BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A bipartisan group of Louisiana lawmakers Monday voted against Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus vaccine requirement for some students, but the Democratic governor intends to overrule the rejection and add the shot to the immunization schedule starting next year.
The fate of the plan seems likely to be decided by the courts, with Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and the Edwards administration at odds over whether the COVID-19 vaccine requirement can be legally enacted by the governor without support from the full Legislature.
The House Health and Welfare Committee objected to the vaccination requirement in a 13-2 decision. All GOP lawmakers voted in opposition to the requirement, along with an independent and three Democrats. Only Democratic Reps. Dustin Miller of Opelousas and Robby Carter of St. Helena Parish supported adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the state’s immunization schedule for schools.
But the Edwards administration said the governor can override the rejection and put the regulation in place anyway.
Even if the shots are mandated at Louisiana schools, the state allows broad exemptions for parents and students to opt-out by submitting a written objection from a doctor or a general written dissent.
But lawmakers worried children could be excluded from in-person classes if they file such paperwork, even though the Louisiana Department of Health said it doesn’t intend to push the exclusion of unvaccinated children from school. The lawmakers — several of whom said they are vaccinated — said parents should get to make decisions about the shots their children receive.
“Parents should not be forced to jump through hoops,” said House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican who said he doesn’t believe the Edwards administration has the authority to add the coronavirus vaccine to the schedule of immunizations required to attend school.
Miller said parents still will get the choice they want.
“I think we’re simply allowing parents to sign paperwork” if they don’t want to comply, he said.
If it takes effect, the initial rollout of the vaccination requirement would only apply to age groups for whom the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given full approval of the immunization. Currently, that’s only high school students 16 and older. But that would broaden to cover younger children and daycare facilities if the FDA grants full backing to the shots for more age groups.
Monday’s hearing was packed with parents opposed to the vaccination rule and with Republican lawmakers who don’t sit on the committee but wanted to speak in opposition to requiring students to get the immunization or file an opt-out form.
Students in Louisiana are required to be immunized against certain diseases before attending K-12 schools, daycare centers and colleges, and lawmakers have delegated some of the responsibility about what’s on the list to the health department.
For example, students must be vaccinated against diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and tetanus, among others to enter kindergarten — or file objection paperwork. More shots are required for sixth-graders and 11th-graders, according to the state schedule.
Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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