According to the Council for Economic Education’s “Survey of States,” which analyzes and compares laws across the nation, every state in the Midwest shares at least one policy — the inclusion of personal finance in its K-12 standards. But from there, the policies of states diverge, and they’ve also been changing in recent years due to the enactment of new laws.
The number of people with disabilities working for the state of Minnesota has risen considerably over the past four years, reflecting a concerted effort across agencies to improve outreach, recruitment and hiring practices. The latest state figures show that 7 percent of the workforce has a disability of some kind — the goal set by Gov. Mark Dayton in a 2014 executive order. “We need a state workforce that reflects the diverse populations we serve,” Minnesota Management and Buget Commissioner Myron Frans says.
Ohio has become the latest state in the Midwest to address school safety through a mix of new laws and funding. Under HB 318, signed into law in August, a $12 million grant program will be established for schools to pursue training in a number of areas, from how to deal with an active shooter to how to help students with mental health issues. Over the next few months, too, the Ohio Department of Public Safety will conduct studies of school security in order to ensure the proper infrastructure is in place to keep students safe.
One particular emphasis of Ohio’s new law is school resource officers. HB 318 establishes new qualifications and training requirements for these police officers working inside schools, while also specifying the type of services that they can provide (for example, fostering problem-solving strategies and contributing to emergency management plans).
Later this year, South Dakotans will vote on whether the state should have a higher bar for changing the Constitution. Under the proposal, placed on the ballot this year by the Legislature, constitutional amendments would require approval of 55 percent of the votes cast.
Illinois lawmakers have changed the process for investigating claims of inappropriate behavior in the legislative branch, a move that proponents say will give individuals more confidence to report inappropriate behavior. HB 138 was signed into law in June. With the statutory change, the Legislative Inspector General can conduct independent investigations into sexual harassment allegations without obtaining consent from the Legislative Ethics Commission — a bipartisan group of Illinois representatives and senators.
Last fall, nine Lake Erie experts identified specific strategies that they viewed as most important to reducing phosphorus runoff and preventing harmful algal blooms in the lake’s western basin. As of early June, Ohio legislators were moving toward passage of a bill backing those scientists’ findings with state dollars.
“That was the blueprint — use those evidence-based strategies and then target the funds to critical areas in the sub-watersheds [of the western basin],” says Rep. Steven Arndt. Ohio admittedly has a long way to go to reach its target — a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loads by 2025. That is the amount specified in binational agreements between the United States and Canada and among the governments of Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.
As part of what state officials say is the strictest set of lead and copper standards in the nation, Michigan will require all of the state’s public water systems to replace their lead service lines. Starting in 2021, the Detroit Free Press reports, each public water system must replace, on average, 5 percent of its lead service pipes per year over a 20-year period, with water customers paying for most of the estimated $2.5 billion price tag.
For the fiscal year that began in July, Illinois assumed a revenue boost that it and most states have long been waiting to get on the books — tax collections from remote sales. The state’s assumption is $150 million, based on the nine months that those collections can begin after Illinois’ “economic nexus” law takes effect this fall. (Spread over the course of a full fiscal year, the estimate rises to $200 million.)
In the years ahead, this revenue source is expected to be part of budget estimates and collections in every Midwestern state, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 21 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair(unlike Illinois, most states did not include an increase from online sales tax collections in their FY 2019 estimates).
By a vote of 5-4, the justices overturned a 1992 ruling, Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, that had barred states and local governments from requiring vendors with no physical presence in the state to collect sales taxes. In the years since Quill, online transactions skyrocketed, calls among brick-and-mortar businesses for sales-tax fairness intensified, and multiple attempts at congressional action (always an alternative to a new court decision) failed.
“Hooray for South Dakota,” John Hicks, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said, noting the state’s passage of legislation in 2016 that became the basis for challenging, and eventually overturning, Quill.
For policymakers interested in getting innovative energy bills signed into law, the nation’s capital is the last place to be, a former U.S. governor told the Midwest’s legislators in July. Instead, he said, go to Springfield, Lansing or the many other state capitals where policy breakthroughs have occurred.
At any given time, Ritter noted during a session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting, his center is tracking up to 4,500 state-level energy bills. Legislatures not only are brimming with new ideas, he added, but they remain a place where compromises can be forged — across party lines and among competing stakeholder groups.
“There may be partisanship at the state level, but it is oftentimes not intractable,” Ritter said. “It’s not the kind of partisanship where conversations break down.”
Michigan and Illinois provide two cases in point. Lawmakers there successfully built support for measures (SB 437 and 438 in Michigan, and SB 2814 in Illinois) that are now viewed as cornerstones of the two states’ energy futures.
For his first job out of college, psychologist Mark Weist went to work at a mental health center, splitting his time between providing services at the center and a local school. The differences in the two settings were dramatic.
“At the mental health center, people weren’t showing up,” Weist, a professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, said during a presentation at this year’s Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting. “We’d be scheduled to see six or seven families in a day, for example, and only somewhere between one and three showed up.
“But in schools, there was this tremendous pent-up need for services.”
That experience nearly 30 years ago has led Weist to become a national leader in efforts to bring the mental health system into the schools, allowing community practitioners to work alongside school psychologists, nurses, social workers and counselors. He listed multiple benefits of school-based mental health: better identifying students in need, improving service access and use, and reducing barriers to learning.