Kansas Senate resolution would rebuke decision to give prisoners COVID-19 vaccine early
Lawmakers are planning to rebuke Gov. Laura Kelly over her decision to put inmates in state and county correctional facilities in Phase 2 of the state's vaccination plan, arguing it unfairly puts them ahead of other, law-abiding individuals.
A resolution to that effect, introduced in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday morning, asks Kelly to reverse the decision but it is nonbinding, meaning it wouldn't likely force the governor to change course on its own.
But it is the latest sign from Republicans that they are going to use the decision as a key talking point ahead of Kelly's reelection bid next year.
When the move to include correctional facilities in Phase 2 of the state's vaccine plan was first made known, it was framed as a way not just of ensuring the health of a population that has been ravaged by COVID-19 but also to protect corrections officers and other staff who work in the state's prisons and jails.
"It's not just prisoners that we're talking about. There are a lot of people, state employees, who work in those facilities, who are the correctional officers, who provide medical service, who provide food service," Kelly said in an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal. "There are all sorts of other people who were not convicted of a crime who work in those facilities, and vaccinations protect them, too."
But Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, who chairs the health committee, said the lack of vaccine supply meant that giving the vaccine to inmates should be de-emphasized. The resolution, he said, would be a "strong statement" in opposition to the move.
"Why is that a priority, not a nursing home?" he told reporters, adding that he had no problem with corrections staff getting the vaccine early.
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities were included in Phase 1 of the state's vaccination distribution plan.
The resolution could move quickly, he said, and the full Senate could take the matter up later this week.
Legislators elected to take a pass on formally pushing a bill because of the likelihood that Kelly would reject it, with Hilderbrand noting that process could take weeks, even if legislators overturned her veto.
"That time frame — I know the (vaccine) rollout has been awfully slow but you'd think we would be done with Phase 2 by that point," he said.
A spokesperson for Kelly said that "given Sen. Hilderbrand's deep concern for the health of Kansans" they hoped he would sign on to support Medicaid expansion, a top priority for the governor and one panned by conservatives.
Over 5,800 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic and 19 residents and staff have died from the virus.
Kansas isn't the only state that has elected to give prisoners the vaccine before the general public. States ranging from Indiana to Louisiana have made similar decisions. The federal Bureau of Prisons has said it also will be giving the vaccine to inmates in its correctional facilities as "additional doses become available."
The state entered Phase 2 of vaccine distribution last month. In addition to congregate settings, like prisons, it also includes essential workers and Kansans age 65 and older.