MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Republicans in the Senate voted to push forward a bill that would ban the state from putting the state’s prisoners in prioritized groups for vaccinations, ahead of where a prisoner would fall if in the general public. The bill passed on a party-line vote.
“Just because someone is in prison doesn’t mean they are no longer a human body,” Senate minority leader Janet Bewley noted.
Bill author Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard said the bill was designed to keep prisoners from cutting the line to vaccines that they wouldn’t normally get if they were living in the general population.
“This bill ensures prisoners don’t get ahead of the queue,” he said.
Wanggaard also argued that since half of Wisconsin’s prisoners have already tested positive for Covid-19, they already have antibodies. However, official CDC guidance states that it’s not known how long or to what extent antibodies protect an individual from being reinfected.
The state’s prisons have been the site of massive Covid-19 outbreaks and 25 deaths, a rate that the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported to be five times the rate of infection as the overall state. Prisoners have complained of poorly implemented safety protocols inside prison facility walls.
Currently, the state’s prisoners are included in the next phase of vaccine rollout slated to begin in early March, a group that also includes teachers and other front-line workers.
In a wide-ranging floor session Tuesday, the Senate passed other Covid-related bills including one preventing state and local public health officials from mandating a vaccine, and another banning officials from stopping public gatherings at places of worship in the interest of public health. Currently, Wisconsin law allows public health officials to require a vaccination under a public health emergency, although the Department of Health Services has indicated they have no plans currently to make it a requirement of the public.
If they clear the Assembly, the bills could face likely vetoes from Gov. Tony Evers.