Proposed law aims to protect U.S. Census from 'partisan whims'

United States Census 2020 / (MGN)
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WASHINGTON (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that aims to protect the decennial census from "partisan whims."

Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii to cosponsor the Census Improving Data and Enhanced Accuracy Act.

According to a release, the bill aims to prevent respondent intimidation, which could result in curbing total participation.

The bill would require all changes to the questionnaire to be studied and researched before being made.

"The census is a critical undertaking in our democracy that helps determine the number of representatives and federal dollars given to states," said the senators. "Additionally, many businesses rely on census populations data to decide where to open new stores, buy advertising, or deploy wireless broadband infrastructure. Therefore, it's extremely important that we ensure the accuracy of the count and prevent it from being shaped by political motives."

Last year, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross proposed adding a question to the U.S. Census that would ask about citizenship status.
The release says this question would likely prevent people from responding and result in a drastic undercounting of people in many immigrant and Latino communities.

The Census Bureau has indicated the inclusion of a citizenship question would cause a 2.2-percent drop in responses, including an eight-percent drop in participation by households where at least one resident is not a citizen.

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such a question could not be added to the 2020 census, saying insufficient justification had been presented for adding it.

The U.S Justice Department then tried to replace its team of lawyers that is working on the case, but a federal judge denied that request on Wednesday, citing a lack of satisfactory reasons for swapping out team members.

The proposed law would prevent last-minute operational changes to the census that have not been properly researched, studied and tested at least three years ahead of the next census date.

It would also ensure that subjects, types of information and questions that have not been sent to the U.S. Congress, as required by existing federal law, would not be included.

The U.S. Census Bureau would also have to submit biannual reports on its operation plan, including the status of research and testing; a report on the bureau's operational plan five years prior to the next census; and require such reports to be publicly available online.

The bill would also direct the U.S Government Accountability Office to report to Congress that the subjects, types of information, and questions on the census have been researched, studied and tested to the same degree as previous censuses.

Finally, it would apply its provisions only to the census that occurs every ten years, not the mid-decade census or the American Community Survey.

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