A controversial bill regarding access to welfare and immunizations passed out of a state Senate committee Tuesday. But the author said he would consider amending the aspect of the bill that troubles parents’ rights groups.
AB 1992, authored by Assemblyman Kansen Chu (D-San Jose) would improve access to the CalWORKS program to families that have not yet vaccinated children or have a hard time proving their vaccinations. State law requires immunizations for children in order to receive welfare benefits.
In addition to reducing financial penalties from $130 to $50 a month, Chu’s bill would give families who want immunizations access to such health care needs. He estimated there are 4,000 such families who do not meet the vaccine requirement.
But the bill also would also eliminate the personal belief exemption that allows families to opt out of the vaccine requirement altogether.
Senator Challenges Chu on Bill
That presented a problem to some members of the Senate Committee on Human Services. Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) said she would otherwise support the bill, but questioned Chu about the removal of the exemption.
“I don’t know what the risk is. But, I know there are 4,000 families not immunized.”—Assemblyman Kansen Chu
“The intention of this bill is really not a discussion of whether a personal belief exemption should exist or not. We already had the conversation a few years ago,” Chu answered, referring to SB 277 which removed the personal belief exemption from vaccines to attend public or private school.
Chu said that removing the exemption made the bill comply with current law.
Nguyen followed up by asking what the public risk was with unvaccinated recipients of welfare.
“I don’t know what the risk is. But, I know there are 4,000 families not immunized,” Chu said. “The intent of this bill is to communicate to all 4,000 of those families to provide them with transportation, and educate them where to get those shots if needed.”
Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center for Law & Poverty, also testified, saying there is a public health risk for children staying in shelters.
Chu agreed to consider Nguyen’s suggestion to add the personal belief exemption back to the bill.
Mother Testifies on Why She Doesn’t Vaccinate
Candice Connelly told the committee her choice not to vaccinate her children shouldn’t preclude her from receiving benefits. She objected to the 72 doses required in a child’s lifetime, noting the potential for vaccine injury.
“Surely if parents have rights, one of them is to decide what gets injected into their children,” she testified. “I don’t believe I should have money taken out of my benefits because I don’t think that is a safe thing for my child.”
Democrat Also Objects
Nguyen received bipartisan support in her objections to the bill. Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) said she wouldn’t support the bill for a slightly different reason.
“I believe requiring proof of vaccinations in order for someone to receive their benefits is unfair and unnecessary,” she said. “We should not be basing it off their need, and not off of vaccinations.”
Bill Passes Committee
The committee passed the bill by a 4-0 vote. Scott Weiner, Steven Glazer, Mike McGuire and Anthony Portantino, all Democrats, voted in favor. Despite their objections, Leyva did not vote, and Nguyen was not present in the chamber at the time of the vote.
Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto), whose district covers parts of Fresno, did not attend the meeting. His staff told GV Wire he missed his meeting for personal reasons.
The bill next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which handles bills that spend money.
A Human Services staff report estimates the bill could cost up to $8 million because of the removal of penalties. Similar information was in the Assembly Appropriations Committee staff report (which estimated a $10 million cost). The bill received unanimous passage there.