Wisconsin appears likely to become the first U.S. state to establish a “Green Alert” system to help locate at-risk, missing veterans, The Washington Post reports. SB 473 was passed by the state Senate in January. Under the proposal, law enforcement agencies would use the state’s crime alert network (administered by the Wisconsin Department of Justice) to send along reports of missing veterans to broadcasters and outdoor advertisers. Similar alert systems already are in place in many states (including Wisconsin) for children, seniors and certain at-risk adults.
Michigan will be keeping a closer eye on the long-term fiscal health of its local governments under legislation signed into law in late 2017. SB 686 aims to address concerns about unfunded liabilities in pension and retiree health care systems.
Wisconsin lawmakers have eliminated a decades-old state property tax that had been used to protect public and private forestlands. This change will result in savings of about $27 for the average homeowner and an annual loss in state revenue of approximately $90 million, the MilwaukeeJournal Sentinel reports. The state will instead use general-fund dollars to pay for programs related to fire prevention, pest control, land acquisition, recreation and overall forest health.
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.