Brian Seasholes doesn’t think the Endangered Species Act does a very good job of protecting the at-risk species it was designed to preserve. Seasholes, a research fellow at the Reason Foundation whose work focuses on wildlife and land-use issues, was the featured speaker at a recent CSG eCademy session, “Bringing a Collaborative Approach to the Endangered Species Act.” He said the act, which was passed in 1973, is a stronger law than most members of Congress realized at the time. If you harm an endangered species or even its unoccupied habitat, you can be subject to up to a $100,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

While the country has been enjoying a surge in domestic energy production due to hydraulic fracturing, it has led to more development of wells close to homes and, in some cases, within city limits. Some cities are pushing back. Residents of the city of Denton, Texas, in November 2014 passed a ballot to ban hydraulic fracturing—often called fracking—within city limits, making it the first major Texas city to do so and igniting a public policy debate. In Texas, state law gives the railroad commission authority and jurisdiction over oil and gas wells. State law, however, also gives local governments the power to impose reasonable health and safety regulations—a specific concern cited in the ballot initiative language for the ban.

State verses local control is not a new issue, but it is an important one for the nation’s top oil and gas producer and is likely to be settled by the courts or the state legislature.

CSG Midwest logo
The foreclosure crisis that followed the 2008 housing crash has resulted in a high volume of vacant properties across the nation. According to U.S. Census Bureau data for the last quarter of 2013, 10.2 percent of all housing units — 13.6 million — were vacant year-round. And while the housing market may be showing signs of improvement, more than 1.2 million properties are still in some stage of foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate information firm specializing in foreclosed and defaulted properties.
High foreclosure and vacancy rates are not only symptomatic of economic problems; they contribute to them and are linked with increases in crime and declines in home values and local property tax revenue.
In response, some states — including Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio in the Midwest — have instituted local land banks: public entities that acquire and manage tax-foreclosed properties.

Rates of foreclosure are at levels not seen the 1930s, and some communities in the Midwest have been particularly hard hit by a rise in the number of blighted properties. States are responding with new measures and investigations designed to help troubled communities and homeowners.