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State Sen. Janice Bowling

State Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) has signed onto a bill that would remove restrictions on religious exemptions for vaccines for the next legislative session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Bowling is one of four state senators presenting SB 0007, along with Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) and Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald). Pody is the main sponsor of the bill, which was filed for introduction in November.

According to its summary, the bill is designed to “remove provisions in current law that override the ability of various persons to object to vaccinations, immunizations or other medical procedures on the basis of religious tenets and practices.”

Under present law, religious exemptions exist for children receiving CDC-recommended vaccines, children receiving immunizations in order to start school and people “adhering to county health department regulations pertaining to medical treatment.”

These exemptions can at present be overridden in the event of an epidemic or the immediate threat of one; however, the bill would amend several existing state laws in order to eliminate the exemption override.

According to its summary, the bill also revises current law provisions regarding religious exemptions for employees. Employees may not currently object to vaccinations, immunizations and other medical procedures on religious grounds except when it is “necessary for the protection of the health and safety of others.” The bill would remove the exemption exception, thereby eliminating “any authorization or requirement of medical examination, immunization or treatments when an employee objects on religious grounds.”

Additionally, present law states it is a Class C misdemeanor for a person to refuse to be vaccinated or for a person to prohibit someone in their care from being vaccinated when application for a vaccine is made by a “health officer, board of health or physician” except when another physician says it would not be “prudent on the sickness.” It is also a Class C misdemeanor for a physician to fraudulently give certificates of sickness or vaccines to prevent a patient from being vaccinated.

Pody’s bill would eliminate this section of law from the Tennessee Code Annotated entirely, instead substituting a new section that removes these penalties.

Staff Writer

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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