HARTFORD, Connecticut — Leaders of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Public Health Committee on Monday pledged to move forward this session with legislation that would end a religious exemption from vaccinations for schoolchildren, despite being called on by thousands of residents to postpone plans.
While the committee’s top lawmakers postponed a vote to officially consider the subject for an eventual bill, they said legislation similar to what was proposed last year will likely be resurrected in the coming days.
“It is our intent to bring this bill back to the committee,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, who said the panel’s leaders wanted to take some extra time to make sure the lawmakers know what they’re voting on — the first of multiple steps in the legislative process for one of the most contentious issues facing lawmakers this year. The bill thus far does not reference the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’re going to come back to you with a bill you’ll have a chance to review and share with constituents and highlight what will be the basis for conversation in the public hearing,” Steinberg said.
Legislators said they received a petition with more than 10,000 signatures asking lawmakers to postpone acting on such a contentious bill considering people will have to testify via Zoom and not in person at the state Capitol, because of COVID-19 safety restrictions.
Hundreds of people turned out about a year ago for a marathon public hearing on a bill that would end the religious exemption. The committee ultimately voted to advance the bill, but the issue fizzled after the General Assembly canceled the rest of the session because of COVID-19.
Months later, many of the estimated 500 protesters who turned out on opening day of this year’s legislative session urged lawmakers not to take up the bill again, arguing it’s an infringement on their religious rights.
Proponents, meanwhile, contend some families are abusing the state’s exemption from measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations for their children.
“I don’t think that there’s a perfect solution, but I do think that the committee should really consider what bills we want to bring forward due to the fact that regardless of what we think, there will be people that feel very disenfranchised from the session,” said state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, referring to the legislative session being conducted mostly virtually.
While he recognizes such concerns exist, Steinberg said voters should have known that the people they elected in November would probably attempt to legislate under a pandemic.
“We already sacrificed an entire year of doing business to the virus,” he said. “And I would submit we cannot continue indefinitely to postpone the state’s business, even on controversial bills, because of this. We need to manage as well as we can.”