Legislators push bills on COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and misinformation

Sen. Richard Pan (D – Sacramento), along with members of the recently-formed legislative Vaccine Work Group, recently introduced key bills to address shortages in COVID-19 testing infrastructure and misinformation related to COVID-19.

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

The work group aims to “facilitate coordinated action to promote vaccines and science-based public health policy” in the legislature this year, and founding members include Pan, Sens. Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) and Josh Newman (D – Fullerton), as well as Asms. Akilah Weber (D – San Diego), Buffy Wicks (D – Oakland), Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Winters), and Evan Low (D – Campbell).

On Tuesday, Pan and the work group introduced Senate Bill 1479, which would require the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to collaborate with each school district, county office of education, and charter school to create a “robust, responsive, and flexible” COVID-19 testing plan, which would include preschools, child care centers, and after-school programs. 

The bill, contingent on a state or federal appropriation, would require CDPH to use these funds to ensure school districts have adequate resources to implement their COVID-19 testing plans for teachers, staff, and pupils to help schools reopen and keep schools operating safely for in-person learning. 

Pan noted the importance of a robust COVID-19 testing infrastructure in the bill’s announcement.

COVID testing plans are essential to parents and schools and child care sites being confident in staying open and keeping children safe from COVID,” he said. “Funded school testing plans provide vital information to protect students and teachers through COVID variants and surges.”

The bill has not been referred to a committee yet. 

With the support of the work group, Pan also introduced SB 1018. This bill would require online platforms utilizing algorithms to publicly and transparently disclose how their algorithms rank and score content, and requires the sharing of this data with researchers. 

Pan emphasized the timeliness of this bill and how important it is to address the amplification of misinformation and disinformation related to COVID-19 on online platforms.

“Ultimately, we shouldn’t have to wait for whistleblowers … to understand how platforms have been negatively influencing our lives, including our ability to stop this pandemic that has not only killed nearly 1 million Americans, but has disabled so many people as well,” he said. “Transparency will allow the public to make informed decisions, and lawmakers and researchers need this necessary information so we can hold online platforms accountable and also set standards.”

The bill was referred to the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday.

Pan and members of the Vaccine Work Group have also recently introduced several pieces of legislation related to COVID-19 vaccinations.

SB 871, introduced in late January, would require any student at a public or private elementary or secondary school, child care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home, or development center to be fully immunized against COVID-19 prior to their admission. The bill would also remove the personal belief exemption for this immunization requirement.

The bill was referred to the Senate Health and Education Committees on Wednesday.

SB 866 would authorize a minor aged 12 years or older to consent to vaccines that meet specified federal agency criteria without the consent of a parent or guardian. 

The bill passed the Senate Rules Committee in a 31-6 vote, and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.