Demonstrators take part in a March for Science in Toronto. / Image via Shutterstock

Sen. Richard Pan this week unveiled details on his plan to curb medical vaccine exemptions, which have surged in the last three years since California – in an effort led by Pan – did away with personal belief exemptions for vaccines for children attending public and private schools and daycare.

Pan took an argument often used by the anti-vaccine community – that parents should have the freedom to make their own choices about vaccines – and turned it on its head: “We are joined here today to again defend our right to safe schools for all children, and our freedom to go about our community without being infected by a serious disease,” he said at a press conference announcing the bill, SB 276.

In describing the need for the bill, Pan cited a Voice of San Diego report from last week in which we revealed that a single doctor is responsible for nearly one-third of the medical exemptions within San Diego Unified School District, and many of those exemptions rely on a reason for the exemption the CDC and many other physicians do not find medically sound.

“A few unethical physicians advertise medical exemptions for cash,” Pan said. “These physicians were often not even trained in pediatrics or family medicine and were not providing ongoing care for these children. Instead, they were monetizing their medical license by selling these exemptions.”

Pan’s bill would take the power to dole out medical vaccine exemptions out of doctors’ hands completely. Anyone seeking a medical exemption would have to go through the California Department of Public Health. The bill would also create a database of exemptions, and allow the department to revoke exemptions found to have been obtained fraudulently or for reasons that aren’t accepted by the CDC.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who co-authored the 2015 vaccine exemption bill, signed on to co-author this effort as well.

I asked her whether she’ll be incorporating any lessons she learned in that knock-down, drag-out fight.

“Yes, I’ve learned that there is no middle ground on this issue. I am happy to hear from constituents who disagree with me on vaccinations, but I know that neither of us will change each other’s mind. I am empathetic with their desire to protect their children, but disagree with them on the underlying facts,” she said.

Gonzalez said she’ll continue to hear out vaccine opponents, but that “there is no need to do anything but listen. Arguing does not change the facts.”

The anti-vaccine group Parents United 4 Kids wrote on Facebook that Pan’s bill was a “monstrosity” and provided members a list of talking points to use when calling legislators to lobby against the bill.

Meanwhile, nationally, vaccine opponents are growing more organized and powerful than ever, the Daily Beast reports.

Maienschein’s Party Switch Led to Committee Shakeups

Assemblyman Brian Maienschein’s defection from the GOP to become a Democrat earlier this year was well-publicized, but drawing less attention was the significant shakeup of his committee assignments the shift sparked.

With so few Republicans in the California Legislature, Maienschein was the vice chair of three Assembly committees: Judiciary, Housing and Community Development, and Human Services.

The vice chair of a committee steps in to lead the panel in the chair’s absence and is almost always a member of the minority party.

In the weeks after Maienschein’s switch to the Democratic Party, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon removed him from his vice chair posts, though he remained on the three committees.

Rendon also removed Maienschein from his committee slots on the Budget, Education, and Communications and Conveyance committees, as well as his post on the Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.

Maienschein was added to the powerful Appropriations Committee chaired by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a fellow San Diego Democrat who warmly embraced her colleague’s party change. Maienschein was also inserted onto the influential Rules Committee.

“He’s happy with his committee assignments,” said Lance Witmondt, Maienschein’s chief of staff.

Assemblyman Mark Stone, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he was pleased Maienschein remained on the panel even without the vice chair designation.

“I’ve always felt he is a very thoughtful member of the committee,” said Stone, a Monterey Bay Democrat.

Lyle Moran

Independent Contractor Bill Includes New Exemptions for Certain Workers

New language for AB 5, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s bill to limit who can be considered an independent contractor, released this week excludes a handful of businesses – but workers in several other industries say they should be written out of the law’s requirements too.

The newest version of the bill exempts doctors, financial advisers, insurance brokers and direct salespeople. Gonzalez has also said she’s considering other types of workers that would be exempted, including real estate agents and hairdressers.

Members of those last two professions – as well as tow truck operators, music instructors and language interpreters – planned to hold a press conference Friday in San Diego to lay out their concerns with the bill.

One business that isn’t exempted in the bill and shouldn’t expect to be is rideshare companies.

“Am I concerned about the stock price of Uber and Lyft?” Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Times. “No, it doesn’t keep me up at night.”

Gonzalez, Bates Debate the Merits of Motor Voter Law

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and state Sen. Pat Bates lay out opposing cases on the merits of California’s motor voter law, which Gonzalez wrote, in dueling Union-Tribune op-ed pieces.

Gonzalez writes that Republicans’ efforts to roll back the law are borne out of a desire “to remove the threat of a diverse population of voters” and not any genuine attempt to curb improper voting. Though implementation of the law has included errors, Gonzalez writes, “there has been zero evidence of these errors resulting in any illegal voting or malfeasance.”

Bates, who has written a bill to switch the system from one that registers people automatically to one that requires them to opt-in, writes that doing so “would better respect the right of California’s U.S. citizens to register or not register to vote because it puts the choice in their hands, instead of the state registering them by default.”

Bates takes issue with characterizations that her bill would “scrap” the motor voter law. Yet the automatic aspect of the motor voter law – people have the option to opt out, rather than the option to opt in – was the whole point of the effort. Taking away that piece of the law would, indeed, be effectively scrapping it.

In June 2016, the Public Policy Institute of California noted “the law’s opt-out provision is the most critical change, since many other elements of the process have been or were already slated to be incorporated into DMV transactions.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Brian Jones also highlights the problems with the DMV in his latest “Are You Kidding Me?” video.

Golden State News

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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