Utah lawmakers OK $1M for census preparations

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) The Utah Capitol is shown Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Salt Lake City, the day of a special legislative session in which lawmakers changed the state's medical marijuana law, OK'd a $1.5 million settlement to ex-Attorney General John Swallow and allocated $1 million to prepare for next year's once-in-a-decade census.

Six months after refusing to set aside any money for promoting a complete and accurate count in next year’s census, Utah lawmakers have belatedly changed their minds.

In Monday’s one-day special session, called mainly to get the state out of the medical marijuana distribution business and turn that responsibility over to the private sector, the Legislature appropriated $1 million to pay for promotional and outreach efforts for the census.

It may seem like a simple matter of counting heads. But, in reality, there are hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants at stake, not to mention population updates that will be used to determine Utah’s congressional districts. California put up $154 million to ensure its count is accurate.

During the regular legislative session ended in March, the state had not appropriated any funding for census participation efforts despite the vocal objections of Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray.

Several lawmakers on Monday credited Kwan for her advocacy on the issue, as an inaccurate count of the state’s residents could adversely impact funding for government programs, the upcoming redistricting process, and scores of public and private efforts that rely on demographic data.

“I do want to thank everyone for their support and understanding,” Kwan told her colleagues during debate.

The $1 million appropriation will be divided between two efforts, with $500,000 being used for a statewide outreach campaign encouraging residents to complete the census, and the remaining $500,000 being used for grants aimed at increasing participation.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, described the grants as “seed money” that will ideally be matched by investment from the state’s cities and counties.

“We’d hope that other communities would join that effort as well,” Vickers said.