Lawmakers in the State Senate on Thursday amended a controversial bill eliminating a religious exemption for vaccinations in an effort to secure a 21st vote needed to pass the measure.
The Senate voted 18-15 in favor of an amendment creating a carveout to the requirement for private schools and daycares. They passed the Assembly amendment 17-15.
State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, who sought such an amendment when it originally stalled in the Senate on Dec. 16, was the only Republican to vote in favor of the amendment. He did not vote on the Assembly amendment.
Unlike bills, which require a simple majority of all members of the Senate or Assembly, amendments require only a simple majority among the members voting.
Senate President Steve Sweeney said he expects to hold another round of votes on the bill on Jan. 13, the last day of the lame duck session, but it’s still not clear whether they’ll have the votes needed to pass the measure then.
“It’s very fluid, but I expect to have 21,” he said.
While the amendments put O’Scanlon in the yes column, Democrats are still playing around the edge.
At least five Democrats — Sens. Joe Lagana, Ronald Rice, Shirley Turner, Nia Gill and Dawn Addiego — are against the measure, and despite lobbying efforts, they haven’t changed their minds.
If the vote tally remains in stasis between today and Monday, the measure may pass, but other Democrats could be turned off by amendments they see as watering down the measure.
Though private schools and daycares could adopt policies barring unvaccinated children and would be required to post information about the number of enrolled unvaccinated children, some schools—especially some religious schools serving some ultra-orthodox Jewish communities known for their opposition to vaccines — are unlikely to do so.
Earlier Thursday, Sweeney suggested the legislature could take up the measure outside of the lame duck session, a sentiment he repeated Thursday evening.
“It’s not going away. It has to be addressed,” Sweeney said. “This is a public health issue, and every medical association in New Jersey, every medical group in the state, is backing this.”
It may come to that. Privately, some Democratic members have already expressed concerns over the amendment, though it remains to be seen whether those concerns will be enough to pull the bill below 21 votes.
“We’ll find out when I put it up,” Sweeney said.