Census committee bill narrowed, advanced

A bill intended to increase Nebraska’s participation in the 2020 U.S. Census advanced to select file May 23.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist26' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Matt Hansen'>Sen. Matt Hansen</a>
Sen. Matt Hansen

LB436, as introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, would create the Complete Count Commission consisting of Nebraska’s speaker of the Legislature, governor, secretary of state and other leaders from around the state.

The 17-member commission would create an outreach strategy involving state agencies, schools, nonprofits and other organizations to encourage Nebraskans to provide accurate information to census workers. It would be required to submit an interim report to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2019, and a final report by Dec. 31, 2020.

A Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee amendment, adopted 39-2, replaced the bill. As amended, LB436 instead simply would grant the Nebraska State Data Center program the authority to form a commission that may solicit private funds to carry out its duties. The authority to do so would terminate on Jan. 1, 2021.

Hansen said each missed Nebraskan would cost the state millions in funding before the next census, adding that 46 other states have formed similar commissions.

“It does one thing—it makes sure we have an officially designated complete count,” Hansen said. “This is something the United States Census Bureau recommends each state does.”

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, chairperson of the committee, said an accurate census count would help Nebraska maintain its representation in Congress.

Also in support was Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas. He said about 1 percent of Nebraska’s population was omitted from the 2010 census, costing the state an estimated $20 million in federal dollars. Vargas added that Nebraska receives nearly $4 billion a year from the federal government to fund Medicaid, Pell Grants, road construction and other programs.

“It is essential, not only for the work of the [Legislature’s] Planning Committee, but more importantly for the future of our state to ensure that everyone living in Nebraska is counted,” Vargas said. “If not everyone living in our state is counted in the 2020 census it could have drastic implications for years to come.”

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard spoke against the bill, saying it was unnecessary because the governor could, by executive action, create such a commission. Erdman assured the Legislature that Gov. Pete Ricketts would do so.

“This is irrelevant,” Erdman said. “[LB436] should have never seen the light of day.”

The bill advanced to select file on a 39-2 vote.

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