Assistant professor Kenneth McCall prepares a measles, mumps and rubella vaccination at the Portland Community Health Center, March 9, 2015.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives failed in a last-ditch bid on Tuesday to derail a bill that would strip nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine requirements after another hour of debate on the controversial measure.

The Democratic-led House voted 79-62 on Tuesday to pass the bill from Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, that was proposed as a response to rising vaccine opt-out rates in Maine schools. In the past school year, Maine had a higher vaccine opt-out rate than all but six states, and the share of students vaccinated for measles dropped this school year for the third straight year.

The bill is backed by the administration of Gov. Janet Mills and would scrap personal and religious exemptions to vaccine requirements for public school students and employees of nursery schools and health care facilities. Maine would be the fourth state to have no religious exemption.

However, it drew opposition at a Marchpublic hearing from hundreds who cited arguments ranging from personal and religious freedom to pseudoscientific arguments against vaccines, including debunked links between vaccines and autism.

Republican opponents of the bill led a last-ditch floor fight on the bill on Tuesday for most of an hour. Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, likening the bill to “treachery” and “tyranny” against a minority that chooses not to vaccinate their children. Rep. Justin Fecteau, R-Augusta, rattled off a list of numbers of unvaccinated children by town that he said could leave school under the bill.

A backer of the bill, Rep. Genevieve McDonald, D-Stonington, read a letter from a constituent whose son was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and was put at risk by an unvaccinated child in his day care and argued that the law’s burden falls too heavily on families like that child’s.

Seven Democrats — Jessica Fay of Raymond, Craig Hickman of Winthrop, Anne Perry of Calais, Joe Perry of Bangor, Steve Stanley of Medway, Archie Verow of Brewer and Charlotte Warren of Hallowell — voted with Republicans against the bill. It faces another vote in the Senate, where it passed initially last week, before going to Mills for approval.

Only three House Republicans — Scott Strom of Pittsfield, Ted Kryzak of Acton and Assistant House Minority Leader Trey Stewart of Presque Isle — voted for the bill, though Stewart likely did so for procedural reasons. Democrats spiked an immediate effort to reconsider the vote.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...