Will Any of California’s Ambitious Covid Bills Pass?

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At the beginning of the year, as California was battered by its largest Covid surge yet, state lawmakers formed a vaccine working group that would craft legislation focused on slowing the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases.

Over the next several weeks, the group announced an ambitious slate of Covid-related bills, including some vaccine mandates, that immediately drew fervent opposition. It came as Gov. Gavin Newsom was softening his approach to the pandemic and after school districts had struggled to implement vaccine mandates of their own.

So far, none of the working group’s bills have made it through the Legislature. And, with the legislative session ending on Aug. 31, the deadline for them to become law is approaching.

Already, the three most controversial bills from the working group have been shelved. One would have required all schoolchildren to get the Covid vaccine, and another would have made all employees in California show proof of Covid vaccination. A third would have required that local law enforcement officials enforce public health orders.

Covid case rates have fallen from their winter peak and the public’s attention has turned away from the pandemic.

In January, 19 percent of California adults named Covid as the most important issue for the governor and Legislature to work on, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll taken just as the first Omicron wave caused cases to spike. That was the top priority for survey respondents at the time.

By May, Californians had shifted their attention to other concerns. A mere 2 percent of poll respondents said Covid was their top priority, well behind inflation, housing, homelessness and gas prices.

The most controversial of the bills still in play is Senate Bill 866. Introduced by State Senators Scott Wiener and Richard Pan, it would allow children 15 and older to be vaccinated, including against Covid-19, without a parent’s consent or knowledge. The first version of the bill proposed an age limit of 12, but its authors raised it to garner more support.

The legislation, which supporters say will make it easier for teenagers to get their Covid shots and other recommended vaccines, has elicited death threats against Wiener, The Los Angeles Times reports. Wiener, from San Francisco, may be called to testify next month against a San Ramon man who has been charged with multiple felonies for criminal threats against him, the newspaper reported.

Vaccine bills are often among the most contentious in the California Legislature, and those opposed to this one say it would strip parents of oversight of their teenagers.

“There are a lot of decisions we guide kids through as they are maturing, especially during this time when we have seen a lot of pressure to get vaccinated,” said Sharon McKeeman, who’s part of a parent coalition based in San Diego that opposes masks and vaccine mandates, as reported by CalMatters. “That’s why they can’t drive or drink alcohol or join the military until they get to a certain age. Because there is a level of maturity that goes along with decisions that are unalterable.”

The biggest impacts of the bill are more likely to be in reducing administrative hurdles to vaccination, said Pan, a pediatrician who has long been a champion of vaccines.

He said that children whose parents are working often come to the doctor with an older sibling or other relative, and then are unable to get the vaccines for which they had scheduled the appointment. He added that the S.B. 866 wouldn’t allow children to do anything without adult supervision.

“You can’t get a vaccine without a licensed health care professional who’s an adult,” Pan told me. “In other words, this is not about a child making a decision without adult guidance. There will be an adult asking them questions. We take an oath too.”

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Jim Vandegriff, who lives in the seaside town of Trinidad in Humboldt County:

“One of my favorite places to visit (even though I live relatively close by) is Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Orick, about 50 miles north of Eureka in Humboldt County. The Newton P. Drury Scenic Parkway through the park is a delight to drive, surrounded by old growth redwoods, with trails accessible off the roadway so you can walk five minutes and be in a time machine that takes you back millions of years. The entire area is amazing, with long hikes to the Pacific Ocean available and drivable for those who don’t want to or can’t hike that far, elk herds for viewing, Fern Canyon, and the Klamath River nearby in the Yurok nation area near Klamath. The overlook of the Klamath River entering the Pacific Ocean is one of those primal scenes not to be missed.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

Parents, children and teachers: How are you feeling about the start of the school year?

Email us at [email protected] with your hopes, fears and stories. Please include your name and the city that you live in.

And before you go, some good news

As the school year begins in California, students at public schools will receive at least two free meals a day on campus.

California is the first state to guarantee free breakfast and lunch to all schoolchildren, regardless of income. Though the universal meal program technically starts this fall, the state has been trying it out since last year using federal pandemic funds.

There’s plenty of research that shows that eating breakfast and lunch is linked with a reduction in nurse visits, improved attendance and better test scores. Not to mention that children who don’t eat tend to distract the rest of the class, affecting others’ learning experiences, too.

“It’s just a win for everyone,” Stephanie Bruce, director of nutrition services at Palm Springs Unified School District, told The New York Times.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Zoomers, by another name (4 letters).

Briana Scalia and Allison Honors contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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