Senator: School Vaccination Fight in Remission, Not Over, in Trenton

MILLVILLE Supporters of legislation that would force school children to get vaccinations over family religious objections are regrouping after the proposal stalled in the Senate last month, state Sen. Michael Testa Jr. said Thursday.

“It’s not defeated,” Testa said. “It’s already in the works, coming back through the Assembly.”

Testa, R-1, an opponent of the idea, took a question on the issue in his first turn as a guest speaker at a Millville Kiwanis luncheon. It was his first time up before the club since winning a Senate seat in November.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Loretta, D-37, was one of two prime sponsors of the school vaccination bill that fell short in January. In the aftermath of its failure to pass, she called mandated vaccinations necessary to reduce the risk of disease and that refusal “fundamentally” is not an individual choice.

State Sen. Michael Testa Sr., R-1, talked about school vaccination legislation and problems with the 911 system in New Jersey during a speaking engagement Thursday at the Millville Kiwanis. (Photo: Joseph P. Smith)

Weinberg has promised to secure passage for her bill this year, as has Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3. Both the General Assembly and Senate have Democratic majorities.

“No. 1, it would erase a long-standing First Amendment, well-recognized issue and that is the freedom to practice one’s religion,” Testa said. “Speaking to some of the rabbis and some of the priests that were in opposition to the bill, not to get too deep into the science of it, but their claim is that there is aborted fetal tissue in some of the vaccines.”

Testa noted his children get vaccinations, but timed in consultation with their doctor’s advice.

The senator said a proposed revision to improve the bill’s chances of passage calls for exempting private schools from the mandate. That idea makes no sense from a public health standpoint, if there is genuine risk, and it also raises constitutional issues, he said.

A lawyer in private life, Testa said that idea would set up a “separate but equal” education system between public and private schools reminiscent of practices the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 were unconstitutional.

“Who sends their children to private school?” Testa said. “People who are affluent. People who can afford it. Inner-city kids, you know, think of Camden, Jersey City, Bridgeton, their parents aren’t going to be able to afford to send them to a private school.”

Testa said some African American legislators dislike the idea for that reason. He cited Assemblyman Jamel C. Holley, a Democrat representing the 20th District. Holley, former mayor of Roselle, is bucking his party to argue against the bill.

Another constitutional objection, Testa noted, is that a free public education is not just the law in New Jersey but a “right” under the state Constitution.

“But if you want it, even though it’s your right, you have to accept all of these injections on your child?” he said. “I have a real problem with that.”

Testa suggested pharmaceutical firms should lose their federal protections from liability lawsuits.