Capitol Comments

CSG Midwest
The state of North Dakota is partnering with one of its public universities to help school districts address a persistent, widespread workforce challenge — the shortage of licensed special-education teachers. Using a $750,000 grant from the state, Minot State University will create a new scholarship program that allows 20 education paraprofessionals to earn a degree in special education. These 20 individuals already have been working with special-education students in the state. North Dakota is using a portion of its money from the federal CARES Act to fund the scholarship program, which will cover seven semesters of instruction for each recipient.
CSG Midwest
A requirement on where legislatures “shall meet” is a common element of state constitutions. This year, that language demanded an unusual amount of attention among state legislative leaders, as they grappled with ways to protect the health of members while still conducting the business of their state during a pandemic.
According to research done by the Midwestern Office of The Council of State Governments (including a survey of most of the region’s legislative service agencies), at least eight of the Midwest’s 11 states have constitutional provisions on where legislatures must meet and hold sessions.
CSG Midwest
After 18 months of negotiations, the state of Michigan agreed in August to pay $600 million to individuals and businesses affected by the water crisis in the town of Flint, with close to two-thirds of the money going to children age 6 and under at the time of their first exposure. The crisis in Michigan's seventh-largest city began in 2014, when the town's supply of water was switched to the Flint River, leading to toxic levels of lead in drinking water. The consequences included an uptick in deaths from Legionnaires' disease and lead poisoning among children.
CSG Midwest
The funding of a project to stop the introduction and spread of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species continues to enjoy bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, but Great Lakes advocates also see many obstacles in the way of construction and completion.
For the Great Lakes ecosystem and the region's economy, “the stakes are really high,” says Anna-Lisa Castle, water policy manager for the Alliance for the Great Lakes says.
“You think about all of the boating, angling, and tourism and recreation in the Great Lakes, the $7 billion fishing economy,” she says. “And the other thing about [Asian] carp is that they won’t stop there. You could see carp make their way to the waterways that connect to the Great Lakes.”
The next big step in control efforts is the placement of new barriers at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, which is part of the Chicago Area Waterway System, a mix of natural and engineered waterways that connect the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan. This system is the most likely pathway for Asian carp to reach the lake.
In July, the U.S. House passed the Water Resources Development Act (HR 7575), which authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Brandon Road Lock and Dam project at a cost of $863 million. The U.S. Senate also has passed a measure with authorization language in it.
CSG Midwest
As they met at an unusual time of year for legislative session — namely the middle of summer, due to the postponement of session days caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — Nebraska lawmakers faced a familiar challenge: How can we reduce the property tax burden for homeowners, farmers and businesses? Their answer was passage of LB 1107, a bill being hailed by proponents as a major breakthrough after previous years of trying to address this perennially high-priority issue.
CSG Midwest
In a national scorecard analyzing how state policies will either enable or inhibit the ability of individuals to vote by mail, the Brookings Institution gives most states in the Midwest a passing grade, in large part because of their rules on witness signatures, the timeline for accepting ballots, and the delivery of vote-by-mail applications. The highest grades went to U.S. states (nearly all in the West) that are automatically sending ballots to registered voters. No state in the Midwest is taking this approach.
CSG Midwest

How should the state tax its citizens? Should the recreational use of marijuana be legal? Does the state need to do more to protect consumers from payday lenders? These are among the policy questions that will be decided this fall not by legislatures, but by the voters themselves.
In all, ballot measures of some kind are a part of this year’s elections in six Midwestern states.

CSG Midwest recently interviewed legislators and others about these measures, and what’s at stake. Here is an overview of some of the measures to be decided on in Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

CSG Midwest
Just a few months ago, all signs pointed to an economic crisis in the nation’s animal agriculture industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meat processing plants were being closed, or operations greatly curtailed, due to health concerns and illnesses among employees. By late April, nearly 40 percent of U.S. processing capacity was idle. Livestock slaughter plummeted (see graphic).
In the meantime, prices were falling for producers, who were also forced to hold livestock longer or euthanize slaughter-ready animals. While most cattle could be slowed down and held a little longer, the situation was disastrous for hog and poultry producers. For the eight weeks from April 11 through May 30, there were 22,000 cattle and 125,000 hogs per day ready for processing with nowhere to go.
“We faced a real disaster, and challenges remain, but the impressive way state officials, farmers and producer organizations have worked together to address the COVID-19 crisis is making a big difference,” says Cody McKinley of the National Pork Producers Council.
He and others credit the spirit of partnership, creative thinking and communication for helping the agricultural sector weather the storm. In April, some analysts were predicting that up to 2 million hogs would need to be euthanized; the number turned out to be much less.

Every year, state leaders, policymakers and advocates recognize September as National Suicide Prevention Month. According to data from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 10-34, the fourth leading cause of death for ages 35-54 and the eighth leading cause of death for ages 55-64. As suicide rates continue to climb, states across the country have taken steps to reduce...

History will remember Justice Ginsburg as a glass ceiling smasher, a feminist, a liberal, a dissenter, and an icon. States and local governments will also remember something subtler about her which was more visible in the Court’s lower profile cases. And that was her pragmatism.

Perhaps the most important case for states and local governments where Justice Ginsburg demonstrated this quality is South Dakota v. Wayfair. She was the sole liberal...

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