On October 17, 2019, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that the campaign Mainers for Health and Parental Rights filed enough signatures for a veto referendum on whether religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements should be eliminated. The referendum will be on the ballot for the election on March 3, 2020, which will also feature the presidential primary.
Mainers for Health and Parental Rights needed to gather 63,067 valid signatures. The campaign filed 95,871 raw signatures, and Dunlap said that 79,056 signatures were valid. The campaign had raised $176,129 through September 30, 2019, and spent $154,982.
The veto referendum seeks to repeal Legislative Document 798 (2019), which would eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools and colleges and employees of healthcare facilities. The elimination of religious and philosophical exemptions would go into effect on September 1, 2021. LD 798 would allow students with individualized education plans (IEPs) and who had a religious or philosophical exemption before September 1, 2021, to continue receiving the exemption while in school with a valid statement from a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant.
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 bill’s fate. 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 In 1922, Washington voters repealed a law to remove vaccination requirements for school attendance.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 is the first ballot measure certified in Maine for 2020. The deadline to file signatures for initiatives to appear on the November 2020 ballot is February 2. The legislature can also refer statutes, such as bond issues, and constitutional amendments to the ballot during the 2020 legislative session. Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on even-year statewide ballots in Maine.
Maine voters have decided 30 statewide veto referendums. In 18 cases, voters repealed the targeted legislation. In 12 cases, voters upheld the targeted legislation.