Capitol Comments

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
Reduced federal and state investments in public health over the past decade.
Fewer workers in state and local health departments.
Growing numbers of people with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and other underlying conditions.
Inequities in the types of services and health infrastructure needed to keep individuals and whole communities well.
They all added up to a country vulnerable to being hit hard by a transmissible disease such as COVID-19, two public health experts said to legislators during a July webinar of The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Legislative Conference.
Their message: Learn the hard lessons taught by the COVID-19 pandemic, and embed them in future policy decisions about public health. “We’re willing to spend a lot of money without question when people get sick, but we don’t spend very much money to stop people from becoming sick,” John Auerbach, president and CEO of the Trust for America’s Health, said to legislators participating in the webinar.
CSG Midwest
This spring, as schools across the nation shut down in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, North Dakota and broadband service providers in the state stepped up.
The result was a quick reduction in what has been dubbed the “homework gap.”
“What’s really impressive is that in a matter of weeks, North Dakota was able to get 90 percent of unconnected student homes hooked up to broadband,” Jack Lynch, state engagement director for the nonprofit group EducationSuperHighway, said during a July 30 webinar held by three committees of The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Legislative Conference.
The gap in student access to internet connectivity is nothing new. What’s changed, though, is the urgency among state policymakers to address the problem, as schools rely more on remote learning to replace some or all in-person instruction and to ensure the continuity of learning if buildings have to be closed due to health- or weather-related events.

CSG Midwest
As most states in the Midwest entered a new fiscal year in July, the unknowns about FY 2021, and beyond, far outweighed the knowns. Will more federal assistance be made available to help close budget shortfalls? How big will those shortfalls be? Will the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic be felt the entire fiscal year?
“It’s been very hard for states to forecast given the uncertainty of the public health emergency,” Shelby Kerns, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said during a July webinar of The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Legislative Conference.
But she told legislators of one unmistakable fiscal reality: “States will be grappling with the impact of COVID-19 for years to come.”
The options to fix out-of-balance budgets fall into three broad categories: cut spending, raise more revenue or tap into savings. But some of the specific strategies traditionally used by legislators may not be available this time around. “What’s different about this fiscal crisis is the public health emergency, which can limit or change some of the options,” Kerns said. “In addition to increased spending being required to respond to the pandemic, some cuts may be impossible, or least unwise.”

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