OLYMPIA – One of the most controversial bills of the 2019 legislative session, an end to the personal exemption parents could use to keep their public school children from receiving the measles vaccine, received final approval Tuesday.
On a 56-40 vote, the House gave final approval to the latest version of a bill that was tougher than some House Republicans wanted but not as sweeping as some Senate Democrats proposed. The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has expressed support for ending the exemption.
Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, described the final product as limited in scope and an attempt to address the outbreak of measles in that community, which currently stands at 72 cases.
“This just gets rid of the personal exemption for MMR,” said Harris, referring to the acronym for a shot that covers measles, mumps and rubella. “It does nothing else.”
The proposal leaves intact exemptions for medical or religious reasons for the MMR vaccine, and the personal exemption for other childhood immunizations. An early Senate bill on vaccines would have removed the personal exemption for all childhood immunizations, including polio and diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus.
But Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, argued the bill is moving in the wrong direction by reducing parental choice.
“Ultimately, the parent is responsible for that child,” Schmick said.
Other Republicans complained that some of their amendments – which House Democrats accepted in an earlier version as a compromise to avoid a long, contentious debate over some three dozen possible changes – had been stripped out by the Senate. Those included the ability for older students who were unvaccinated through a personal exemption to remain in school without getting the shot until they graduate.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, criticized a comment during last week’s Senate debate in which one bill supporter said the personalized exemption allowed unvaccinated children who contract measles to become weapons to infect those who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated.
“The comments about people trying to weaponize their children were reprehensible,” Shea said.
But in the end, opponents’ objections didn’t sway any votes. The House originally passed the bill 57-40. The one-vote difference on the yes side was a result of different people being excused for the two votes.
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