People hold signs during a protest at the state house in Trenton, N.J., Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

(JTA) — A bill that would have ended a policy that allows New Jersey parents to skip immunizing their children on account of their religious beliefs and still enroll them in school stalled in the state Senate.

The Senate did not have enough votes to advance the measure to the General Assembly and the governor, so there was no vote on Monday — the last chance to pass bills before the end of the two-year legislative session.

In its original form, the bill would have included all students enrolled in any school or college, public or private, making it one of the most sweeping among the several states that have voted to end religious exemptions to immunization. Only medical exemptions from vaccines would have been permitted at most schools and day care centers.

Under pressure from groups such as Agudath Israel of America, the legislation was altered last week to apply only to public schools. But the change appeased some and discomfited others, and the bill didn’t have enough votes to pass.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Bergen County and a sponsor of the legislation, said the Senate would reintroduce a new version in the 2020-21 session.

Some 2.3 percent of kindergartners and 1.7 percent of sixth-graders in New Jersey used the religious exemption in the 2018-19 school year, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

The proposed compromise did nothing to quell the anger of the hundreds of protesters, who packed the courtyards outside the State House on Monday, as they have done regularly over the past two months. Children banged on makeshift drums as parents shouted into megaphones. One man sounded what appeared to be a shofar, the ram’s horn instrument used for Jewish religious purposes.

“Parents call the shots,” one sign read. “My God. My body. My right,” read stickers worn by many of the protesters.

“As immunization rates drop and outbreaks of preventable disease rise, I’m disappointed we were not able to vote on this vital legislation,” Weinberg said in a statement.

She added: “Though I understand the passion of those opposed, fundamentally, this is not a personal choice, and in society it is the duty of healthy members to work together to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

California, Maine, Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia already have bans on religious-based vaccination exemptions.


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