Three years in the making, a new Ohio law is being lauded as a possible model for states across the country looking for ways to deal with the problem of abandoned, blighted properties. HB 390, which took effect this fall, establishes a “fast track” foreclosure process. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the process has sometimes taken two or three years, during which time the vacant property can become a problem for surrounding homes and an entire community.
Median household income levels rose and poverty rates fell between 2014 and 2015 in states across the Midwest, recently released U.S. Census Bureau statistics show. Wisconsin’s year-by-year rise in household income was 5.6 percent ($52,709 to $55,638), highest in the region and one of the sharpest gains in the country.
In an effort to curb the number of deaths occurring in their state due to gun violence, Illinois legislators are cracking down on people who illegally sell firearms. Signed into law this summer, HB 6303 makes it a felony for a person who has not been issued a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card to bring guns into Illinois with the intent of selling or delivering them.
From the high-profile race for president to the often-overlooked campaigns that will determine partisan control of state legislatures, voters have plenty of reasons to participate in this year’s general elections. But tens of millions of U.S. citizens almost certainly will not.
Thousands of 4-year-olds in Minnesota are attending prekindergarten classes this fall as the result of a $25 million investment made by the Legislature. With this money, the state targets aid for school districts and charter schools that serve high numbers of low-income students as well as areas with limited access to high-quality prekindergarten programs.
Some school districts in South Dakota are using new state incentives that allow them to share teachers and, in the process, expand learning opportunities for their students. As part of a package of bills passed by the Legislature to address a shortage of teachers (HB 1182 and SBs 131 and 133), the state created the Employee Shared Service Grant program. The grants last for three years, with aid to the participating districts gradually dropping over that time period. With these grants, districts are hiring and sharing Spanish, arts, and English-language-learner teachers.
Before the night she suffered a severe allergic reaction that took her life nine days later, 13-year-old Annie LeGere had grown up with only minor allergy symptoms. There was no reason for her, her family or her health providers to believe she should have a prescription to an epinephrine autoinjector, the emergency treatment that can save lives in cases of anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction, most commonly to food).
But what if the first people often to respond to a medical emergency (including in Annie’s case) — local police officers — could carry these autoinjectors and be trained on how to administer them? The minutes saved by administering the drug on-site rather than in an emergency room could be the difference between life and death.
In Illinois, these officers now will have the opportunity, thanks to a bill passed this year (HB 4462) known as Annie’s Law. One of the leading proponents of HB 4462, Illinois Sen. Chris Nybo, worked closely on the measure with Annie’s family, which has created a foundation in her name with the goal of preventing future tragedies.
Right now in Iowa, it’s no sure bet that a child in need of mental health services is going to get them. Instead, access can depend on where his or her family happens to live. “There is no statewide system or network of care in place, and over the long term, we need to develop it because there are clear gaps,” explains Anne Gruenwald, president and CEO of Four Oaks, a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit agency that provides a range of services for children in need.
“When you have those gaps, needs go unmet, or we have to rely on our adult system of care — and that’s not always a good fit.” Iowa appears to be taking some important first steps, thanks to the recommendations of a work group formed by the Legislature in 2015 and actions taken by lawmakers during their 2016 session.
Come November, voters in the Midwest won’t just be deciding on who their state legislators, governors and other elected officials will be. They also will directly decide the future of a wide range of public policies — for example, whether to impose the death penalty in Nebraska and how to set legislative salaries in Minnesota.
As of early September, 20 proposals in seven Midwestern states had been certified for the November elections, according to Ballotpedia.org. They include a mix of legislatively referred constitutional amendments and citizen-initiated proposals, as well as attempts to overturn recent state legislative actions.
The U.S. Department of Labor unveiled a new rule in August that it hopes will remove uncertainties about the role of states in administering retirement plans for private-sector workers. Thus far, eight U.S. states, including Illinois (SB 2758, enacted in 2014), have passed laws to create payroll-deduction IRA programs. They are designed to help individuals who don’t have workplace savings arrangements such as a 401(k) plan. (One-third of U.S. workers do not have access to retirement savings plans through their employer.)