Starting in August, North Dakota stores will have the option of being open for business on Sunday mornings, the result of a legislative change this year that repealed the state’s longstanding “blue” laws. HB 1097 was signed in March by Gov. Doug Burgum. He hailed the measure as supporting “freedom, fairness and local control,” as well as a way to help the state’s Main Street businesses compete with online retailers.
The U.S. state with the nation’s lowest unemployment rate (2.3 percent as of March) will try to attract more skilled workers with $6 million worth of new scholarships and loan repayments. North Dakota’s HB 1171 seeks to address what many policymakers have said is the state’s No. 1 economic issue — workforce shortages.
As part of a national movement that has states re-examining their laws on rape and marriage, Minnesota legislators have removed statutory language that allowed for a “pre-existing relationship defense” in cases of criminal sexual assault. HF 15 was signed into law in early May by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.
Four years ago, Michigan legislators began funding a pilot farm-to-school project with at least two goals: One, get more fresh fruit, vegetables and legumes on the plates of K-12 students; two, open up new markets for local farmers. On both counts, state officials and national leaders in the farm-to-school movement say, the Michigan experiment is showing signs of success.
“It is a gold standard program,” Helen Dombalis, senior director of programs and policy for the National Farm to School Network, says of Michigan’s 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms. “Other states are looking at it as a model.”
Administered by the Michigan Department of Education, the program provides matching funds to school districts — equal to 10 cents per school meal — to purchase food products from nearby farms. Over three school years, the number of students served through the pilot project has risen from 48,000 to 135,000, and the legislative appropriation for 10 Cents a Meal has increased from $250,000 to $575,000.
Two of the Midwest’s newly elected governors — one Democrat, one Republican — shared a similar message to legislatures in their first-ever State of the State addresses: It’s time to invest more in our transportation and water infrastructures.
DeWine referred to his proposed 18-cent-per-gallon hike — which would raise an estimated $1.2 billion a year — as a “minimalist, conservative approach ... the absolute bare minimum we need to protect our families and our economy.”
A legal dispute in Indiana over private property rights and the public trust doctrine ended in February when the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear the case. In 2018, Indiana’s Supreme Court ruled that public use of the Lake Michigan shoreline extended to the lake’s “natural ordinary high water mark.” Some lakefront property owners argued that the “water’s edge” should instead be used as the legal dividing line. The Indiana justices disagreed: “At a minimum, walking below the natural [ordinary high water mark] along the shores of Lake Michigan is a protected public use.”
Illinois has joined the growing number of Midwestern states to raise the minimum wage for workers. Six years from now, when SB 1 gets fully phased in, the wage floor for Illinois workers age 18 and older will be $15 an hour. That will be the highest minimum wage in the Midwest; four other U.S. states have adopted $15-an-hour laws.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of the start of this year, six states in the region — Illinois ($8.25 per hour), Michigan ($9.25), Minnesota ($9.86), Nebraska ($9), Ohio ($8.55) and South Dakota ($9.10) — had minimum wages higher than the federal government’s ($7.25). Under the laws in Minnesota, Ohio and South Dakota, wages are adjusted automatically every year to account for changes in the cost of living. In late 2018, with the passage of SB 1171, Michigan legislators eliminated their state’s inflationary adjustment while also increasing the minimum wage. The hourly rate rose to $9.45 in March and will increase to $12.05 by 2030.
Within weeks of being sworn into office, two of the Midwest’s newly elected governors took action on gun legislation, though the two measures have very different aims. South Dakota’s SB 47 was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Kristi Noem. It allows individuals to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. South Dakota joins two other Midwestern states (Kansas and North Dakota are the others) with so-called “constitutional carry” laws, according to the National Rifle Association. South Dakota still has restrictions on who can carry a concealed weapon, The (Sioux Falls) Argus Leader reports, and individuals may still want a permit for reciprocity with other states.
The Midwest is expected to lose three congressional seats and electoral college votes — and maybe more — during the nation’s next reapportionment, the political consulting firm Election Data Services notes in its most recent analysis of population trends.
The firm’s findings are based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates from December. That data show Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota losing one seat each. Ohio also loses one when trends are projected to 2020 — the year when populations are calculated to determine each state’s number of U.S. House seats. These numbers also impact the distribution of federal funds to states and local communities.
With few exceptions, the Midwest’s legislatures have more women serving in them this year than in 2018. And in six of the region’s states — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio — the numbers are at historic highs.
Why the jump? Why is there a gender gap in politics? What kind of effect does more female representation have on policymaking? Those questions have been the subject of much political science research over decades, and the answers are sometimes simple, sometimes complex. Here is what CSG Midwest learned in a interview with Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.