proposal has met with fierce opposition by groups and parents who are against mandatory vaccinations — not always for religious reasons. The law would still allow for medical exemptions to vaccines.
State Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, agreed to vote for the bill, which could give it enough votes to pass, after the Senate voted 18-15 Thursday to approve an amendment to allow private schools and child care centers the option to decide whether to admit non-vaccinated students.
Speaking with New Jersey 101.5's "Deminski & Doyle" on Thursday afternoon, O'Scanlon said "it’s a fair thing to want to give them (parents) some options." While he said the bill "is not a perfect solution," O'Scanlon said he agreed that as vaccination rates decline more people are put at risk.
"To be fair, there are zealots on both sides and there are reasonable, concerned and caring people on both sides, too," he said. "I get the fear. When it comes to our kids' health, it's a really difficult, passionate thing to deal with."
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the amendments are a fair compromise, even if the opposition has been "aggressive."
“Listen, we’re either going to get it done now, or we’ll get it done in the next session. But by all means, this is getting done," he told reporters Thursday afternoon.
“It’s the right healthcare policy. And it’s based on science, unlike what they’re chanting and saying," he added.
“Over the holiday, you had five major airports had measles scares. You had Seattle saying kids can’t go to school if they’re not vaccinated because they’re so low under the vaccination range. And, you know, this is a health issue.”
The percentage of fully vaccinated school children in the state has declined from more than 95% in 2013-14 to just over 94% in 2018-19.
One in 38 students — or a total of about 14,000 — have a religious exemption from vaccinations. That number has grown in five years from just under 9,000, alarming public health officials who fear the spread of diseases.
After announcing his vote, critics responded to O'Scanlon by arguing that the religious provision should not just apply to families who can afford private school tuition in a state with already high property taxes.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Statehouse on Thursday and were audible as senators took action on the amendment.
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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email email@example.com.