Legislative Report 5/6/2015 - Difficult Decisions

Statue of Gov. Thomas Chittenden,
Vermont's 1st Governor
The legislature is in the final stretch of the session and instead of winding down, we seem to be winding up as bills dealing with some of the more difficult issues reach the floor. Differences of opinion seem to become more pronounced even as everyone strives to adhere to the rules of civil debate. Contention instead turns to use of parliamentary strategies such as amendments, roll call votes, and sometimes interminably long floor speeches. The work on the floor ran into the evening on both Thursday and Friday as numerous amendments and 16 roll calls were requested on the Senate health care bill, S.139. Moreover, many of the bills passed earlier by the House will be coming back from the Senate with changes. Several of these will have to be resolved by a conference committee, including the budget.

Two bills this session generated a large volume of emails and constituent contacts: the firearms regulation bill which strengthens enforcement capabilities for illegal use of guns, and the bill passed by the Senate with a provision to eliminate the philosophical exemption from vaccinating children. The vaccine issue came up very late in the session with a Senate amendment to a House bill that was passed earlier, so it is not certain whether the House will actually take action on the floor before the session ends sometime in the next two weeks. However, having passed the health care bill on Friday, the House Health Care Committee decided to begin to consider S.98, the vaccine bill on Tuesday. The Vermont House rarely takes up a bill without exhaustive testimony from all sides of an issue, and this will give the public an opportunity to weigh in.

Existing law allows three types of exemptions from the immunization requirements for children to attend school: a medical exemption, a religious exemption, and a philosophical exemption. The use of the philosophical exemption by parents who believe that vaccines pose a higher risk than the diseases they are supposed to prevent is opposed by the medical community who see it as a threat to the health of the general public. Vaccines are important and have been successful in practically eliminating many diseases and reducing the incidence of many others in the general population. Recently I have heard many first person accounts of adverse reactions to vaccines, which give me pause when faced with the question of whether the philosophical exemption should be eliminated. Supporters of keeping the exemption are concerned that if a child has an adverse reaction to a vaccine, or if there is a possibility that such a reaction occurred, that it should not be dismissed automatically as having nothing to do with the vaccine. This is probably a rare occurrence, but it does become the overriding concern for parents who are faced with it. Parents need to be reassured that they are heard and listened to when they have serious concerns.

While each side is convinced that their position is right, we in the legislature take our responsibility seriously to allow testimony from all sides of any issue before taking a firm position to change or not change a law. We need to let the process work before we make such a decision. I am looking forward to an open process that will lead to the correct decision.

I continue to welcome your thoughts and questions and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).