The county supervisors dove into controversial state waters this week, weighing in on whether to support two bills working their way through Sacramento. They looked first at Senate Bill 277, which would eliminate the personal-belief exemption currently allowed to avoid childhood vaccination. Introduced by Democratic state senators Richard Pan — a pediatrician — and Ben Allen, and supported by others including State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, SB 277 would still allow opt-outs for medical reasons but would do away with personal and religious exclusions. Many public-health officials — including those in Santa Barbara County — have warned such exemptions can reduce herd immunity and may be behind the recent outbreaks of whooping cough and measles, a disease eradicated in 2000.
About a dozen community members — including former county supervisor Gail Marshall — spoke out against the bill, saying it would violate parents’ rights to make their own decisions. Up on the dais, the supervisors grappled with the issue themselves, with Peter Adam — who said he vaccinated his kids — calling it “Orwellian” to force the decision, Doreen Farr supporting the religious exemption, and Steve Lavagnino claiming the matter was beyond their purview. A motion to support the bill with some caveats ultimately failed, but Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf wrote their own letter in favor. “I don’t think that you’re irrational,” Wolf said, addressing the public speakers. “I just happen to believe in the many decades of science and the importance of immunizations.”
Diving deeper, the board discussed supporting Senate Bill 128, which would allow competent California residents diagnosed with a terminal illness by two doctors to obtain life-ending medication. While a few members of the public took issue with the bill, the majority of the speakers — and of the supervisors — supported it, noting the suffering they had watched loved ones endure at the end of their lives. The final speaker alluded to his own terminal illness and battle with pain. “If you’re going to die and you don’t have to go through the pain, that would be a good thing,” he said.