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California legislators propose new slate of COVID-19 vaccine laws

The bills: 

  • SB 871 would require all children 0 to 17 to get the COVID-19 vaccine to attend child care or school;
  • SB 866 would allow kids 12 to 17 to get the COVID-19 vaccine without parental consent;
  • SB 1479 would require schools to continue testing and to create testing plans;
  • SB 1018 would require online platforms to be more transparent about how information is pushed out to consumers;
  • SB 1464 would force law enforcement officials to enforce public health orders;
  • AB 1993 would require all employees, including independent contractors, to show proof of COVID-19 vaccine to work in California;
  • AB 1797 would make changes to the California Immunization Record Database;
  • AB 2098 would reclassify the sharing of COVID-19  “misinformation” by doctors and surgeons  as unprofessional conduct that would result in disciplinary action.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is easing mask restrictions and declaring that the pandemic is moving into a less critical phase. Yet an aggressive slate of COVID-19-related bills — to mandate vaccines for children and workers, to allow 12 to 17 year-olds to get the vaccine without parental consent and more — remain in play under the Capitol dome.

The vaccine working group of Democratic legislators behind the proposals say their aim is to increase vaccination rates across all age groups, improve the state vaccine registration database and crack down on misinformation about the virus and the vaccine. 

Taken together, the adoption of these bills would make California an outlier among states — and give it the country’s strictest COVID-19 regulations. Other states are considering various mandates and legislation related to COVID-19, but none appear to have the coordination of this effort, steered by some of the most powerful legislators in Sacramento. 

“These bills all attempt to bring cohesion, consistency and clarity to our overall approach and response to the pandemic,” said Democratic Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton, a member of the group. 

Critics said the bills infringe on the health privacy of children, interfere with how doctors work, impose a burden on businesses and workers, and rely on vaccines that do not in many cases prevent the transmission of COVID-19. 

“With these types of regulations, it doesn’t matter who you are: If you work or have children in California, you will be affected by these mandates,” said Christina Hildebrand, head of A Voice for Choice, a group focused on informed consent that has fought to keep personal belief exemptions for required vaccines since 2015. “This is going on while the rest of the world is getting rid of mandates and COVID requirements. and the governor is talking about his smarter plan and that we are moving into the endemic phase.”

Ten days ago Newsom said the state was turning a page and would begin treating COVID-19 as endemic, meaning treating the disease more like a flu. Monday, Newsom said March 11 was the last day schools would be under a state mask mandate, although masking would still be required for public transit and in health care settings.

Also on Monday, Mark Ghaly, the state’s top public health official, said that while the state is moving away from masking, there could be new variants and surges of COVID-19. He referred to Newsom’s “SMARTER” plan’s advocacy of vaccines, which he said “have been a big part of the success in California.”

The legislators behind these bills seem to be pulling out ahead of Newsom on COVID-19 issues. Newsom’s administration did not comment on the pending legislation. The governor is focused on opening up the state and is keenly aware Californians are experiencing pandemic fatigue.

GOP political consultant Mike Madrid said that while it might look like the legislators and Newsom are at odds, it’s actually two sides looking toward the same goal: an answer to the crisis.

“They are legitimately trying to find a solution to the situation,” he said about the legislators. “Are they getting ahead of the governor? Yes. Are they going in a different direction? Yes. Are they trying to find a solution? Yes.”

This is part of the political process, Madrid said. Early on in the pandemic, the Legislature deferred to Newsom to set the agenda because there was little information available. Now armed with two years of data and a vaccine, the Legislature is operating with more agency.

It’s typical for the legislature to respond to current events with immediate legislation and it’s their job to push the issues, said Kristina Bas Hamilton, a political consultant at KBH Advocacy.

​​“The Legislature is an equal branch of government putting forth their priorities and assuming they get the votes to pass they are saying ‘governor, we want you to go farther’ and then that’s when discussions begin,” said Kristina Bas Hamilton, a political consultant at KBH Advocacy. “It’s the dance of state government.”

The ambitious vaccine legislation far outpaces what other states are doing.

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