HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) – A bill eliminating school vaccine religious exemptions in Connecticut has been signed into law.
Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday afternoon that he signed the bill. It will go into effect Sept. 2022.
It makes Connecticut the sixth state in the country to end religions exemption from childhood immunization requirements for schools.
“This is an issue that I have spent a lot of time researching and discussing with medical experts, and it is something that I take very seriously knowing the public health impact that it has on our children, families, and communities,” Lamont said. “When it comes to the safety of our children, we need to take an abundance of caution. This legislation is needed to protect our kids against serious illnesses that have been well-controlled for many decades, such as measles, tuberculosis, and whooping cough, but have reemerged. In recent years, the number of children in our state who have not received routine vaccinations has been steadily increasing, which has been mirrored by significant growth in preventable diseases across the nation. I want to make it clear, this law does not take away the choice of parents to make medical decisions for their children. But, if they do choose not to have their children vaccinated, this bill best ensures that other children and their families will not be exposed to these deadly diseases for hours each day in our schools.”
Also on Wednesday, the CT Freedom Alliance and We the Patriots, opponents of the bill, say they are filing lawsuits, one in federal court and the other at the state Supreme Court.
They said the legislation is unconstitutional.
“My family is immediately impacted by the passing of this bill. My two older boys are thankfully grandfathered in, however my pre-k daughters are not. They are also special education they have IEPs, and that protection is a federal protection," said Sherry Harmon, of Plainfield.
“They admit there is no emergency. What they are saying instead is that we have to be proactive because of what we have seen with COVID. So we have to be proactive about some hypothetical future emergency," said Brian Festa, of CT Freedom Alliance.
Norm Pattis, a high-profile Connecticut attorney, is representing two groups who are challenging the newly passed law in federal and state courts to overturn what was passed.
"This lawsuit will strike at the heart of claims that there can ever be a public health emergency such that fundamental rights to raise your children become the power of the state," Pattis said.
Stephen Gilles, a law professor at Quinnipiac University says if state lawmakers are so concerned about an emergency situation, why are they grandfathering in current students.
"I think there's a genuine possibility Norm Pattis' suit will succeed," Gilles said.
This all comes after a heated debate that weighed public health, access to education and a parent’s ability to choose.
As lawmakers debated the controversial bill inside the capital on Tuesday, people opposed to it protested outside. Most of them were not wearing masks and busloads of them weren't even from Connecticut. The protests are expected to continue this week.
More than 7,000 students across the state currently have religious exemptions, according to state data.
Tuesday night, the state Senate passed the bill, which will require students getting vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, and MMR.
It will impact new students and will allow kindergarten through 12th grade students who currently have that religious exemptions to stay in school and be grandfathered in.
Those in favor of the bill said the number of students claiming religious exemptions continues to increase.
“It is a protection, first and foremost, of the large number of students who are immunosuppressed and immunocompromised,” argued Sen. Martin Looney, a Democrat.
Others, however, said they’re concerned about access to education.
“When you start to abridge rights and then don’t protect the taking away of those rights with due process, you’re setting our towns our communities up for lawsuits,” said Sen. Kevin Kelly, a Republican.
“There are many issues that come into play. The 14th amendment of the constitution of the United States protects the people and citizenry against the what the legislature did yesterday," said Republican State Senator Eric Berthel.
Democrats said they're confident that the bill is on strong legal footing.
“The state has an obligation to protect children when there has been a determination as we made in this case; that public health will be protected by broad based vaccination," said Democratic State Senator, and Senate President Martin Looney.
Connecticut is now the 6th state to remove the religious exemption. New York has done this and there was a legal challenge in California, but the courts rejected it.