Capitol Comments

With August drawing to a close, it’s time to check in once again on what states are up to on the transportation funding front. The number of states to increase their gas taxes this year now stands at seven with the addition of Washington State last month. Other states could be poised to join their ranks in the months ahead. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest developments and links where you can read more.

Since 1996, 18 states lifted their bans on food stamp eligibility for felony drug convictions, 26 states have issued partial bans for certain types of felony convictions, and only 6 states have full bans for those with any record of a felony drug conviction. The six states with full bans are Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The irony of the Supreme Court agreeing to decide Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is inescapable. On June 29 in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission the Court held that Arizona’s redistricting commission could be solely responsible for congressional redistricting. In the first sentence of its opinion the Court noted Arizona voters adopted the commission to avoid partisan gerrymandering. The next day the Court agreed to decide Harris where the plaintiffs allege that Arizona’s redistricting commission engaged in partisan gerrymandering in state legislative redistricting that violated one-person, one-vote.  

It is noteworthy that the Harris plaintiffs don’t object to partisan gerrymander per se (which the Supreme Court has never held unconstitutional), just partisan gerrymandering that leads to unequal distribution of voters.

CSG Midwest
As Indiana Rep. Charlie Brown sees it, a new plan to enroll eligible inmates in Medicaid has the chance to be a win-win for his state and its taxpayers: Reduce recidivism by giving more people the health services they need, and cut long-term costs in the criminal justice system.
Signed into law earlier this year, HB 1269 (of which Brown was a co-sponsor) received overwhelming legislative approval, and it is part of a broader trend that has states looking for new ways to improve outcomes for state and local inmates, who have disproportionately high rates of mental illness and substance abuse.
CSG Midwest
Best known today for its use in the U.S. Senate, the filibuster is a legislative tactic that dates back centuries — even to the days of ancient Rome. But for most legislators serving in the 11-state Midwest, this maneuver to stall debate or block a bill’s passage is much more a curiosity than a legislative reality or obstacle.
The one exception is Nebraska, home to perhaps the most unique legislative branch among the 50 U.S. state governments. In that state, where 49 senators serve in a one-house, nonpartisan chamber, the filibuster — or the threat of it — is a common occurrence.
“We operate more like a senate here rather than like a house in that we give the members great latitude to discuss, debate, cajole their colleagues,” says Patrick O’Donnell, clerk of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

CSG Midwest
In the last election cycle, partisan control of the U.S. Congress, the nation’s state legislatures and 36 governorships were all up for grabs. A vast majority of the nation’s youngest eligible voters seemingly didn’t care. Only 23 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds voted — the lowest participation rate in elections among this group since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting the data in 1978.
Over the past three-and-a-half decades, their voting rate has fallen by more than 30 percent. (Declines are occurring from nearly every non-presidential election year to the next.) Meanwhile, participation among the nation’s oldest voters, those 65 and older, has remained steady, at around 60 percent.
CSG Midwest
In response to a greater demand for high-school degrees that emphasize skills and include a more rigorous curriculum, Indiana high schools can expect to see a revised diploma system within the next few years.
In 2014, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation (HB 1213) to evaluate the state’s existing three-diploma system and explore a possible new graduation path for students, one focusing more on career and technical education. The Commission for Higher Education and the Indiana Board of Education will decide whether to approve the changes.
Any changes to state statute would then be voted on by the legislature during its 2016 session. The draft proposal, released this summer, would establish three new types of diplomas: Workforce Ready, College & Career Ready, and Indiana Honors.
CSG Midwest
With school districts in North Dakota scrambling late into the summer to fill open teaching positions, the state has stepped in to help. As of early August, emergency administrative rules were being developed for districts to apply for hardship waivers.
CSG Midwest
Veterans treatment courts operate in most states in the Midwest, and there are more than 200 nationally. Most of these are run by county or other local court systems, and the treatment court usually convenes once a week, depending on the need. Currently, about 11,000 veterans are being served by these courts.
First adopted in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, veterans treatment courts are based on the drug-court model, and also include features of mental health courts. These courts integrate alcohol and drug treatment, as well as mental health services, into the justice system.
CSG Midwest
Iowa and Indiana are moving ahead with a mix of new programs and tax policies designed to expand broadband development in the state’s rural areas. In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad made his “Connect Every Acre” proposal a top priority this past legislative session. With passage of HF 655, the state is establishing a grant program for service providers that install broadband in areas that connect farms, schools and communities.

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