AUGUSTA – Mainers who believe that parents should be able to use vaccine exemptions for medical, religious or philosophical purposes for their children to attend private or public schools are not pleased with Governor Janet Mills for signing a bill to end those exemptions as Memorial Day weekend began. On the same day she signed that bill, Mills made what could prove to be a very controversial announcement about her choice to run Maine’s Centers for Disease Control, which provides oversight of the Maine’s immunization program.
During the campaign for Governor, candidate Mills replied on social media to voter inquiries about whether she supported Maine’s religious and philosophical exemptions, and her replies unequivocally stated that she supported keeping them both in place.
being elected, Mills flipped on the issue, supporting a bill that was moving through
the Maine Legislature that eliminates both the religious and philosophical exemptions.
Mills’ promises from the campaign trail, she signed the bill on Friday, just as
Maine’s summer tourist season was kicking off.
Opponents of the bill argued that the removal of the exemptions would violate the parental and religious rights of students. The bill’s reach extends beyond Maine’s public schools into private religious schools, day care centers, health care facilities and even students who plan to participate in non-traditional and postsecondary schools.
The bill was
nearly altered to preserve the religious exemption by the Maine Senate, but Democrats
in the Maine House refused to confirm the amendment and sent it back to the
Senate, insisting both the religious and philosophical amendments be included.
then acquiesced to the House’s version of the bill.
In the days leading up to the final vote, a student in Maine was diagnosed with measles, but in the hours before the vote, the Maine CDC said that the student had recently been vaccinated and that the symptoms were from the vaccine.
Senators on both sides used that news in floor speeches to attempt to change minds in the floor debate in the Senate, but to no avail.
With Mills’ signature, Maine becomes an extreme outlier for specifically removing a religious exemption for vaccinations, perhaps the first state to ever do so.
In 2016, California removed that state’s “personal belief” exemptions, which was the exemption a parent with a religious objection to vaccines had to claim to avoid vaccinating their child. Maine will now become the fourth state to not provide for the religious exemption, along with Mississippi, West Virginia and California.
Controversy at Maine CDC?
On the same
day Governor Mills signed the bill to end Maine’s philosophical and religious
exemptions, she also named Nirav Shah, the former director of the Illinois Department
of Public Health to head the CDC.