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(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Herb Conaway M.D. and John J. Burzichelli would require the state to tighten recently enacted regulations that have loosened immunization requirements for school children.
The resolution (ACR-157) was introduced in response to amended regulations the Department of Health and Senior Services issued in July that the sponsors contend contradicts the intent of 2002 legislation pertaining to mandatory immunization of school students.
“These regulations changes will affect the ability of local health and school officials to comply with the intent of the original legislation to the detriment of public health,” said Conaway (D-Burlington/Camden). “When we created the original legislation, it was designed to protect our children and increase disease prevention as a whole. That goal is now being undermined by these amendments.”
The measure would give the DHSS commissioner 30 days to amend or withdraw the regulations. If not, the Legislature may, by passage of another concurrent resolution, exercise its authority under the constitution to invalidate the regulations in whole or in part.
The lawmakers noted that the regulations, which were amended by DHSS and became effective on July 19, are not consistent with original legislative intent because they delete certain language, creating much broader exemptions from immunization based on religious grounds.
“By creating more exemptions, we expose more children to public health risks, as well as those with whom they come in contact with at school, at home and in the community, putting all of them at risk of contracting serious communicable diseases,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland/).
The law created in 2002, which requires hepatitis B vaccinations for students in high school and at institutions of higher education, specifies that a religious exemption may be granted only by providing a written statement submitted to the school or higher education institution, explaining how the administration of the vaccine conflicts with the bona fide religious tenets or practices of the student, or the parent or guardian, as appropriate.
The amended regulations permit a religious exemption from mandatory immunization of school pupils based only upon a written statement by a student’s parent or guardian that the immunization interferes with the free exercise of the student’s religious rights, without explaining how the immunization conflicts with the bona fide religious tenets or practices of the student, or the parent or guardian.
Conaway and Burzichelli said the amended regulations would have the effect of increasing the number of religious exemptions to mandatory immunizations of pupils in school that are granted, without any justification provided by a pupil’s parent or guardian that the exemption is based upon the bona fide religious tenets or practices of the student, or the parent or guardian,.
The measure was recently released by the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee by a vote of 3-1-1.