Cumberland Times-News

Local News

March 30, 2010

Census inmate policy likely to have big local impact

Maryland House, Senate pass bills requiring prisoners to be counted in home counties

Cumberland — CUMBERLAND — All four members of the local legislative delegation to Annapolis voted against a measure that would require state inmates to be counted during the census in their hometowns and not where they currently reside.

House Bill 496 passed Saturday anyway, with a 99-40 vote. Its companion bill in the Senate, SB 400, already had been approved Friday with a 34-10 vote.

“Well, it’s law,” said Delegate LeRoy Myers.

Once Gov. Martin O’Malley signs the bill, no longer will inmates at Western Correctional Institution, North Branch Correctional Institution or Federal Correctional Institution be considered part of Allegany County’s population. There’s little doubt the initiative will impact legislative district lines and federal and state aid dollars.

As of Monday, WCI had 1,667 inmates and NBCI had 1,470, according to Mark Vernarelli, director of public information at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

FCI’s estimated capacity is 1,260 inmates, according to DeWayne Hendrix, FCI executive assistant. The U.S. Census Bureau listed Allegany County’s total population as 72,238 people in 2008.

Myers said he voted against the bill for several reasons, among them the fact that inmates are receiving care and services locally but the area no longer will benefit from it. The decennial census helps to allocate some $400 billion in federal aid. Much of the funding considers population as a primary factor. The Census Bureau gave states the authority to decide the matter in February. Similar legislative issues have cropped up in other states across the country, including Illinois.

“It looks like a move across the country,” Myers said, noting that Maryland “would be the first to do this.”

There are reasons to keep the count local, Myers said.

“One big example is medical care,” Myers said. “If someone in WCI needs extensive medical care, they will go to Western Maryland Health System. They won’t take them back to Baltimore or wherever the inmate’s from. The other side of this is ... the same thing could be true of college students.”

An amendment by Washington County Delegate Chris Shank would have had college students and military personnel be counted under the same guidelines. That measure failed 92-45.

Though census appropriations are tied tightly to population counts, proponents of the bill said the bills would not have an adverse impact on how rural counties with inmate populations are funded. Myers said that doesn’t follow.

“I’m sure that would be next,” he said.

Myers said one consequence of the bill is that the House of Delegates District 1, which is divided into subdistricts 1A, 1B and 1C, could be on the move. Delegate Wendell Beitzel’s District 1A comprises all of Garrett County and the western portion of Allegany County. District 1B, represented by Delegate Kevin Kelly, covers a portion of Georges Creek up to Cumberland’s western city limits. Delegate LeRoy Myers’ District 1C represents all of Cumberland and eastern Allegany County as well as western Washington County.

With the law, “more than likely 1C will not represent all of Cumberland,” Myers said. “It may even be worse than that” when the population growths of Washington and Frederick counties are factored into the equation.

“It’s really kind of a screwball (situation) ... this will throw a wrench into how the census count’s going to take place,” Myers said.

• Also over the weekend, lawmakers gave a thumbs-down to an effort to repeal the Maryland coal tax credit. O’Malley has attempted to abolish the tax credit, heavily favored by local industry-related companies, each of the past two legislative sessions.

Kevin Spradlin can be reached at kspradlin@times-news.com.

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