The House today passed legislation that exempts the General Assembly from a law passed last year that would count prisoners as residents of their home election districts for the purposes of legislative redistricting.
Majority Leader Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth), who is leading his chamber's redistricting effort this year, said the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't have data listing the last known addresses of prisoners in state penitentiaries.
In addition, the mapping software purchased by the state to facilitate redistricting isn't equipped to integrate that kind of information, Schwartzkopf said.
"We ran into a problem becasue the data is not available, it's not possible to do it with the software we have," he said.
The software provider said it could revise its program to incorporate state prison records and apportion inmates according to their home districts, but that it would cost as much as $70,000 and take two months.
Rather than shell out the extra cash and risk missing the June 30 deadline for the new district maps, Schwartzkopf decided to draft a bill that circumvents a law passed last year requiring prisoners to be counted at thier last known addresses.
According to Schwartzkopf's bill, last year's law won't become effective until the redistricting process that follows the 2020 Census.
Rep. Helene Keely (D-Wilmington South), who sponsored the prisoner distribution legislation, did not vote for the side-step bill.
"I understand the circumstances, however 58 of us voted for this bill," she said. "I obviously think it should move forward. When 58 of us vote for something, it probably means we should do it."
Also voting no were Wilmington Democratic Reps. Stephanie Bolden and Dennis P. Wiliams.