NJ vaccine bill eliminating religion as student exemption is likely to advance after Senate deal: reports

A large group of demonstrators gathered outside the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J., on Thursday to protest a controversial bill that would remove religion as a legal reason for parents not vaccinating public school students.

The bill passed the state House last month but stalled in the Senate. But senators reportedly reached a deal Thursday that is expected to result in Senate approval on Monday, reports said.

The proposal would then head to Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who hasn't been clear about whether he backs the plan or not.

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The latest development came despite some 1,000 "anti-vaxx" protesters showing up Thursday. Many shouted “Kill the bill!” after a Republican, state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, who had called for an amendment to give parents who choose not to vaccinate their children another choice besides homeschooling, agreed to cast the deciding vote in favor of it.

Parents who don't allow their children to be vaccinated can send them to private school and daycare, O'Scanlon said, adding that another amendment says public schools must accept an unvaccinated child if there’s evidence a vaccine harmed one of their siblings.

“I think we need to do all we can to maximize vaccine compliance,” O'Scanlon added.

“I think we need to do all we can to maximize vaccine compliance.”

— New Jersey state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon

Some protesters shouted “Murderer!” and “Traitor!” from inside the Senate gallery as lawmakers voted 18-15 to approve the amendments.

“This type of amendment will once again allow the wealthy to buy their way out of a law via private schools,” Sue Collins, co-founder of the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice told NJ.com. “Unless you have enough money, your religious beliefs are not valid.”

“This type of amendment will once again allow the wealthy to buy their way out of a law via private schools. Unless you have enough money, your religious beliefs are not valid.”

— Sue Collins, co-founder, New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice

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Beata Savreski, the mother of three boys, said she drove to the capital for the first time to make her voice heard.

“I want to preserve our rights as parents,” she said.

Republican state Sen. Gerald Cardinale called the bill “a deliberate attack on religious freedom.”

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, said the bill is a “public health issue” and said he expects it to pass on Monday when the chamber reconvenes.

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“We’re either going to get it done now or we’re going to get it done in the next session, but by all means this is getting done,” Sweeney told NorthJersey.com. “It’s the right health care policy and it’s based on science, unlike what [the protesters are] chanting and saying. They have a right to their opinion.”

It’s not the first time the protesters have voiced their disapproval. They came out to the Statehouse in large numbers when the state Assembly passed the bill last month.

The bill was prompted by a recent outbreak of measles in New Jersey.

More than 1,200 cases of measles were reported in 31 states in 2019, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

If Murphy signs the bill into law, it would take effect six months later.