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Move to loosen vaccine rules for students fails in Missouri House

Move to loosen vaccine rules for students fails in Missouri House

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The Missouri House chamber won't be available to Gov. Mike Parson for the annual State of the State speech because of the virus; instead, he will speak today from the Senate chamber.

JEFFERSON CITY — A coalition of Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday scuttled an effort to weaken vaccine requirements in schools. It failed by a vote of 79-67.

The proposal by Rep. Suzie Pollock, R-Lebanon, would have made it easier for parents to choose not to vaccinate their children. It was offered as an amendment to an unrelated bill.

Under her legislation, immunization requirements would only apply to students in public schools.

It would make it easier for students, including college students, to receive an exemption on religious, conscientious or medical grounds. It would also direct the Department of Health and Senior Services to publish information about the right to do so.

And the proposal would protect parents from abuse or neglect charges if they do not immunize their children.

Despite those provisions, Pollock said she is not anti-vaccine.

“This is just for like 1% of the population that wants the right to choose,” she said.

Missouri law already allows for religious and medical exemptions, but some representatives argued they are not accessible enough. By adding “conscientious” objections to the list, any parent who did not want to vaccinate their child could get an exemption.

Several Republicans on Wednesday said they supported vaccines for their own families but believed other parents should be allowed to make a different decision.

“You get to decide what is best for your children because this is the United States of America,” said Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake Saint Louis.

But both Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about the proposal.

Rep. Mike Stephens, R-Bolivar, said he understands the underlying issue of some parents being pressured to vaccinate their children but still opposed the proposal because of the anti-vaccine message it sends.

“Vaccines have a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful history of preventing disease and saving lives, millions of lives throughout the world,” he said.

Stephens is the chair of the House Health and Mental Health Policy committee. Pollock’s proposal was initially assigned to that committee, but a day later it was moved to the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.

Another Republican responded to Pollock’s assertion that her bill is “about freedom.”

“Measles can harm children. Mumps can harm children. Rubella can harm children,” said Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville. “Don’t we have a little bit of a moral obligation to protect those around us, not to expose them?”

“We live in a society where there’s not total freedom,” he said, pointing to laws against murder and speeding.

After an amendment from Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, Pollock’s proposal would also have prohibited the government from implementing vaccine passports, or doing business with an organization that does.

Pollock attempted to add the amendment to House Bill 682, a proposal about on-campus living requirements.

A successful amendment to the bill from Rep. Derek Grier, R-Chesterfield, would limit local emergency powers, giving only the governor the power to enact orders that infringe on constitutional rights. Orders from the governor would have to be approved by the Legislature to extend past 30 days.

The House also approved amendments to require local legislative bodies to approve all health orders and to designate all workers as essential.

The House granted initial approval to the underlying bill. It still needs one more affirmative vote before it can be sent to the Senate.

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