Veto referendum to reinstate religious and philosophical vaccination exemptions approved for signature drive in Maine

In Maine, a veto referendum was launched to overturn Legislative Document 798 (2019). LD 798 eliminates religious and philosophical, but not medical, exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools and colleges and employees of healthcare facilities. The organization Mainers for Health and Parental Rights is leading the campaign sponsoring the veto referendum effort. Mainers for Health and Parental Rights has until September 18, 2019, to collect the 63,067 valid signatures required to place a veto referendum on the ballot. The veto referendum could appear on the ballot for November 5, 2019, or June 9, 2020, depending on when signatures are submitted and verified.
 
Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed LD 798 into law on May 24, 2019. The Maine House of Representatives passed LD 798 in a vote of 79-62 on May 21. The Maine State Senate passed LD 798 in a vote of 19-16 on May 23,. Most legislative Democrats—74/88 in the House and 18/21 in the Senate—voted to pass the legislation. Most legislative Republicans— 51/56 in the House and 13/14 in the Senate—voted to reject the legislation. Independents were divided 2-4. In 2019, Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, as well as the governor’s office, making Maine a Democratic trifecta. Prior to 2019, Maine was a divided government.
 
With LD 798, Maine became the fourth state to prohibit non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools. The other states, at the time of passage, were California, Mississippi, and West Virginia, according to NCSL. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation three weeks after Gov. Mills did to end his state’s religious and philosophical vaccination exemptions and make New York the fifth state.
 
Since Maine adopted the referendum process in 1908, there have been 30 veto referendums on the ballot. The last veto referendum was in 2018, when voters overturned legislation designed to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting. Of the 30 bills placed before voters as veto referendums, 18 of them (60 percent) were overturned at the ballot box. Voters upheld 12 (40 percent) of the bills.
 
There have been at least four citizen-initiated measures addressing vaccination in the U.S. Oregon voted on initiatives in 1916 and 1920, Arizona voted on an initiative in 1918, and California voted on an initiative in 1920. Voters rejected the initiatives in Oregon and California. In Arizona, the initiative was approved, prohibiting minors from receiving vaccinations without the consent of their guardians.
 



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Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at ryan.byrne@ballotpedia.org

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