Minnesota

CSG Midwest
For lawmakers, the results of some legislative actions can be seen almost immediately — allocate funding to repair a road, for example, and it’s likely to get fixed soon. But there are other areas where the effects of a new state investment or policy only will be evident over the longer haul. In Minnesota, Rep. Rick Hansen says, that will be the case with his state’s commitment to pollinator conservation.
“Important work is often slow and results aren’t immediate,” he adds, “but you hope they are steady.”
Minnesota is leading the Midwest, and most of the nation, in efforts to protect and promote the population of pollinators. About one of every three bites of food we eat require direct pollinators, and indirectly, pollinators play a role in 75 percent of what we eat. The Midwest is home to thousands of pollinator species, including more than 400 species of native bees. But the pollinator population is at risk due to disease, the effects of pesticides, climate change and loss of habitat.
“Comprehensive policy work and habitat changes take time, something that may be limited for our pollinators,” Hansen says.
What can a state do to help? Starting in 2014, Minnesota has taken several steps, all with a focus “on supporting good science so that public dollars are used efficiently,” Hansen says.
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Six years ago, with a $2 million legislative appropriation, Minnesota launched a pilot program to help some of that state’s most at-risk students — young learners who lack stable or adequate housing. The state began partnering with schools and local organizations to provide vulnerable families with subsidies that helped pay their rent over two school years. The goals: Stabilize housing and prevent homelessness, thus improving school attendance and, over the long term, academic performance among these students.
The early results, says Eric Grumdahl, were a “powerful signal” that this kind of intervention worked.
Ninety percent of the pilot program’s students with a known housing status were stably housed. (All of them had entered the program experiencing housing instability or school changes.) Further, these young people were more likely to be attending school on a regular basis than their homeless peers.
“That encouraged us to take this to a larger scale,” adds Grumdahl, who works for Minnesota’s Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Education.
The “larger-scale,” permanent program is now called Homework Starts with Home, and the Legislature appropriated $3.5 million for it this biennium as part of Minnesota Housing’s base budget.
The hope among legislators is to reach more young people, and to stop what can be a destructive cycle — homeless students are much more likely to fall behind and drop out of school; individuals who don’t complete high school are at a much higher risk of homelessness as young adults.
“The more children have to change schools [because of housing instability], the further they fall behind,” notes Barbara Duffield, executive director of the nonprofit SchoolHouse Connection, which advocates for policies that help these students. “They’re losing time and they’re losing coursework. At the same time, they’re also losing attachments to friends and teachers, and all of those emotional pieces of stability.”
Not surprisingly, then, the achievement gaps between homeless students and their peers are wide. Nationwide, for example, less than two-thirds of homeless youths graduate from high school on time. That compares to 84 percent among all students, and 77 percent among low-income students who have stable housing.
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As of September, Illinois and Minnesota were among the 15 U.S. states that banned all drivers from using handheld devices, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. These are all primary enforcement laws, which means that police can stop drivers for violating the ban; no other infraction needs to have occurred. (With secondary offenses, officers must have first stopped the driver for another violation.)
CSG Midwest

Under a new law that took effect in August (HF 50), drivers in Minnesota can only use voice commands or single-touch activation on their phones to make calls and texts. Violators of the state’s “hands-free” statute will be ticketed $50, plus court fees; the penalty is $275 for repeat violations. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 18 other states, including Illinois in the Midwest, have hands-free bans in place. In each of these states, the use of a hand-held cell phone is a primary offense, meaning a police officer can cite a driver for it without any other traffic offense taking place.

CSG Midwest
Income tax relief is coming to residents in at least two Midwestern states this biennium, while in a third state, legislators took the first step this year toward a major tax overhaul. In Wisconsin, under AB 56 and AB 251, rate reductions are being made to the state’s bottom two income-tax brackets. (Wisconsin’s graduated system has four tax brackets.)

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