Capitol Comments

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that when an inmate recovers money damages in a confinement conditions case “a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 percent)” shall be applied to his or her attorney’s fees award. The question the Supreme Court will decide in Murphy v. Smith is whether “not to exceed 25 percent” means up to 25 percent or exactly 25 percent.   

Addiction is a driving force for drug abuse. Addiction causes people to do whatever it takes to get ahold of their drug of choice. Often the acquisition of drugs leads to people getting arrested and incarcerated. The second installment of this series will examine how drug abuse in the states affects incarceration.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) announced last week that it will now be accepting submissions for its second-annual national competition best practices in election administration. This year the competition will coincide with the 15th anniversary of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) – the legislation that established the EAC. This year’s categories were chosen specifically to celebrate the progress made since HAVA was passed.

CSG Midwest
When the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, it created the largest free trade area in the world at that time. By increasing trade and investment, reducing tariffs and addressing non-tariff barriers, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States hoped to grow their countries’ economies and raise living standards across the continent.
“NAFTA worked, fundamentally shaping North American economic relations, driving integration between Canada and the United States’ developed economies and Mexico’s developing economy,” says Colin Robertson, vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a former Canadian diplomat.
More trade with neighbors
In many measurable ways, NAFTA has been a major success. U.S. trade with its two neighbors has grown at a faster rate than its economic activity with the rest of the world. The value of U.S. exports to Mexico reached $231 billion last year, with Michigan ranking third among all U.S. states ($12 billion), and for the Midwest, the cross-border relationship with Canada is especially valuable. Canada serves as the largest export market for nine of the 11 states in this region (Kansas and Nebraska are the lone exceptions).
In states such as Michigan and Ohio, much of this cross-border trade centers on the automotive industry, where cars and their various parts are built via supply chains that send components across the border multiple times on their way to completion.
In fact, intermediate goods (not-yet-completed products) from Canada and Mexico accounted for half of all total imports from these countries. Free trade is essential to preserving these cross-border supply chains. According to the Canadian Embassy, trade with Canada supports close to 9 million jobs in the United States. The Mexico Institute estimates that nearly 5 million jobs in the U.S. depend on trade with Mexico.
But from the start, the three-nation agreement has failed to fully recognize how changes in North American trade would negatively affect certain workers and industries, says Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute.
CSG Midwest
With a $20 million appropriation in the state’s new biennial budget, Indiana lawmakers once again affirmed their belief in a public-private partnership designed to further develop one of the state’s existing economic strengths — its life sciences industry.
“The jobs in this sector are high-paying, and the capital investments by businesses create large benefits to our economy,” says Sen. Mark Messmer, chair of the Indiana Senate Commerce and Technology Committee. The Indiana Bioscience Research Institute began four years ago with $50 million in funding. The state provided half of that start-up money, with the rest coming from the state’s universities and private firms.
The institute provides a collaborative environment for private industries and academic researchers; the state’s hope is that this public-private research results in the commercialization of new ideas, as well as advances in areas such as heart disease, diabetes and nutrition.
CSG Midwest
In April, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed into law a suite of bills that aims to curb the state’s correctional costs, reform its probation and parole systems, and increase access to community-based behavioral health programs. The enacted legislation (SB 2015HB 1041 and HB 1269) was the product of a justice reinvestment study authorized two years ago by the North Dakota Legislative Assembly in response to the state’s rapidly growing prison population.
Between 2005 and 2015, federal data show, North Dakota’s prison population increased 34 percent — the second-largest rise, behind Indiana, among the 11 Midwestern states (see map). Without action, North Dakota’s prison population was projected to grow by 36 percent between 2016 and 2022, at a cost of more than $100 million for the state.
Last year, The Council of State Governments Justice Center and a bipartisan committee of North Dakota legislators and justice system officials conducted a comprehensive review of state data to determine the causes of this trend. Two populations, the study found, were driving nearly three-quarters of the state’s prison admissions: 1) people convicted of low-level, nonviolent crimes, and 2) individuals whose probation or parole had been revoked. Within these populations, drug abuse was a driving factor behind their imprisonment.
CSG Midwest
The practice of jailing people who cannot post cash bail or pay even minor fines is being revised in Nebraska and Illinois. 
Under LB 259, signed into law by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts in May, people who fail to pay a fine in time will appear before a judge instead of automatically “sitting out” the fine in jail. Judges can choose to dismiss the fine or assign up to 20 hours of community service instead, and the rate for sitting out a fine would increase from $90 to $150 a day. The law also requires judges to consider a person’s ability to pay as one of several factors in setting bond.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Bail Reform Act (SB 2034) into law in June.
CSG Midwest
Michigan legislators gave unanimous approval in July to a bill that sets statewide rules for the retention and release of footage captured on police body cameras. HB 4427, signed into law in July, takes effect in January. It requires evidentiary recordings to be kept by law enforcement for at least 30 days. Footage related to complaints against a police officer must be retained for three years; any recording that is part of an ongoing criminal investigation must be kept until completion of the legal case.
CSG Midwest

Iowans may be able to access their driver’s licenses via a smartphone app starting in 2018, the state’s Department of Transportation announced in May. According to The Des Moines Register, a pilot program involving about 100 state employees with state-issued iPhones was conducted in 2016 with MorphoTrust USA, a contractor that provides identity-related products and services, to test how real user data were used in a variety of situations.

CSG Midwest
As the Midwest’s legislators look for ways to reduce infant mortality, prevent maternal deaths, and improve long-term outcomes for mothers and children, one policy option is to invest in home visiting.
The idea of bringing preventive services and resources to the place where families live has captured more interest, and funding, during this decade.
In 2010, the U.S. Congress created the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, and every year since then, states have received federal dollars to provide home services for vulnerable or at-risk families.

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