Capitol Comments

In Idaho to get a citizen’s initiative on the ballot, petitioners must obtain signatures from six percent of electors by April 30. Reclaim Idaho asked to be temporarily allowed to gather signatures online due to COVID-19. It sued after state government officials informed it that Idaho statutes don’t allow electronic signatures for petitions and the governor didn’t intend to take executive action.

As the Supreme Court explained, “[t]he District Court in...

A federal district court has ruled that as long as there is a declared national health emergency related to COVID-19, the public charge rule may not go into effect.

Immigrants who are deemed a “public charge” are ineligible to receive green cards/lawful permanent resident status. The most recent definition of public charge, adopted in 1999, included immigrants who demonstrated a need for “institutionalization for...

The presence of federal officers in Portland has generated significant litigation. Two of the cases brought so far get to the heart of a big question for local governments nationally:  what authority do federal officers have to do police work in local communities?

Both lawsuits...

In Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak the Supreme Court allowed the Nevada governor’s COVID-19 restrictions on the number of people who may attend religious services to stand.

The lower courts refused to grant the church an injunction in this case so they...

CSG Midwest
As most states in the Midwest entered a new fiscal year in July, the unknowns about FY 2021, and beyond, far outweighed the knowns. Will more federal assistance be made available to help close budget shortfalls? How big will those shortfalls be? Will the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic be felt the entire fiscal year?
“It’s been very hard for states to forecast given the uncertainty of the public health emergency,” Shelby Kerns, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said during a July webinar of The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Legislative Conference.
But she told legislators of one unmistakable fiscal reality: “States will be grappling with the impact of COVID-19 for years to come.”
The options to fix out-of-balance budgets fall into three broad categories: cut spending, raise more revenue or tap into savings. But some of the specific strategies traditionally used by legislators may not be available this time around. “What’s different about this fiscal crisis is the public health emergency, which can limit or change some of the options,” Kerns said. “In addition to increased spending being required to respond to the pandemic, some cuts may be impossible, or least unwise.”
CSG Midwest
Already one of the seven Midwestern states that limited schools’ non-emergency use of physical restraints and seclusion on students, Wisconsin has a new law that further restricts these techniques, while also strengthening the rules on training, data collection and parental notification.
SB 527 was signed by Gov. Tony Evers in March.
“This is a pretty tough issue, and every time we take it on it takes a long time and many redrafts of the legislation,” says Wisconsin Sen. Luther Olsen, primary sponsor of SB 527, as well as the state’s original law from 2012 on physical restraint and seclusion. “You have people coming from very different sides — advocates for students and children with disabilities, and advocates for schools. You want to get to a place where you’re protecting everybody.”
CSG Midwest
In their federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan, seven students of Detroit’s public schools told of buildings that were unsafe and of classrooms that were unfit for learning.
The smell of “dead vermin and black mold in hallways.”
Teachers absent as many as 50 days a year.
Classes run by substitute teachers, paraprofessionals or even the students themselves.
Out-of-date textbooks having to be shared by multiple students.
Classroom temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, or freezing cold other times of the year.
“The basic thesis of the case was that these were schools in name only, and they were not capable of delivering even basic literacy instruction,” says Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel, the largest pro bono law firm in the nation and an attorney for the student-plaintiffs. “As a result, the students were not being put in a position where they could better their circumstances or where they could be meaningful participants in a democracy.”

CSG Midwest
In a series of roundtables that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem held with agriculture and energy groups, one issue that came up repeatedly was the need for consistency in the state’s widely variable county special and conditional permitting processes.
Before SB 157 became law in March, county zoning rules in South Dakota varied from none to very restrictive.
Noem told a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing in February that it revises county planning and zoning laws in ways that will keep permitting “fair, open and honest” by creating “a more predictable process for businesses and families that want to create or expand agriculture or energy infrastructure.”
CSG Midwest
Eight minutes and 46 seconds. That’s how long Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck while three other officers stood by and watched as Floyd died.
Twenty rounds. That’s how many shots were fired by three Louisville, Ky., police officers into the home of Breonna Taylor as they executed a no-knock search warrant, killing her as she slept.
Twelve years old. That’s how old Tamir Rice was when he was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer while holding a pellet gun in a public park.
This list can go on and on.
According to The Washington Post, 5,424 people have been shot and killed by police since Jan. 1, 2015. (See sidebar for state-by-state data for the Midwest.) African Americans make up 24 percent of those shot and killed by police; in 353 of these 1,298 incidents, the individual possessed neither a gun nor a knife. (African Americans make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population.) 

The question the Supreme Court will decided in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski is whether the government changing a policy after a lawsuit has been filed renders the case moot if the plaintiff has only asked for nominal damages.

Georgia Gwinnett College students Chike Uzuegbunam and Joseph Bradford sued the college over its Freedom of Expression policy, which only allowed students to engage in expressive activities in two designated areas after getting a...

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