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Lamont signs bill eliminating religious exemptions for school vaccinations

The new law removes the ability to claim religious exemptions from childhood vaccination.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law Wednesday a controversial bill that removes religious exemptions from childhood vaccinations.

The bill - House Bill 6423, An Act Concerning Immunizations, changes Connecticut's communication requirements for students attending pre-K - 12 schools, day care centers and institutions of high education by removing exemptions that are not medical.

The State Senate passed the bill by a vote of 22-14 on Tuesday night and the State House passed it last week by a vote of 90 to 53.

“This is an issue that I have spent a lot of time researching and discussing with medical experts, and it is something that I take very seriously knowing the public health impact that it has on our children, families, and communities,” Lamont said in a statement. “When it comes to the safety of our children, we need to take an abundance of caution."

He said the legislation is needed to protect kids against serious illnesses like measles, tuberculosis, and whooping cough that have been well-controlled for decades using vaccines but have reemerged.

"I want to make it clear, this law does not take away the choice of parents to make medical decisions for their children," Lamont said. "But, if they do choose not to have their children vaccinated, this bill best ensures that other children and their families will not be exposed to these deadly diseases for hours each day in our schools.”

Before Lamont signed the bill into law, two groups against the bill - Informed Choice Connecticut and First Freedoms - submitted an 18,000-signature petition to Lamont asking him to reconsider signing the bill.

All week thousands of people held demonstrations outside the State Capitol as the Senate debated the bill and subsequently passed it.

Many who protested the bill said they were not surprised by the results Tuesday night, but still left disappointed. They said the fight is not over yet.

“We'll see them in court. We're very prepared for a legal challenge. We're excited for it,” said LeeAnn Ducat of Informed Choice CT.

The law will take effect in September 2022. Children already in grades K-12 will be grandfathered in, meaning they can still claim the religious exemption. However, those students entering the school system cannot claim it.

“I’m doing everything I can to hold back tears. It’s just heartbreaking," Katherine Kraemer Prokop of Griswold.

Kraemer Prokop said she is now forced to think about her future plans as her 1-year-old twins would not be able to claim the exemption her 7-year-old daughter is grandfathered into.

"I’m a full-time working mother. My father’s a full-time working father," she said. "This will affect, one of us will have to stay home with them. There’s nowhere we can send them.”

Those in favor of the bill say it is meant to protect children, especially those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons. They called the bill's passing a win for public health.

“I know many, many families who have lost their children to vaccine-preventable diseases," said Amy Pisani, the executive director for Vaccinate Your Family. "Several families came here and testified during the marathon hearings saying they were moving to Connecticut because they were avoiding the exemption laws in their own states."

She added: "Those families now will no longer think to move here because they know we also protect our children when they come to our daycares and schools.”

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