Bill to Protect Californians’ Rights to Get Vaccinated and Protects Freedom of Speech Passes Asm. Public Safety Committee

As health care professionals work to end the deadly pandemic by vaccinating Californians, anti-vaccine extremists have used intimidation tactics and physical obstruction at vaccine sites

June 29, 2021

SACRAMENTO, CA – Senate Bill 742 by Dr. Richard Pan to give local officials the tools they need to keep extremists from harassing and intimidating patients and front-line workers when getting vaccinated, passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee today. 

 “We are making great strides in distributing COVID-19 vaccines and educating the public, but at the same time, anti-vaccine extremists are continuing their efforts to cause chaos and intimidate patients,” said Dr. Richard Pan. “SB 742 gives local officials on the ground clear ability to set up and create safe space to express free speech as well as ensure patients and health care workers are safe when working to end the deadly pandemic.”

“People shouldn’t be harassed when they are trying to get a life-saving vaccine. We can protect speech and our right to be safely vaccinated,” said Crystal Strait of ProtectUS, sponsors of SB 742. “I have a number of immunocompromised classmates and friends in this state, and every shot declined in California for any reason threatens their health,” testified Ben Salop, member of student group GenerationUp, “That’s why Dr. Pan’s continued focus on protecting our freedoms through promoting vaccine-access is what we need right now to end the pandemic.”

SB 742 will protect the rights of people to      receive vaccinations with the safety and privacy afforded to patients in all other health care settings, while also preserving the right of protestors to assemble. Specifically, SB 742 would prohibit a person from physically obstructing, harassing or intimidating      patients or health care workers within a designated distance of a vaccine site. This bill sets violations of this law punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both.

COVID-19 vaccinations are given at a variety of vaccination sites, such as hospitals, physician offices, clinics, and other retail spaces and pop-up locations. The unprecedented scope of COVID-19 vaccination efforts has required the use of unconventional venues such as fairgrounds or stadiums for vaccination sites. However, the legal code has not yet evolved to account for these changes, and current laws do not adequately empower law enforcement to balance the first amendment rights to free speech with the right to receive healthcare at vaccination sites.

In the most talked about example, an anti-vaccine mob descended onto a large-scale vaccination site at Dodger stadium in Los Angeles, where they used intimidation and physical obstruction to keep people from getting vaccinated and they forced a temporary closure of the site. In the weeks since, anti-vaccine extremists have targeted other vaccine sites where they have tried to frighten community members with extreme anti-vaccine propaganda.

SB 742 will be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.