Book of the States 2011

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin’s election to the U.S. Senate in 2010 set off a series of events the state hadn’t seen in 140 years and raised questions about the line of succession to the governor’s office. The situation mirrored one in New Jersey in the early 2000s, when several governors left the office and senate presidents took on the role of “acting governor.” As in  New Jersey, the change sparked debate about the need for the office of lieutenant governor.

State fish and wildlife agencies across the U.S. are faced with an uncertain future. As the economy impacts both revenues and costs of operations, these user-funded agencies must adapt to the new realities. One innovative employee-based initiative is well underway in the state of Alabama. Substantive cost-savings and increased cost-effectiveness are already being realized.

Governors remain in the forefront of activity in the 21st century. While the governorship was not the stepping stone to the presidency for President Barack Obama as it was for our two previous presidents, Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton from Arkansas (1993–2001) and Republican Gov. George W. Bush from Texas (2001–2009), governors continue to be in the middle of addressing the problems facing our country’s weak economy. The demands on governors to propose state budgets and then keep them in balance have increased greatly during the current recession. Proposed and adopted budgets have fallen victim to severe revenue shortfalls in the states, which has placed severe limits on the states to address the many growing needs of people trying to live through these very tough times. Politically, this has led to political fallout from unhappy voters as they vent their anger and frustration toward elected leaders on election days.

The number of people being released from prisons and jails is growing steadily in the United States. In 2000, about 600,000 people were released from prison; that number grew to more than 680,000 people in 2008.1 Between 1990 and 2004, the jail population increased from approximately 400,000 people to slightly more than 700,000.2 Unfortunately, there has not been a corresponding increase in the rate of successful reintegration into the community for people released from prison. A study of 15 states found more than two-thirds of state prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested and more than half returned to prison within three years of their release.3

Voters decided 184 ballot propositions in 38 states in 2010, approving two-thirds of them. No single issue emerged as a common theme across the country, but individual states featured high-profile battles over marijuana legalization, taxes on millionaires, secret voting in union elections and health care systems. The number of initiatives—new laws brought to the ballot by citizen petition—was only 46 for the year, the lowest annual total for an even-numbered year in a quarter century.