Tag Archives: H.98

How the philosophical exemption was lost

A few weeks ago, the state legislature had apparently decided not to open the Pandora’s box of vaccination policy. The general feeling was, let’s let the 2012 law play out a while longer and see where it goes.

And then, for reasons still unexplained, a couple of key state Senators (Kevin Mullin and John Campbell) grabbed that box and threw it open. They amended a barely-related Health Department housekeeping bill, H.98, to include an end to the philosophical exemption on childhood immunizations. The Senate Health Care Committee gave it a mere two hours of hearings, one for and one against; it sailed through the committee and the full Senate.

Even so, it seemed likely that the House would let the amended bill lie. Leadership decided to have the House Health Care Committee hold hearings on H.98, even though the bill was never officially given to that committee. Those hearings were quickly scheduled, and they were quite extensive. At the time, it seemed like a ploy to run out the clock. Even more so as the hearings continued through the penultimate week of the session.

Funny thing, though: the more time passed, the more things seemed to shift entirely. By the end of last week, the momentum was clearly on H.98’s side. A House vote seemed certain and passage seemed likely, if not a sure thing. Monday’s public hearing was a chance for all parties to sound off, without actually affecting the process.

Which brings us to Tuesday, covered in my previous post. The Donahue amendment lost by the narrowest of margins, and then H.98 passed the House with ease.

This time, I’m here to explain why this happened. Not how it happened; you’d have to get John Campbell and Shap Smith into a rubber room and fill ’em full of truth serum to find that out. As for the why, here’s my two cents. Or three, if you prefer.

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Missed it by that much

Anne Donahue had a clever plan.

Notice I say “clever,” not “smart.” The Donahue amendment was a last-ditch attempt to derail H.98, the bill that would end the philosophical exemption for childhood vaccinations.

The amendment would have combined the philosophical and religious exemptions, and put more obstacles in the way of those seeking an exemption: reading educational materials, watching a video, having an in-person consultation with a health care practitioner. Donahue argued that these obstacles would achieve the goal of raising immunization rates without sacrificing parental choice.

It was clever because it played on lawmakers’ fears of taking a definitive stand, fears that are always amplified when there’s a loud and focused opposition.

It wasn’t smart because it would have done nothing to raise immunization rates.

I can say that with confidence because if the House had adopted the amendment, it would have been at odds with the Senate. With the Legislature careening toward adjournment and many pressing issues still unresolved, it’s a virtual certainty that H.98 would have been quietly shelved.

Of course, Donahue had to know that.

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It’s looking like the vaccine bill will get a vote — UPDATED

Although I favor repealing the philosophical exemption for childhood vaccinations, I’ve been predicting that the issue will be pulled from the House calendar due to (1) time constraints and (2) unwillingness to tackle yet another controversy.

Looks like I was wrong.

House Speaker Shap Smith was on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show this morning, and he indicated that the vaccine bill (H.98) would be up for a vote on Tuesday. In his own typically oblique way; if pressed on his answer, I’m sure he’d say that he didn’t promise a vote on Tuesday. Here are his exact words:

It’s very possible that it could come to a vote on Tuesday in the House. It’s not a caucus issue; I don’t think it’s a caucus issue on either side. It looks to me that there is signifant support to remove the philosophical exemption; I think there’s some room around that to maybe give people time to address that. I don’t know when the implementation date will be for it, whether there needs to be a transition plan for schools. There are a number of internal issues that we’ve got to deal with, but it would not surprise me to see that come to the floor next week.

Cute. The guy who’s in charge of scheduling the calendar says “it would not surprise me” to see the bill pop up on the calendar. Hahaha.

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Shunned by the vaxxers

Was it something I said? Yes, I’m sure it was.

Sometime today, the Twitter voice of Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice cut me off. They blocked me from reading their Tweets.

Let me mark the occasion by reproducing the last Tweet I ever got from them.

Stay classy, folks. As your lobbyist Keith (my mistake, his name is Kevin, I know that, I’ve spoken with him often and have a lot of respect for him) Ellis is probably trying to tell you, you’ll attract more flies with honey than vinegar. Or as I Tweeted in response to the above:

And that’s when they cut me off.

Methinks the vaxxers are feeling the heat. The last rounds of the vaccine saga are playing out at the Statehouse this week and next. There’s one more day of testimony before the House Health Care Committee — including a long-awaited appearance by Dr. Harry Chen, Vermont’s Health Commissioner. After that, it remains to be seen whether H.98, a bill that would remove the philosophical exemption, will be heard on the House floor.

From what I hear, the votes could be had; but House leadership might decide to put it on ice for the year. They have the always-plausible “out of time” excuse in their back pockets, and Governor Shumlin has reportedly said he doesn’t expect the bill to reach his desk.

In which case, we’d wait till next year. Between now and then, either of two events would absolutely tip the balance against the philosophical exemption: a breakout of a vaccine-preventable illness, or a continuing decline in childhood vaccination rates. We’ll hope it’s the latter, not the former.