Tim Anderson

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CSG Midwest
As they met at an unusual time of year for legislative session — namely the middle of summer, due to the postponement of session days caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — Nebraska lawmakers faced a familiar challenge: How can we reduce the property tax burden for homeowners, farmers and businesses? Their answer was passage of LB 1107, a bill being hailed by proponents as a major breakthrough after previous years of trying to address this perennially high-priority issue.
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.”
CSG Midwest
Already one of the seven Midwestern states that limited schools’ non-emergency use of physical restraints and seclusion on students, Wisconsin has a new law that further restricts these techniques, while also strengthening the rules on training, data collection and parental notification.
SB 527 was signed by Gov. Tony Evers in March.
“This is a pretty tough issue, and every time we take it on it takes a long time and many redrafts of the legislation,” says Wisconsin Sen. Luther Olsen, primary sponsor of SB 527, as well as the state’s original law from 2012 on physical restraint and seclusion. “You have people coming from very different sides — advocates for students and children with disabilities, and advocates for schools. You want to get to a place where you’re protecting everybody.”
CSG Midwest
In their federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan, seven students of Detroit’s public schools told of buildings that were unsafe and of classrooms that were unfit for learning.
The smell of “dead vermin and black mold in hallways.”
Teachers absent as many as 50 days a year.
Classes run by substitute teachers, paraprofessionals or even the students themselves.
Out-of-date textbooks having to be shared by multiple students.
Classroom temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, or freezing cold other times of the year.
“The basic thesis of the case was that these were schools in name only, and they were not capable of delivering even basic literacy instruction,” says Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel, the largest pro bono law firm in the nation and an attorney for the student-plaintiffs. “As a result, the students were not being put in a position where they could better their circumstances or where they could be meaningful participants in a democracy.”

CSG Midwest
As part of her study of the nation’s state legislative institutions, on topics such as term limits and oversight of the executive branch, Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson found herself viewing old, archived committee hearings in Michigan from a few decades ago.
The subject was turkey habitats. The place was a cramped committee room in Lansing. Led by two lawmakers — one Democrat, one Republican — the legislative branch was grilling members of the executive branch on implementation of a law to protect the state’s population of wild turkeys.
“They were sharing notes and drilling down with an incredible amount of knowledge, about the law and about turkeys,” she says. “It was a gold standard in legislative oversight.”
That work in Michigan was being done largely outside the public eye, on a subject not likely to win or lose anyone an election. Yet this bipartisan group of lawmakers found it to be an integral part of their responsibility.
“I would hope that legislators see oversight as a big part of their job, at least one-third of it,” says Sarbaugh-Thompson, a professor of political science at Wayne State University. “If we’re spending the money [on a program, agency or regulation], we ought to want to make sure it’s going where it’s supposed to go and that it’s working.”
CSG Midwest
Indiana has received federal approval of a first-of-its-kind program that helps individuals transition from Medicaid to employer-based health coverage or a plan in the individual marketplace. The new “workforce bridge” builds on the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP), which is used by the state to expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults.
Each HIP participant has $2,500 placed in an account each year to use for health care expenses. But what happens when someone no longer qualifies for HIP, due to a new job or other factors that cause his or her income to rise above eligibility thresholds?
Previously, participants lost the ability to use any funds in their state-funded account. However, with implementation of the HIP Workforce Bridge, members leaving the Healthy Indiana Plan can continue to use up to $1,000 from their account for up to 12 months in order to pay premiums, deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance during their transition to other types of coverage.

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