Legislators plan to narrow a bill that would require every inmate in Oregon to meet each year with a doctor to discuss the influenza vaccine and opt-out in writing.
Senate Bill 488, proposed by Sen. Sarah Gelser in response to a flu outbreak and death in the women's prison last year, originally required jails and prisons to ensure every inmate met with a doctor about the annual inoculation.
But Gelser says an amendment will write jails out of the proposed legislation, so that the new legal standard would only apply to state prisons. The only opposition to the bill at a Feb. 6 public hearing came from the Oregon State Sheriff's Association, which raised concerns that offering a flu shot to every jail inmate would be logistically difficult and expensive because of the high turnover rate in county jails.
The Oregon Defense Attorneys Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon spoke in favor of the bill.
"We understand that there is a cost to providing access to flu shot," ACLU policy director Kimberly McCullough said in testimony provided to lawmakers. "At the same time, we also know that flu shots are fairly inexpensive, and preventive care like flu shots saves money in the long run, both in and out of our correctional facilities."
The change will likely shrink the cost of implementing the bill if it passes. A spokesman for House Speaker Jennifer Williamson, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, says once a fiscal impact statement is prepared the bill will likely be forwarded to the Ways and Means committee for consideration. In the past, some criminal justice reform bills have stalled out in the Ways and Means committee, but the sponsors of SB 488 say the bill has widespread support.
Gelser says the Oregon Department of Corrections supports the change. After WW uncovered a deadly outbreak at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility last year, ODOC reformed its approach to educating inmates about the flu vaccine and flu prevention. Gelser says the bill would create a legal requirement that is in line with ODOC's revised practices and federal guidelines set by the Bureau of Prisons.