Bill on mandatory school vaccinations advances over GOP complaints [CT Post]

April 16, 2021

From the CT Post:

Republicans opposed to legislation that would require public school students to submit to mandatory inoculations for childhood diseases charged Thursday that estimates on the cost of the proposal are much too low.

Minority lawmakers led by Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, charged that eventual costs could soar far beyond those portrayed by nonpartisan legislative staff. But the Democratic-dominated Appropriations Committee voted 31-16 in favor of the bill after a multi-hour debate, sending it to the House floor.

Somers said that while the bill’s estimated cost totals $91,000 to vaccinate 720 underserved kindergarten through sixth grade students next year, more than 8,000 students are currently attending state schools under the current religious exemption.

A report on the costs of the legislation, prepared by the legislative Office of Fiscal Analysis, says that 1,075 K-6 students are currently using the controversial religious exemption. In recent years, majority Democrats have charged the exemption is being misused, with the result being less-safe herd-immunity levels in many school populations, making them vulnerable to measles, mumps and other serious childhood ailments.

The bill, which was the subject of a 24-hour public hearing two months ago, would allow unvaccinated children in seventh grade and above to remain in school, but K-6 kids would have to be inoculated unless they had medical excuses.

The state Department of Public Health reported Thursday that there were 8,328 religious exemptions in public schools during the 2019-20 school year, and that the agency was in the process of revising the numbers used by the Appropriations Committee.

Somers offered an amendment to the legislation that would create a $350-million fund to pay for the cost of an estimated 30,000 children who might become ineligible for elementary or secondary schools if the bill becomes law. “This is a conservative estimate,” Somers said. “If this bill passes, these students will be displaced.” She said her total of 30,000 kids was based on a variety of school populations, including foreign-born and English-as-a-second-language.

“It is a disservice for this committee to put your head in the sand about the numbers and to vote something out of committee that does not truly capture the costs associated with this bill,” Somers said.

“There is no avoiding the fact that the unintended consequence of this is going to become a $350-million negative fiscal impact that is directly attributable to this proposal,” said Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown. “We have identified that there will be an associated cost that has not been accounted for.”

“It certainly is a fair representation of the outcome of this bill,” added Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, ranking member of the committee. “I think what we are trying to make clear is that by virtue of the bill, students will be displaced from their constitutional right to a public education.”

But Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chairman of the committee, ruled that GOP proposals were not relevant to the discussion of the bill, and Democrats on the committee backed her up with little debate and sharply partisan votes. “It is attempting to add a new program to the bill before us,” Osten said in criticism of Somers’ efforts. “This bill is about the vaccination of students.”

During his daily news conference from the State Capitol, Gov. Ned Lamont said that if the bill passes the House and Senate, he would sign it into law.