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Legislative committee rejects several bills aimed at lessening vaccine mandates

The Maine State House is seen Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
The Maine State House is seen Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Augusta, Maine.

Members of a legislative committee voted Monday to reject several bills dealing with vaccine mandates and exemptions. The emotionally charged issue is now headed to the House and Senate floor for more debate.

In a series of party-line votes, Democrats on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee moved to kill bills that would have allowed parents to exempt their children from school vaccination requirements for philosophical and religious reasons. The majority of committee members also voted against bills that aimed to prevent Maine's public colleges and universities from requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Republicans accused Democrats of rushing the votes just one week after the committee heard from hundreds of bill supporters. But several Democratic members countered that these issues are not new and that they have done their own research to support their belief that Maine’s current laws should remain in place.

"Especially because of what we've all been through in the past few years, vaccines are not a new topic,” said Rep. Kelly Noonan Murphy, “D-Scarborough. “And so last week wasn't the first time we've all heard similar testimonies for and against. It’s I don’t think unexpected that we would come here today with our minds made up about a lot of these issues because we’ve all had personal experiences and a lot of information about vaccines – particularly COVID – over the last three years.”

Three years ago, more than 72 percent of voters rejected a similar ballot initiative to restore the religious and philosophical exemptions for school-aged vaccinations.

Maine currently requires children to receive vaccines for nine infectious diseases to attend school, including measles, mumps, polio and chicken pox. But COVID-19 is not among them, despite the focus on COVID during last week’s public hearings and Monday’s discussion on the bills.