In 2016, drivers distracted by their phones or other devices caused 1,230 crashes on Iowa roads, nearly double the number from a decade ago, state statistics show. This year, the state’s lawmakers passed two bills to crack down on these motorists.
Indiana has become the latest state in the Midwest to raise the gas tax and user-based fees to generate more revenue for its transportation infrastructure. The 10-cent increase on motor fuels takes effect on July 1; it will result in Hoosier motorists paying a total of 28 cents per gallon of gasoline. In subsequent years, through 2024, Indiana’s gas tax will be indexed to inflation, though annual increases will be limited to 1 cent per gallon.
Some Medicaid recipients in Wisconsin will have to submit to drug screenings and tests if federal officials give the OK to a demonstration waiver submitted by the state in April. This new requirement would apply to childless adults who are eligible for health insurance through the BadgerCare Plus program. As a condition of eligibility, individuals would have to complete a state-administered questionnaire. If the answers indicate possible abuse of a controlled substance, a drug test would be required. For anyone who tests positive, Medicaid eligibility would be contingent on completing a substance-abuse treatment program.
A quarter-century has passed since a U.S. Supreme Court decision limited the ability of states to collect taxes from the remote sales of out-of-state retailers. Legislators wanting to secure that taxing authority — which they say is critical to maintaining state revenue bases and helping brick-and-mortar businesses — believe a reversal of Quill Corp. v. North Dakota may finally be on the horizon.
“I do believe Quill will get overturned; it’s just a matter of time,” North Dakota Sen. Dwight Cook says. And one of the U.S. states most reliant on the sales tax as a revenue source, South Dakota, might bring the case that “kills Quill.”
A year ago, South Dakota lawmakers passed a bill requiring most retailers without a physical presence in the state to remit the state’s sales tax. SB 106 applies to sellers with 200 or more annual transactions in South Dakota or whose gross revenue from sales in the state exceed $100,000. This year, Indiana (HB 1129) and North Dakota (SB 2298) passed “economic nexus” laws of their own.
At a time of general wariness across the country regarding the use of standardized tests in schools (54 percent of respondents to a 2015 national survey said they are “not helpful”), Indiana lawmakers have tried to deal with a particular problem in their state.
“It came to a point where the ISTEP had become like the Ford Edsel,” Indiana Rep. Bob Behning says.
ISTEP+ is Indiana’s statewide assessment system, and over the past few years, its unpopularity grew amid reports of long delays in getting results, software glitches, scoring errors, and concerns about the amount of classroom time being spent on the test.
Last year, the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill ensuring that ISTEP+ would indeed go the way of the Edsel. This year, under a bill signed into law in April (HB 1003), lawmakers set parameters for a new assessment system, which will be known as I-LEARN and take effect during the 2018-19 school year.
Take a look at the longer-term trends in maternal mortality rates, and you see one of the great success stories in modern-day public health: In 1900, for every 1,000 live births, up to nine women were dying of pregnancy-related complications; a century later, that rate had declined by almost 99 percent.
But the story told by more recent data is less clear, and more troubling.
According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the number of reported pregnancy-related deaths increased between 1987 and 2013 — from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births to 17.3 in 2013. Better reporting (for example, the addition of a pregnancy check box on state death certificates) is one explanation for the increase. Another reason, though, may be that pregnancy-related deaths are actually on the rise. The CDC notes, for example, that more pregnant women have conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and chronic heart disease that may put them at a higher risk of complications.
South Dakota legislators agreed this year to provide new tax incentives for private landowners who help protect the state’s water resources from agricultural runoff. The goal of SB 66 is to encourage the use of buffer strips that filter out nutrients and keep these pollutants from reaching a water body.
A new law in Kansas will bar “do not resuscitate” or similar physician’s orders for unemancipated minors unless at least one parent or guardian has been told of the intent to issue such an order. SB 85 requires that parental notice be given orally and in writing, and prohibits a DNR or similar orders if there is a refusal of consent. Also under this measure, the minor’s medical record must include information about the DNR order and the nature of efforts to contact both parents.
State legislators in the Midwest are exploring a range of policy options this year that would give students greater access to computer-related courses while also providing instructors more tools for teaching in these subject areas.
These proposals mostly steer away from state mandates and focus instead on incentives for schools and more choices for students. Iowa’s SF 274, for example (passed by the Senate in March), would create a new state-level incentive fund to help schools build instructional expertise among their teachers.
Only a few months after celebrating key congressional victories at the end of 2016, Great Lakes advocates are now fighting to prevent a complete elimination of funding for a federal program that has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into projects that protect habitat, stop the spread of invasive species and clean up “Areas of Concern.”
President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for an end to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It says “specific regional efforts,” such as those related to the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, should instead be the responsibility of state and local entities.