Shumlin on vaccine exemption bill: No, but maybe, but yes, or possibly N/A

Today, State Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen testified before the House Health Care Committee on H.98, a bill that would do a number of things but most famously end the philosophical exemption to childhood vaccines.

I’ll be writing about that hearing in a while, but first… After the hearing, Chen spoke with a small pack of reporters: Dave Gram, Paris Achen, me. Most of the conversation was about Gov. Shumlin’s position on H.98. And as Gram and Achen have reported, Chen characterized the Governor as “neutral” on the bill.

Which in itself was news, because in 2012 Shumlin blocked a bill to end the philosophical exemption. Instead, he supported a bill to improve data collection and educational efforts on vaccination.

Since then, he has said he wanted to allow time to let that law work before reopening the question. But this year he hasn’t closed the door to ending the philosophical exemption; he’s just expressed a desire not to have the debate.

So here’s what Chen said today, and it goes beyond mere neutrality.

I think the Governor’s position is that he’s neutral; he understands that the Legislature has decided to take this up, and will support whatever comes out of this Legislature. And if there are other things, you should ask him, not me.

I read that as an affirmation that Shumlin will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Of course, it was only yesterday that Shumlin told reporters “I don’t expect the vaccination bill to get to me.” Profiles in courage?

Right now, the House is considering whether to concur with the Senate amendment that would eliminate the philosophical exemption. After three days of testimony, the Health Care Committee has scheduled a public hearing Monday at 5:30. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Saturday the 16th. House leaders could hold a vote on H.98 next week; they could also decide to kick the can down the road and save the Governor the trouble of deciding where he stands.

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