A bill eliminating religious exemptions for vaccination stalled in the Senate Monday after Democrats in the chamber failed to whip enough votes to pass that bill.
“We’ll hear it another day because we were short a little bit,” State Sen. Joe Vitale said. “But we’ll get there.”
Democratic leaders in the Senate said they were one vote short of passing the bill, though their counts fluctuated throughout the day and other insisted they were further off.
They said they lost five Democratic senators: Sens. Joe Lagana, Ronald Rice, Shirley Turner, Nia Gill and Dawn Addiego.
Sweeney said — and a source within the governor’s office confirmed — that Gov. Phil Murphy did not whip senate votes for the bill.
The trouble began early in the day.
A Democratic source who spoke to the New Jersey Globe on the condition of anonymity said Senate Democrats did not conduct a hard count during their marathon caucus meeting and jockeyed to wrangle enough votes to pass the measure.
The Senate session started roughly two and a half hours past its scheduled time, and Vitale and Sweeney huddled numerous times while the legislature moved through bills with no discussion, which are typically voted on after controversial bills like the vaccination measure.
“We expected to pass the bill,” Sweeney said when asked if he did a whip count in caucus. “And we will pass the bill.”
The Senate has two more voting days scheduled before the end of the lame duck session, one on Jan. 9, and another on Jan. 13.
Lawmakers are angling to take another pass at the legislation down, but they expect the same protests that wracked the capitol during Monday’s voting sessions and Thursday’s committee hearings to return then.
Both Sweeney and Vitale insisted that those demonstrations, which grew so loud on Monday that they could be heard inside the Senate chambers for hours, did not give any of their members cold feet.
Similarly, Sweeney said the thousands of calls anti-vaxx activists placed to his members’ offices clogged their lines and voice mail systems.
A number of Senate Republicans said the same happened to them over the weeks preceding the votes.
Further, lawmakers were made to combat misinformation about the bill, foremost among which was a false claim that the measure would prevent unvaccinated persons from obtaining drivers licenses.
“They have passed so much misinformation around,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said. “I don’t mind getting into an argument about what’s in the bill, but it’s very difficult to have debates about what’s not in the bill.”
Weinberg said she believed the protesters were the source of the falsehoods about the bill.
The bill didn’t face similar problems in the Assembly, where it passed 45-25 with six abstentions.
Despite those problems, lawmakers have no intention of letting the bill die.
“This is the right thing to do. It is the right policy, vaccinating people,” Sweeney said. “All the conspiracy theories, that it causes autism or whatever else they want to claim, there is no proof whatsoever that any of that is real, and it’s a shame because nowhere in the bible does it talk about vaccines.”