Capitol Comments

In 1986 a majority of the Supreme Court agreed that partisan gerrymandering may be unconstitutional in certain circumstances. But in that case and since then the Court has failed to agree on a standard for when partisan gerrymandering crosses the line. In Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone the Supreme Court again declined to adopt a standard for what constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

In Gill the Court concluded that the gerrymandering challengers failed to demonstrate they had standing to bring their lawsuit. In Benisek the Court allowed Maryland’s redistricting plan to go into effect because, among other reasons, the challengers were too delayed in bringing their lawsuit.  

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR, is currently the most direct and readily available methodology to edit DNA. Scientists are using this technology to develop drought-resistant plants, plants that do not need as much sunlight, plants that grow normally when over watered, and other variations. Since the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, announced in April that it would no longer regulate genetically edited crops, it is likely that a CRISPR-edited crop will soon come to market.The USDA decision leaves only the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, and the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, as the overseeing agencies of current CRISPR regulations. The FDA announced a Request for Comment seeking public input on their regulation of intentionally altered genomic DNA in animals in January 2018. The EPA regulates CRISPR-based innovation that would affect microbiomes, insect health and pest extermination agents.

A closer look at the Supreme Court opinion in Minnesota Voter Alliance v. Mansky reveals that the case may not be as bad as it seems for the thirty some states which prohibit campaign-related accessories or apparel at polling place.

In a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court struck down a Minnesota law which prohibits voters from wearing a political badge, political button, or anything bearing political insignia inside a polling place on Election Day. According to the Court banning all political speech is too broad. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting Minnesota.

CSG Midwest
Three years ago, Illinois became the nation’s first U.S. state with a law to help private-sector workers save for retirement via a state-facilitated savings plan. This summer, the treasurer’s office began its rollout of this potentially groundbreaking initiative, known as Secure Choice.
The program launched with a small set of voluntary employers in Illinois who agreed to automatically enroll workers through their payroll systems. But participation soon will be mandatory for many Illinois businesses — namely, those with 25 or more employees that don’t offer a 401(k) or other qualified savings plan of their own.
“By the fall of 2019, all of the employers who are required to participate in Secure Choice will be registered and enrolled and have their employees ready to go,” says Courtney Eccles, director of the program for the Illinois treasurer’s office.
CSG Midwest
Michigan has become the third Midwestern state in three years to repeal its prevailing-wage law, which requires government contractors to provide employees with union-level wages and benefits for state or local public works projects. This legislative action came in June and did not require gubernatorial action. That is because the prevailing-wage repeal was scheduled to appear on the fall ballot. Under Michigan law, the Legislature has 40 days to adopt or reject a ballot proposal. If a proposal is not enacted within this time frame, it goes to the voters. The Detroit Free Press called the Legislature’s decision “the latest blow to organized labor.”
CSG Midwest
Illinois legislators approved a bill in May that would allow family members or law enforcement officers to take action when an individual with access to a firearm is exhibiting dangerous or threatening behavior. HB 2354, known as a “red flag” law, was awaiting gubernatorial action as of mid-June. It would allow judges to issue a “firearms restraining order” (in effect for six months) if they find clear and convincing evidence that an individual “poses a significant danger of personal injury to himself, herself or another.”
CSG Midwest
Recent headlines have pointed to some of the strains (a mix of new tensions and a flare-up of longstanding conflicts) in the U.S.-Canada relationship. There have been proposed U.S. tariffs on steel, harsh words exchanged on Canadian dairy policy, and threats by President Donald Trump to end the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But dig a little deeper, and a much different story emerges — one of economic interdependence and cooperation in key areas such as energy and the environment.
“The relationship at the provincial-state level is probably as strong, if not stronger, than it has been since the mid-1980s,” says Carlo Dade, director of the Canada West Foundation’s Trade and Investment Centre, pointing, in particular, to the deeper relations built between state governors and provincial premiers.
Canada and the United States share much more than the largest binational border in the world; their peaceful relationship has contributed to economic growth in both countries as well as to the development of an intricate, integrated trading partnership.
“We are moving away from just being trading partners; now we are business associates that build things together and sell the finished products both domestically and around the world,” notes Christopher Sands, director of the Canadian Studies Program at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
This thriving cross-border supply chain is one of several critical pieces of the U.S.-Canada relationship, and much of it is centered in the Midwest.
CSG Midwest
Minnesota has become the latest state in the Midwest to enact major legislative reforms designed to improve the long-term health of its public retirement system. SF 2620 received unanimous support in the state House and Senate.
“[It] stabilizes pension benefits for 511,000 [Minnesota] workers, retirees and their families,” Gov. Mark Dayton said when he signed the bill in late May.
Before enactment of this legislation, Minnesota faced $16.2 billion in unfunded pension liabilities; the new law puts the state on a path to fully fund its retirement system within 30 years. The state will contribute $27 million in 2019 and $114 million during the next biennium. Under the law, too, public employers and current public workers will pay higher contribution rates. The state also reduced the cost-of-living adjustment for current retirees.
CSG Midwest
Five years ago, a little more than 2,000 students from 150 different U.S. university campuses were asked the following question: Have you ever decided against buying (or renting) a textbook because it was too expensive?
Sixty-five percent of the respondents to this U.S. Public Interest Research Group survey said “yes,” and nearly all of them also noted that they were concerned the decision would hurt them academically.
The survey results helped bring attention to a sometimes overlooked facet of college expenses — the cost of books and supplies. During the most recent school year, students at four-year public colleges spent an average of $1,250 on these materials, according to estimates from the College Board.
“If you walk into a Barnes & Noble, it’s hard to find any book that costs more than $40,” Minnesota Sen. Rich Draheim says. “It’s the exact opposite for college students. I understand that for specialized classes, costs are going to be high. But I think we can do better with what is offered for the more general or introductory courses.”
CSG Midwest
With one glance at the most recent U.S. rankings on solar energy, it becomes clear the Midwest has a long way to go if it wants to catch up to other regions on the use of this renewable source. Only Minnesota and Indiana placed in the top half of states as of 2017. But in a third Midwestern state, Illinois, big changes appear on the horizon, with landowners and county governments alike showing interest in making solar a new “cash crop” — whether it be on farmland, brownfields or even publicly owned property.

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