It seems a recipe for health care disaster: Combine population growth with an aging population, add expanded health insurance coverage, and … hope for the best? The growing need for health care workers of all disciplines is well recognized. Midwestern states have already moved to address the growing crisis with recruitment and retention strategies, as well as by redefining professionals’ scopes of work and expanding the use of new applications of technology such as telehealth.
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.
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.
Stuck between the reluctance to raise taxes and the omnipresent need to fix transportation systems, legislators and governors may well feel the frustration of drivers caught in traffic. In Wisconsin, for example, Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly and Senate Republicans have been at odds over how to close an almost $1 billion deficit in transportation spending. Walker’s initial $6.1 billion transportation budget, unveiled earlier this year, included a $40 million increase in general transportation aid to local governments and $500 million in borrowing.
In early May, Assembly Republicans proposed raising gasoline taxes to pay for roads while significantly cutting income taxes over the course of a decade, moving from the state’s progressive income tax to a 3.95 percent “flat tax.” Their plan includes new fees on hybrid ($30) and electric vehicles ($125) and the elimination of tax credits aimed at homeowners. It also would cut the existing 30.9-cent per-gallon fuel tax by 4.8 cents while applying the 5 percent state sales tax to fuel purchases.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated those changes would increase revenue by about $380 million over the next two years, most of which would be used to reduce the borrowing that Walker proposes (from $500 million to $200 million) and to eliminate a transfer of funding from the general fund to the transportation fund.
Gov. Walker rejected the plan’s new sales tax on gasoline, saying it amounts to a new gas tax, but has indicated that he’s open to the tolling of interstates (another proposal from Assembly leaders), if such a plan brings in revenue from out-of-state drivers and is linked to a reduction in the gas tax.
A budget all sides can accept remained elusive as of mid-June. Absent a budget in place before the state’s new fiscal year began on July 1, funding would continue at current levels until one is approved.
Since 2012, six Midwestern states — Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — have raised gas taxes to provide additional transportation funding. Collectively, half of all U.S. states have enacted transportation funding packages since 2012 to make up for the erosion of gas tax revenues by inflation, says Joung Lee, policy director at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Last summer, as insurers filed their individual health insurance plan rate premiums for 2017, it became clear that something was wrong: Rates in 31 states shot up by double digits (triple digits for Arizona); overall, the average increase in premiums was 25 percent....
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts in April signed LB 195, also known as “Cheri’s Law,” requiring that women be notified of breast tissue density following mammograms. It had passed the states’ Unicameral Legislature by a vote of 48-0.
The law requires that written notice be given to women if a mammogram reveals heterogeneous or extremely dense breast tissue. Such tissue can make breast cancer more difficult to detect. Under the new law, mammography patients must be told that a finding of dense breast tissue is normal, and that notice is being given to raise awareness and so patients can further discuss risk factors and detection methods with their doctor.
It’s an axiom, especially to those of us reared on “Schoolhouse Rock”: Bills originate in the legislative branch. That’s certainly the case throughout the Midwest — anyone can suggest a bill, but only legislators can introduce them for consideration.