A redrawing of the nation’s political maps is still three years away, but 2018 might someday be remembered as a year that changed how redistricting itself is done. If so, some states in the Midwest will be a big part of that story.
In Ohio and Michigan, voters may have the chance in the coming months to decide the fate of their states’ respective redistricting processes. The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, has taken on a case that centers on the current Wisconsin Assembly map and that raises questions about the constitutionality, and future, of partisan gerrymandering around the country.
Legislatures themselves, too, continue to consider making changes of their own.
Illinois will soon be accepting applications from individuals and businesses that want to participate in the state’s newly created Invest in Kids program. Established this year as part of a larger school finance bill (SB 1947), the program will provide a tax credit for contributions made to Scholarship Granting Organizations. These organizations, in turn, will provide financial assistance for lower- and middle-income students to attend a non-public school in the state.
Seeking to make greater use of their states’ prescription drug monitoring programs and to prevent opioid abuse, Illinois and Michigan lawmakers have established new requirements for prescribers. These measures were signed into law in December.
Wisconsin legislators have ended a decades-long prohibition on the cultivation of industrial hemp with the hope of opening new economic opportunities for the state’s farmers. Gov. Scott Walker signed SB 119 in November after it received unanimous support in the state House and Assembly.
As of February 2017, nine states, including two in the Midwest, had some kind of automatic admissions policy in place, according to the Education Commission of the States. These policies guarantee that an in-state student will be admitted to a public university if he or she meets certain academic criteria.
South Dakota joined that list of states this fall, when the state Department of Education announced a new “proactive admissions initiative.” To be eligible, high school students must meet one of two benchmarks: 1) perform at a certain level on the state-administered assessment of math and English skills, or 2) have an ACT composite score of 18 or higher.
At the peak of North Dakota’s oil boom, some schools in the western part of the state not only were employing teachers, but began housing them as well — in duplexes, triplexes or mobile housing units, Sen. David Rust recalls. This school-as-landlord idea has been one of the more dramatic actions taken in recent years to address the shortage of teachers.
More recently, housing costs have subsided in North Dakota’s oil country (“They’re still higher than we would like to see,” Rust says), but the lack of qualified teacher candidates persists there, as well as in many communities across the state.
In late October, an open letter detailing “#MeToo” stories in Illinois government became part of the larger national story about sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment. “Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail,” the letter begins. “Misogyny is alive and well in this industry.”
It then recounts specific stories of unwanted sexual advances, crude jokes, and inappropriate texts and comments. “Illinois deserves responsible stewards of power. Let’s demand better,” concludes the letter, signed by more than 300 legislators, lobbyists, staffers and policymakers.
It didn’t take long for the General Assembly to respond.
Because of the timing of the letter, the national #MeToo movement and a fall veto session, Illinois became one of the first states to pass legislation in the wake of the heightened awareness about sexual discrimination and harassment.
Concerns about twin, 64-year-old pipelines located under the Straits of Mackinac (which connect lakes Michigan and Huron) led to a new agreement in late November between the state of Michigan and Enbridge. In announcing the deal, Gov. Rick Snyder said “business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable.” According to the Detroit Free Press, the state has been frustrated about a “lack of forthrightness” regarding the safety of these pipelines, which are known as “Line 5” and carry up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids every day.
Up to 15 communities in Michigan now have the chance to become “Promise Zones,” areas of the state where local students are ensured access to college scholarships. SB 98, signed into law in November, increased the reach of a program that has been in place since 2008. Prior to the new law, the number of communities was limited to 10.