Four years ago, Northwestern University Medicine researchers completed the largest-scale study to date of depression among postpartum women. The findings were surprising to some (including the researchers), and disturbing to most everyone: 14 percent of women in the study screened positive for depression, a condition among new mothers that often isn’t treated or even screened in today’s U.S. health care system.
“It’s the No. 1 complication of pregnancy,” says Jamie Zahlaway Belsito, advocacy chair for the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health.
And without effective intervention, she adds, depression during pregnancy and among new mothers can negatively impact birth outcomes, child development, and a woman’s own long-term health.
More federal resources for states to help with this public health problem will soon be on the way.
Under the U.S. 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law in late 2016, federal grants will be awarded to states to develop or strengthen programs that improve the availability of maternal depression screening and treatment. Funding priority will be given to states that propose “to improve or enhance access to screening services … in primary care settings.”
As of late October, it was not yet known exactly how much money would be appropriated for this new competitive federal grant program. According to Belsito, it most likely will be between $1 million and $5 million annually over the next five years.
In May and late June, heavy rains fell on the Maumee River, which begins in Fort Wayne in Indiana, runs through agricultural areas in northeast Ohio, and eventually flows into Lake Erie in Toledo. The river, scientists say, has high concentrations of phosphorus, and with all of the spring and summer precipitation, those nutrients discharged into the smallest of the five Great Lakes.
The end result: One of the worst observable algal blooms in Lake Erie. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, only the years 2011, 2013 and 2015 had more severe blooms. The federal agency’s findings were the latest reminder of the “poor” and “deteriorating” health of Lake Erie (see table), and of the importance of states and the province of Ontario reaching their agreed-upon goal: reduce nutrient runoff into the lake by 40 percent by 2025.
In states such as Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota, much of this year’s legislative work centered on adjusting to new budget realities — slower-than-expected revenue growth and the need to close budget shortfalls. For lawmakers in Illinois and Kansas, the highest-profile issues involved changes in school funding and increases in the income tax. And across the Midwest in 2017, including in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, many new laws were passed with the hope of stemming a public health crisis related to opioid addiction and overdoses.
Here is a state-by-state review of some of the big issues and new laws that arose out of this year’s legislative sessions.
Every Midwestern state requires drivers to have auto liability insurance. The rate that individuals pay for this insurance is based on a host of factors — some connected to their driving habits and history, others unrelated. For example, some states may have higher-than-average litigation or medical care costs; their residents pay higher premiums as a result, the Insurance Information Institute notes.
Within a state, too, premiums can vary considerably from one driver to the next. That is because, in setting rates, auto insurers use a mix of “driving factors” and “non-driving factors.” The former includes an individual’s driving record, the type of car being insured and the number of miles driven; the latter includes age, gender, marital status, credit history and where the driver lives.
Ohio may soon become the latest state in the Midwest to change its constitution with a goal of improving the rights of victims. Issue 1, also known as Marsy’s Law, will be voted on in November. Its enumerated list of rights includes privacy, notification of court proceedings, prompt conclusion of a case, protections from the accused, restitution, and the ability to refuse discovery requests made by the accused.
Wisconsin’s recently enacted state budget includes money for schools to improve students’ access to mental health services. Gov. Scott Walker signed the budget bill (AB 64) into law in September. For the first time, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers says, the state will provide funds for mental health training and partnerships between schools and community providers.
Three big developments in education finance occurred in the Midwest over the past few months — a major state Supreme Court ruling in Kansas, a new school-funding formula in Illinois, and a change in the retirement plans for Michigan teachers. Here is a brief look at what happened in each state.
Before state education officials sent off Minnesota’s plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act to the federal government, Rep. Sondra Erickson wanted to make sure one important constituency got the chance to hear about it and weigh in. That group was the state’s legislators, who four years earlier had revamped how Minnesota evaluates school performance.
The Legislature dubbed this new system the “World’s Best Workforce,” which focuses on getting students ready for success in the K-12 system (all third-graders reading at grade level, for example) and for life after high school. It measures the progress of each of the state’s schools in four main areas — standardized test scores, the closing of achievement gaps, college and career readiness, and graduation rates.
“What was important to me was that our system for federal accountability [under the ESSA] align with our existing state accountability system,” says Erickson, chair of the Minnesota House Education Innovation Policy Committee. “We don’t want to have teachers, parents and students conflicted.”
To that end, Erickson not only requested a legislative hearing on the ESSA in the 2017 omnibus education bill (HF 2), she included statutory language that the implementation plan be “consistent and aligned, to the extent practicable,” with World’s Best Workforce.
Erickson likes what she learned about the plan, saying it will provide for “continuity and consistency.”
A central tenet of the 2015 federal law was to give states more flexibility on education policy, and the ESSA has not supplanted changes made by states to their accountability systems. Instead, state ESSA plans mostly incorporate some of the new federal requirements (such as accounting for progress made by English language learners and including a measure of “school quality”) into their accountability systems.
Less than two months after a silver carp (one of four species of Asian carp) was found nine miles from Lake Michigan and beyond the three electric barriers designed to prevent their movement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled a plan that would add a new layer of protection for the Great Lakes.
For a cost of $275 million, the Corps says, a mix of structural barriers and other control measures could be installed at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam. The federal agency released its “tentatively selected plan” in August and is taking public comments through Oct. 2.