The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee approved a bill Thursday evening that will change how Colorado counts prison inmates in the upcoming census.
House Bill 1010 won a 6-3 party-line vote from the committee. The bill would count prison inmates at their last known home address instead of at the prison in which they reside. The change would apply only for redistricting purposes, according to the bill, and would not be used to calculate federal funding, one of the major purposes of the census.
“This bill is about fairness, plain and simple,” said Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, in a statement after the hearing. “We want to ensure that Colorado has accurate and fair representation in the next decade and beyond, and that means counting incarcerated individuals in their home communities.”
The reality is, according to bill co-sponsor Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, that prison inmates are not constituents. For the small number of inmates imprisoned for life, they're still not connected to the community in any meaningful way, Tipper told the committee, and that inmate is still connected to the community where they lived prior to prison.
The population count is what drives the dollars, Tipper said. The federal dollars will still follow that population count and the bill isn't touching that.
The census also collects population data for redistricting purposes, she explained, yet every state does redistricting differently based on that state's laws. That's a separate file, and that's the one that will be used for her bill.
Tipper also responded to concerns that the bill is a power grab by Democrats. "It's not," she said.
Tamara DeBrady, president of Colorado Black Women for Political Action, told the committee that for the black community, concentrated minority populations are negatively impacted if black inmates are not counted in the communities they come from. And counting inmates in the districts where prisons are located gives those districts too much voting power, she said.
No one testified against the bill.
However, senators whose districts include the largest portion of prison inmates have objected to the bill. Sen. Dennis Hisey, R-Fountain, whose districts has more prisons than any other in the state, told Colorado Politics last week that he’s opposed to the bill. “I believe [Tipper’s] intent is not to affect the funding, but so much funding that comes from the federal government is based on headcount. So you can’t run two sets of books, one for redistricting and another for money.” He also said he isn’t sure that the proposal would stand up legally.
Hisey also said the bill is an effort to shift legislative power to urban communities and away from rural ones, since most of the inmates come from urban areas.
HB 1010 now moves to the full House.