California lawmakers sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a measure designed to crack down on doctors who sell fraudulent medical exemptions for vaccinations on Wednesday, even as Newsom sought last-minute changes to one of the year's most contentious bills.
Democratic Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento said that Newsom didn't speak to him before announcing he wanted changes late Tuesday, though he said there had been preliminary discussions in recent weeks. Newsom previously promised to sign the bill that senators approved on a 28-11 vote, Pan noted pointedly. But Pan said he's willing to talk to Newsom about other changes before lawmakers adjourn next week, though he didn't commit to supporting what Newsom has laid out.
The measure headed to Newsom's desk would allow state public health officials to investigate doctors who grant more than five medical exemptions in a year and schools with vaccination rates of less than 95%.
"The intent of the bill is to keep children safe," Pan said. He said lower vaccination rates erode the "community immunity" that limits measles outbreaks like those that reached their highest level in decades this year.
Newsom's newly proposed amendments would make clear that enforcement will start next year, meaning doctors who previously granted a high number of medical exemptions won't face extra scrutiny. They would also remove a requirement that doctors swear under penalty of perjury that they are not charging fees to fill out medical exemption forms or conducting related medical examinations.
They would insure that an expert panel reviewing appeals of exemption denials could consider additional information from the doctor beyond the exemption form. And they would exempt the individual medical forms from being made public.
Newsom spokesman Nathan Click said Wednesday that the additional changes are needed to clarify the rules and had been relayed to lawmakers before this week's votes. Lawmakers could still consider the governor's proposed amendments in a separate bill before they adjourn for the year on Sept. 13, Click said.
This is the second time Newsom has expressed concerns with the bill, and it wasn't clear what prompted his most recent concerns.
California Medical Association President David Aizuss said in a statement that his organization looks forward to Newsom signing the bill. But he did not address the governor's latest proposed changes, and spokesman Anthony York did not immediately comment.
"We're every excited and happy that it has passed through the Legislature," American Academy of Pediatrics, California, chief executive Kris Calvin said. "We assume he will stand by what he said and sign that bill."
Both organizations have been among the bill's major backers, but Calvin said Newsom had not approached her about his latest proposed changes.
Protesters yelled from the Senate gallery during and after the lengthy debate, forcing the Senate to recess while order was restored. Several lawmakers, including Republicans who strongly opposed the bill, nonetheless criticized some opponents for going too far to disrupt the legislative process. One vaccination opponent faces a misdemeanor assault charge after forcefully shoving Pan earlier this month, a confrontation that the activist filmed and shared on social media.
"Please respect the decorum of the house," warned Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield as protesters tried to shout Pan down. Nonetheless, Grove said most opponents are so emotional because "they feel from the depths of their soul that they are fighting for their children's life and their existence to be happy, healthy kids."
The protesters gathered outside Newsom's office after the vote, and Newsom adviser Daniel Zingale was seen taking some aside for a private meeting.
"The most important Democrat, the only one left now, is Gavin Newsom," Heidi Munoz Gleisner, who stood in front of Newsom's office door, told a crowd that had gathered. She urged people to post on social media that the bill is not creating a "#CaliforniaForAll," the slogan Newsom's office has used to promote his policies, and to send similar messages to Newsom's wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom.