By SHERIDAN ROY
Democratic majority leader Matt Ritter (D-1) along with Rep. Liz Linehan (D-103) and Rep. Josh Elliot (D-88), proposed eliminating Connecticut’s religious exemption to childhood vaccinations on March 13 at the state capitol. Three other states in the nation—California, Mississippi and West Virginia—have eliminated the exemption, and prohibit unvaccinated children from attending public schools.
“As chair of the children’s committee and a representative of my district, I have heard from many that the religious exemption is being utilized inappropriately ever since 2015 when the state eliminated the philosophical exemption,” said Linehan. “I believe we are entering a possible public health crisis. In order to protect the immunocompromised children, we need to ensure our schools are as free of communicable disease as possible.”
Linehan added she would never want to tell a parent what he or she can or can’t do with their children’s health, “however, I don’t believe this should be in public schools.”
The legislature’s conservative caucus, a group of legislators who support the principles of limited government, announced it is strongly against the proposal to eliminate the religious exemption, stating lawmakers should respect a parent’s right to make such medical decisions for their children on religious and/or personal, moral or philosophical grounds.
Conservative caucus member Rep. David Wilson (R-66) called the proposal a “thinly veiled attempt to give the state more control over people’s religious freedom” in a press release.
“Before a child is vaccinated, each parent should be able to weigh the risks and benefits of the vaccines and their ingredients to make the choice that is best for their family,” said conservative caucus member Rep. Anne Dauphinais (R-44) in a press release. “The government must not be able to compel a parent to vaccinate their child, especially under the threat of withholding public education.”
In a press release from the conservative caucus, the group states “parents should not be forced to choose between vaccinating their children and the constitutional right to public education.”
“There is not now, nor will there ever be, such a thing as forced immunization,” said Linehan in response to the press release. “I would estimate that 99 percent or more of the people I represent in my district believe vaccinations are safe and should be required in order to attend public school.”
Rep. Linehan’s district includes a portion of Southington. All three Republicans representing Southington—Sen. Rob Sampson (R-16), Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco (R-80), and Rep. John Fusco (R-81)—are members of the conservative caucus.