California lawmakers go all in on COVID vaccine rules

Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento announces new legislation at a news conference at the Arleta High School in Los Angeles Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. Sen. Pan introduced the Keep the Schools Open and Safe Act, to close the personal belief exemption loophole for school-based vaccination requirements for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

This week is shaping up to be a particularly consequential — and controversial — one in Sacramento.

Setting the stage Monday was state Sen. Richard Pan’s introduction of a bill that would supersede Gov. Gavin Newsom’s student COVID-19 vaccine mandate by eliminating the personal belief exemption — and requiring all kids in kindergarten to 12th grade to get the shot by Jan. 1, 2023. Under the Sacramento Democrat’s proposal, only students with rare medical exemptions could opt out.

It’s the latest bill to emerge from a vaccine work group Democratic lawmakers formed last week. On Thursday, state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco unveiled a proposal that would allow kids 12 and up to get vaccinated, including against COVID-19, without parental consent or knowledge.

And more are in the works: According to California Healthline, lawmakers are weighing introducing bills that would remove religious exemptions for health care workers and require proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter almost all public places, including workplaces, schools, malls, museums and restaurants.

The bold proposals are likely to intensify California’s already fierce vaccine wars, which saw an anti-vaccine protestor in 2019 throw a cup of menstrual blood onto state senators, including Pan. And, if the bills pass the Legislature, they could put Gov. Gavin Newsom in a tough spot. Although the governor has defended his first-in-the-nation vaccine mandates, he’s also taken pains to emphasize that the personal belief exemption for students leaves “plenty of latitude for families to make decisions.”

Meanwhile, a torrent of contentious bills that failed to pass either the state Assembly or Senate last year face a Jan. 31 deadline to clear their house of origin and stay alive. They include:

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 7,419,643 confirmed cases (+4.2% from previous day) and 78,101 deaths (+0.5% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 68,599,763 vaccine doses, and 72.6% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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