A referendum to repeal the new California school vaccination law does not have enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, according to a campaign coordinator who described chaotic last-minute mishaps that included sending petitions to Sacramento via Fed-Ex on a Sunday, too late to meet the Monday, Sept. 28 filing deadline.
“We didn’t have to fall short and we did,” said Lauren Stephens, who with former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, coordinated the referendum campaign.
“That was a leadership issue,” she said, adding that she had differences of opinion with Donnelly and the people he brought in. Some of the disagreements, Stephens said, concerned Donnelly’s decisions to hire professional signature gatherers, start a second referendum committee and launch a GoFundMe campaign that raised $170,000. Donnelly could not be reached for comment.
“We didn’t have to fall short and we did,” said Lauren Stephens, who with former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, coordinated the referendum campaign. “That was a leadership issue.”
The referendum needed to collect 365,880 signatures from registered voters by Sept. 28 to place the measure before state voters in November 2016. As of Oct. 5, the California Secretary of State’s office reported it had received 105,967 signatures (see table below), with several counties including Los Angeles not yet reporting. The Los Angeles County Clerk’s office confirmed that it had sent 43,168 signatures to Sacramento, bringing the state total as of that date to 149,135 signatures. The final total will be posted Oct. 8 by the Secretary of State.
In a message on the SB277 Referendum website, Stephens thanked volunteers. “I have never in my life seen such a dedicated group of people who were so committed to one cause – liberty,” she wrote.
Donnelly, who hosts a talk show on the “Radio Free California” network, took to the airwaves Monday night to answer questions from callers about the referendum. According to a transcript from a member of Educate Advocate, a Southern California-based nonprofit organization of parents of children with special needs, Donnelly said, “Now that the referendum is almost over, the legal fight will be next. Every indicator is that we aren’t going to make it. If it does not qualify, then the next step is you have to know what your legal rights are.”
The California law, known as Senate Bill 277, removes the ability of parents to refuse to vaccinate their children in public and private schools because of personal opposition. With the referendum closed down, some opponents of vaccinations have mentioned they would seek relief in the courts.
“I believe there will be lawsuits,” said Kristie Sepulveda-Burchit, executive director of Educate Advocate. The lawsuits would not be likely to be filed until the law takes effect July 1, 2016, Sepulveda-Burchit noted.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dimmed the likelihood of success of a federal Constitutional challenge to required school vaccinations. In releasing its calendar of court cases, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear an appeal from a New York parent who alleged that the vaccination requirement in public schools violated her religious freedom.
The court let stand a 2015 lower court decision in the case, Nicole Phillips v. the City of New York, that affirmed the constitutionality of a New York state law requiring students be vaccinated before attending public schools.
That decision, made by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, also said that the regulation authorizing school officials to temporarily exclude unvaccinated students during an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease is constitutional.