New bills could change children’s vaccines

With vaccines still on many voters’ minds, state lawmakers are pushing dueling bills — one that would make it easier for kids to get shots, another that would make it easier for parents to delay them.

The bills go far beyond the coronavirus pandemic. Parental hesitation regarding many infant and childhood vaccines remains widespread despite public health campaigns, prompting some states to loosen requirements.

On Wednesday, a bill requiring medical professionals to treat children whose parents scale back scheduled vaccinations passed a House committee 15-10. Rep. David Zimmerman, R-Lancaster, proposed the bill, with Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga, among the cosponsors.

Under the proposed law, health care practitioners would face professional punishment if they refuse to treat children whose parents deny them vaccines. The bill would cover children who receive at least one vaccine a year, a level below medical recommendations at some ages.

“Through my interactions with families … the demands of doctors over the rights of parents and patients to receive necessary information seems to be the driving cause behind the hesitation of some parents to vaccinate,” Zimmerman told colleagues when he first proposed the bill in February. “Even those families who seek to have their children fully immunized, but on an alternative schedule, which varies even slightly from the Centers for Disease Control face irrational anger and scrutiny from health care practitioners they are to trust with providing medical advice.”

Owlett, Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, and Rep. Jonathan Hershey, R-Juniata, were among those who voted yes in the House Health Committee. The vote moves the bill a step closer to a full vote in the House.

Meanwhile in the Senate, Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware, is seeking support for a plan that would let teenagers get vaccines without parental consent. Modeled on existing law covering mental health care, the bill would let kids 14 and older consent to vaccines even if their parents disagree.

“In Pennsylvania, there are over 12,500 students in school whose parents opted out of the vaccinations required by the Pennsylvania Department of Health,” Cappelletti wrote Tuesday. “Many of these students may want to be vaccinated but have no way of doing so without parental or guardian consent under Pennsylvania law.”

The state allows for religious and philosophical objections to vaccines, letting some unvaccinated kids attend schools where shots are typically required.

States have a patchwork of vaccine policies, and it’s only becoming more complicated as Covid-19 vaccinations continue. Last week, Connecticut ended its policy allowing religious exemptions for students; meanwhile, states like Utah have made it easier to opt out of shots.

Questions could strip gov. power

Voters filling out their ballots on or before May 18 may notice two questions with long-term effects on the governor’s powers.

If they pass, the two questions — secured on the ballot after passing the General Assembly — would amend the state constitution and roll back the governor’s power to declare emergencies.

The first question empowers the Legislature to vote to extend or end a state of emergency, regardless of a governor’s veto. The second would limit declarations to 21 days unless lawmakers agree to extend them.

The attempted amendment stem from the running battle between Gov. Tom Wolf and GOP lawmakers, who attacked the past year’s pandemic orders as a seizure of power. Even as the state prepares to scrap most of those rules by Memorial Day, legislators are pushing the change for the future.

“Disaster emergencies should not be used to circumvent the state constitution, the separation of powers or — most importantly — the will of the people,” the House Republican Caucus said.

Immigration office proposed

With Pennsylvania’s population growing at a sluggish pace, two lawmakers are proposing a new office that would help attract immigrants to the state.

In a memo this week, Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, and Rep. Joseph Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia, said they will propose an Office of New Pennsylvanians that would help businesses and agencies work with immigrants while educating the public on immigration issues.

“Unfortunately, these individuals are used as scapegoats for our widening inequality and growing unemployment,” the lawmakers said. “This sentiment leads to the creation of restrictive policies at the expense of losing skilled workers, entrepreneurs, consumers and community leaders.”

They pointed to new Census data, released in late April, that shows Pennsylvania is failing to keep up with nationwide population growth. The state’s population increased 2.4 percent from 2010 to 2020, compared with 7.4 percent nationally and far more in some Southern and Western states, the Census records show.

The office would specifically work with third-class cities — those like Altoona, Johnstown and Washington — that have seen population and economic decline, they said.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers, owner of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.


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