Lawmakers kick off debate over ending religious exemption

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers have officially resurrected a contentious proposal to eliminate the state's religious exemptions from certain vaccines for public school students.

The General Assembly's Public Health Committee voted Friday to raise the concept for an upcoming public hearing.

The legislation is expected to be one of the most closely watched bills of this year's short, three-month legislative session. Hundreds of vaccine skeptics and religious rights advocates rallied outside the state Capitol on Wednesday, the opening day of the General Assembly, demanding legislators oppose any efforts to end the exemption.

Democratic Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Westport, the committee's co-chairman, said a working group has spent the past several months trying to craft this year's proposal.

“A lot of that good thinking is reflected in the legislation we're putting forward,” said Steinberg, who also acknowledged adjustments are still likely in the coming weeks.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has voiced support for ending the religious exemption. During his State of the State Address, he said his administration plans to push for a “thoughtful vaccination program” considering the “infectious viruses threatening our nation and state from overseas.”

Opponents, however, argue parents and guardians should be the ones to make such medical decisions for their children.

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