Signatures filed for March 2020 referendum to repeal Maine’s new law eliminating religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions

On September 18, 2019, signatures were filed for a veto referendum to repeal Maine Legislative Document 798 (2019). LD 798 would eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools and colleges and employees of healthcare facilities. The campaign Mainers for Health and Parental Rights led the signature drive, reporting that local registrars verified 77,000 signatures of the 92,000 collected. The next step is for Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to review the petitions and signatures within 30 days. A total of 63,067 valid signatures are required for the veto referendum to appear on the ballot on March 3, 2020.
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.
Maine was the fourth state to prohibit non-medical exemptions from vaccination for students to attend schools. LD 798, however, is now suspended until voters decide the issue unless Secretary Dunlap finds that not enough signatures are valid. New York passed a similar law a few weeks after Maine to eliminate non-medical exemptions for students. The other three states are West Virginia, Mississippi, and California.
It’s been 97 years since voters across a state decided a vaccination-related ballot measure. In 1922, Washington voters repealed a law to remove vaccination requirements for school attendance. California, along with Maine, could also vote on vaccination requirements in 2020. In California, veto referendums were filed to overturn laws to create a system for reviewing and rejecting medical exemptions from vaccination.
The veto referendum to repeal LD 798 was one of 12 proposed after the 2019 regular legislative session adjourned on June 20, 2019. The proponents of the remaining 11 veto referendums did not file signatures before the deadline. 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.
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