Capitol Comments

A new annotated reference guide to state budgets, financial reports, and fiscal analyses - State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses, from the Volcker Alliance - is now available online. The report is designed to help public officials, policy advocates, journalists, academics, and concerned citizens fully understand the critical fiscal decisions that governors and legislators must make.

The issue in Lee v. Tam is whether Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which bars the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, violates the First Amendment.

Simon Shiao Tam named his band The Slants to “reclaim” and “take ownership” of Asian stereotypes. The PTO refused to register the band name finding it likely disparaging to persons of Asian descent. Tam sued the PTO arguing that Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act violates the First Amendment Free Speech Clause.  

CSG Midwest

Out of sight, out of mind — until they aren’t — pipelines are as yet a necessary piece of the nation’s energy puzzle, moving oil and natural gas from their origins to refineries, and thence into our gas tanks, stoves, roads, roofs and more.

But against a backdrop of heightened environmental and climate-change awareness, crude oil pipelines now also carry controversy, raising the stakes for the states, which are more or less on their own when it comes to regulating the siting of such pipelines (as long as their regulations aren’t pre-empted by applicable federal laws).

Companies that operate pipelines come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And once pipelines are operational, the U.S. Pipeline Safety Act assigns oversight to the Office of Pipeline Safety (housed within the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration).

The latest pipeline to make headlines is the Dakota Access Pipeline, a planned 1,134-mile underground pipe from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota that would run through South Dakota and Iowa to the Patoka Tank Farm in south central Illinois. If/when completed, the $3.7 billion pipeline is projected to carry more than 450,000 barrels of fracked crude oil per day.

CSG Midwest

This school year, officials of K-12 public schools in Illinois are revisiting their student-discipline policies in accordance with a new law that aims to reduce the number of students who receive out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

“The goal is to ensure that this only happens when absolutely necessary,” says Illinois Sen. Kimberly Lightford, the sponsor of SB 100.

Students who receive exclusionary punishments are at a significantly higher risk of falling behind academically, dropping out of school, and coming into contact with the juvenile justice system, according to a 2014 report from The Council of State Governments Justice Center.

For instances in which a student commits minor misconduct, the new Illinois law requires school leaders to use non-exclusionary methods of discipline — such as in-school suspension, detention or loss of privileges — and to exhaust all other methods of intervention before removing the student.

CSG Midwest

Three years in the making, a new Ohio law is being lauded as a possible model for states across the country looking for ways to deal with the problem of abandoned, blighted properties. HB 390, which took effect this fall, establishes a “fast track” foreclosure process. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the process has sometimes taken two or three years, during which time the vacant property can become a problem for surrounding homes and an entire community.

CSG Midwest

Median household income levels rose and poverty rates fell between 2014 and 2015 in states across the Midwest, recently released U.S. Census Bureau statistics show. Wisconsin’s year-by-year rise in household income was 5.6 percent ($52,709 to $55,638), highest in the region and one of the sharpest gains in the country.

CSG Midwest

In an effort to curb the number of deaths occurring in their state due to gun violence, Illinois legislators are cracking down on people who illegally sell firearms. Signed into law this summer, HB 6303 makes it a felony for a person who has not been issued a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card to bring guns into Illinois with the intent of selling or delivering them.

CSG Midwest

From the high-profile race for president to the often-overlooked campaigns that will determine partisan control of state legislatures, voters have plenty of reasons to participate in this year’s general elections. But tens of millions of U.S. citizens almost certainly will not.

During the last presidential election cycle, 42 percent of the nation’s voting-eligible population did not cast a ballot. Two years ago, overall turnout rates fell to their lowest levels in nearly 75 years, and less than one-quarter of eligible young people (ages 18-34) voted in that off-year election. The historic lows of 2014 will not be repeated this year (a race for president always brings out more voters), but if recent history is any indication, the turnout rates in this country will still trail those of most of the world’s other developed democracies.

In a three-page per curiam (unauthored) opinion in Bosse v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court reversed the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision to allow victims’ relatives to recommend to the jury that they sentence a defendant to death. Shaun Michael Bosse killed Katrina Griffin and her two children.

In Booth v. Maryland (1987) the Supreme Court held that during sentencing capital juries could only hear victim impact evidence that relates directly to the circumstances of the crime. Four years later in Payne v. Tennessee the Court changed course holding that capital juries could hear evidence relating to the personal characteristics of the victim and the emotional impact of the crime on the victim’s family.

Per the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a student with a disability receives an individualized education program (IEP), which is intended to provide that student with a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE). Parents and educators determine the content of each IEP. According to the Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Rowley (1982) to provide a FAPE, an IEP must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.”

The question the Supreme Court will decide in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is what level of educational benefit must school districts confer on children with disabilities to provide them with a FAPE.