House Committee Passes Honest Census Communications Act (H.R. 5815)

The House Oversight and Reform Committee approved the Honest Census Communications Act (H.R. 5815), with a substitute amendment, on June 14, 2022 by a 22 – 16 vote.

As The Census Project covered last year, H.R. 5815 would prohibit “any person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, to communicate or cause to be communicated any census-related information by any means, including by means of any covered communication, or to produce any census-related information with the intent that the census-related information be communicated”:

  • “knowing the census-related information to be materially false”; and
  • “with the intent to impede or prevent another person from participating in any census.”

It would apply to the decennial headcount, the American Community Survey (ACS), the Economic Census and other similar Census Bureau surveys.

Civil penalties for violations could not exceed “the minimum civil penalty under the False Claims 7 Act (31 U.S.C. 3729 et seq.).”

Census-related information” means any information, including: “The time, place, or manner of holding any census”; or “The qualifications for, or restrictions on, participation in any census.”

Covered communication” means any:

  • “Written communication”;
  • “electronic or digital communication, including a communication through a website, application, online forum, social media platform, streaming service, or other means of communications using the internet or a similar communications network”; or
  • “telephonic communication, including any phone call, text message, or other communication sent, received, or transmitted using a wireless or wireline phone or a cellular or other phone network.”

The substitute amendment primarily altered the enforcement of the bill, removing the original bill’s criminal penalties and adding in provisions for enforcement by state Attorneys General.

Republicans on the committee argued that the bill is superfluous because existing laws already prohibit fraud.

We’ve heard nothing about scheduling, but the bill could be brought to the House floor later this year. The Senate version, S. 3133, has only two cosponsors, and this legislation (like most) seems unlikely to pass the Senate unless bundled into another larger bill.