A bill that would make it more difficult for parents to avoid mandatory vaccinations for their children is unlikely to be debated this year. Legislative leaders say they have other, more pressing, priorities.
House Health Care Committee chairman Bill Lippert says the major focus of his panel this year is a bill that makes health care more affordable and more accessible to all Vermonters.
He says it's a complicated undertaking. And a bill that would remove one of the exemptions parents use to not vaccinate their kids is going to have to wait.
“Along with this issue, there are a number of important issues which the committee needs to decide how to prioritize once we've finished with our health care reform issues,” Lippert says. “But that remains our priority agenda, and we will not be taking the bill up until we've completed that work.”
The national outbreak of measles has focused attention at the Statehouse on the three exemptions to Vermont's immunization law. Vermont is one of 20 states that allow exemptions for medical conditions, for religious beliefs or for philosophical reasons.
A bill in the House would eliminate both the philosophical and religious exemptions. A Senate bill does away with only the philosophical exemption.
In 2012, the Senate overwhelmingly gave its approval to a similar bill, but key parts of the legislation were dropped by the House.
Addison Sen. Claire Ayer, the chairwoman of the Senate Health Care committee, says she doesn't want the same process to unfold this year, so the legislation is on hold in her committee until the Houses passes its own bill. If the House takes action, Ayer says her committee will take it up.
"We will wait, rather than spend the time on that bill,” Ayer says. “We will wait until the House passes a bill and sends it to us before we take action. But we will take action."
And Ayer questions if it's a good idea to eliminate the religious exemption.
"I think we'd have to be in a real emergency state before we consider something like that,” she says.
Key lawmakers say the debate at the Statehouse could change dramatically if an outbreak of measles takes place in Vermont in the coming weeks.