Legislation to require Louisiana schools to inform students and parents about exemptions from school immunizations cleared the House this week.
"House Bill 47 basically requires that any communication issued to students or parents relative to immunization requirements include exemption information," Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, the bill’s sponsor, said on the House floor.
Representatives unanimously approved the bill on Thursday without discussion or objection.
Lawmakers vetted HB 47 in the House Education Committee on April 27, when Edmonston elaborated on the legislation.
"There is an option for exemptions with a written statement from parents or the student included in (state statute), and we want to clarify existing law the responsibility of schools to accept exemptions," she said. "Currently most parents are not aware that they can opt out of any immunization with a written statement. This will make it clear that it is a choice.
"Some schools refuse to accept exemptions listed (in state statute) and this legislation will … make it clear that if an exemption is presented it must be accepted."
Jill Hines, co-director of Health Freedom Louisiana, a parents rights group, told the committee "parents and students have been done a great disservice by the Louisiana Department of Health, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the many public and nonpublic schools across the state that have failed to accurately convey vaccine exemption information.
"Withholding exemption information is an egregious act of medical coercion, especially for those who may not have resources or access to seek accurate information regarding the law," she said.
Hines provided committee members of examples of communications to parents with "complete omission of exemption information," as well as demands for shots not required under current law, the use of a standardized form, use of a notary, requirement of a physician’s signature, and for vaccine information beyond of what’s required in law.
"In addition to these school policies that are not in compliance with (state statutes) some schools intentionally refuse to enroll students that submit a vaccine exemption," Hines said, adding that similar issues in higher education are occurring, as well. "Education should not be held hostage in lieu of a medical procedure."
Multiple parents shared personal stories with the committee of schools rejecting students based on school-imposed rules regarding vaccinations.
Gov. John Bel Edwards added the COVID-19 vaccine to the state’s school immunization schedule in December, though the change only applies to FDA-approved vaccines. In a letter to the House Committee on Health and Welfare, Edwards noted that "no child will be forced to be vaccinated against the will of his or her parents."
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, and Louisiana Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics opposed the bill in committee, based on concerns the measure could lower vaccination rates.
The education committee approved HB 47 with a vote of 7-4.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.