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Maine Senate Backs End to Religious and Philosophical Opt-Outs for Vaccines

The bill now faces a series of procedural votes before it lands on Gov. Janet Mills' desk

Maine's Senate has backed an end to the state's religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccines.

The Senate's 18-17 vote Tuesday means the bill faces a round of procedural votes in both chambers before heading to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills' desk.

Specifically, the proposal will prohibit parents from exempting children from vaccines mandated by primary and secondary schools for religious and philosophical reason.

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The senate’s O.K. comes after Maine’s house voted twice to approve the proposed law after the senate’s initial rejection.

The sole change to its language was a broadening of medical vaccination exemptions made in committee.

For parents concerned about unvaccinated students, the bill’s passage a victory.

“We did this because we care so much about children in our community who have compromised immune systems, children with cancer and infants who cannot be vaccinated,” said Andy Schmitt who says he volunteered for months to get the vaccine bill pass.

Democratic lawmakers, like former practicing physician, Sen. Lisa Sanborn, agree.

“We need to know that all communities in Maine are going to be protected,” she said.

Meanwhile, in the hallway outside the senate chamber, there were tears.

Throughout the senates’ debate people opposed to the vaccine bill have been in Augusta urging its rejection for various reasons.

Tuesday afternoon, as soon as the vote was counted, many of the opponents were emotional and hugging each other for comfort.

Some lawmakers who voted no fear that taking away the choice to vaccinate or not will drive families away from Maine toward states that allow religious exemptions.

“We’re going to have to change the sign,” said Sen. Lisa Keim, a Republican. “Maine, welcome home, leave your religious beliefs at the border.”

The vaccine legislation now heads to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

Her administration has testified in favor of it already and she is expected to sign the bill into law. The governor's administration has backed the bill to ending non-medical vaccine opt-outs by 2021 for schoolchildren, as well as nursery school and health care facility employees.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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