Voters will decide a vaccination requirements referendum in Maine on March 3

On March 3, 2020, Maine voters will decide Question 1, a veto referendum that would repeal legislation related to vaccine requirements and have the effect of reinstating religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements. In 2019, the state legislature passed Legislative Document 798 (LD 798), which was designed to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of healthcare facilities. The legislation is scheduled to take effect on September 1, 2021, unless voters approve Question 1.

Question 1 is the 31st veto referendum on the ballot in Maine. The first one was on the ballot in 1910. Of the 30 veto referendums that have been decided, voters approved 18 (60 percent) of them, repealing the targeted legislation. The last time that voters rejected a veto referendum, thus upholding the targeted legislation, was in 2005.

Besides Maine, four states—California, Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia—did not provide for non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools. West Virginia has never provided non-medical exemptions. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that non-medical exemptions violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1979. Like Maine, California and New York repealed non-medical exemptions in 2015 and 2019, respectively.

Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma is leading the campaign in support of a “yes” vote, which would repeal LD 798 and reinstate religious and philosophical exemptions. An associated PAC, Mainers for Health and Parental Rights, collected 79,056 valid signatures to place the veto referendum on the ballot. At least 63,067 signatures needed to be valid. Yes on 1 and Mainers for Health and Parental Rights raised a combined $602,428 as of February 21, 2020. The largest donor was the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), which contributed $50,000. OCA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that, according to the group’s website, “educates and advocates on behalf of organic consumers.” The second-largest contribution was $27,020 from Stephanie Grondin, the office manager at Capital City Chiropractic.

Maine Families for Vaccines is leading the campaign in support of a “no” vote, which would uphold LD 798. Maine Families for Vaccines and the allied Maine Street Solutions – Protect Schools PAC received $822,256. The pharmaceutical companies Merck, Sharp & Dohme, and Pfizer were the largest donors, each contributing $250,000.

Question 1 is the only Maine measure on the ballot for March 3, 2020. The election on November 3, 2020, could feature additional citizen-initiated measures and legislative referrals. The deadline for initiated statutes passed on February 3, 2020, and proponents of one initiative filed signatures, which are under review. The legislature can refer bond measures and constitutional amendments during the legislative session, which is expected to adjourn around April 15. Campaigns for referendums to repeal legislation passed in the 2020 session must submit signatures within 90 days after the legislative session ends.

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