A group of parents in Maine collected enough signatures to let voters decide whether to keep or repeal L.D. 798, the state’s recently enacted vaccine law eliminating religious and philosophical exemptions for most public-school students.
The Maine Secretary of State confirmed 79,056 of the 93,000 signatures collected from 456 municipalities. Ballot issues in the state require 63,000 signatures.
L.D. 798, enacted on May 24, is aimed at boosting vaccine rates above 95 percent, the level purported to offer “herd immunity” to a population. No federal laws govern mandatory vaccinations, but all states impose legal requirements on children attending public school.
Mandatory vaccines include diphtheria, measles, pertussis, polio, rubella. tetanus, and varicella. L.D. 798, which passed by one vote in the 2019 session, eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccines in the state for children in day care, preschoolers, and K-12 and higher education students. Health care employees are required to comply.
Philosophical and religious exemptions for required vaccines have been eliminated in Mississippi, New York, Washington State, and West Virginia. California has gone farther, increasing the regulatory oversight of medical exemptions in addition to the conscience exemptions. Physicians the government determines have written too many exemptions could be subject to investigation and reported to the state’s licensing board.
The fact the issue will come before voters in Maine is no surprise, says Jacob Posik, communications director at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
“My understanding is that the coalition of Mainers in charge of this [ballot] effort is very bipartisan, showing the actions taken by the legislature in the first session were so egregious that the veto effort is transcending party lines,” said Posik.
The petition is a powerful tool, says Donna Rook, a vaccine activist in Colorado.
“As a parent, I was never given any of the information inserts describing potential vaccine side effects,” said Rook. “These [exemptions] are critical, as normal medical practice allows patients to decline treatment.”
“Removing philosophical and religious exemptions tramples the First Amendment rights of Maine families and puts the government, not parents, in charge of a child’s health care,” said Posik.
Posik says L.D. 798 applies to students enrolled in the state’s virtual charter schools.
“There is no sensible reason for the bill to include online schools, and in fact, I think this specific provision is what led to the pushback,” said Posik.