To explain Minnesota’s nation-leading election figures — high percentages of eligible voters who are registered, for example, and who turn out on Election Day — Rep. Steve Simon doesn’t start by talking about his home state’s laws.
He begins with a factor that is unwritten and transcends generations.
“Minnesota has a civic culture that encourages and celebrates voting,” he says. “It isn’t something you can legislate.”
Across much the Midwest, in fact, that tradition of civic engagement is strong; voter turnout rates, for example, are higher than the national average — sometimes much higher in states such as Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.
But while state election laws don’t tell the whole story, their importance in the nation’s democratic system is widely understood, with the recent political and legal battles over voter identification being perhaps the most prominent recent example.
During the last year, residents of neighborhoods in Chicago and Detroit have had to deal with growing piles of petroleum coke, or petcoke. These piles were often left uncovered, allowing winds to disperse black dust into surrounding communities and nearby waterways.
Four decades ago, only about one-quarter of the U.S. students attending kindergarten went for the full day. Today, the numbers are essentially reversed — only one-quarter of kindergartners attend a half day, according to Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center.
And another change is beginning to occur as well — how states fund kindergarten.
In North Dakota, the parents of many soon-to-be kindergarten students in the state are getting some early education of their own — up to 16 weeks of programming on child development and the importance of school readiness.
In Minnesota, meanwhile, nearly 113,000 children and their families took part last school year in the state’s Early Childhood Family Education program, which offers everything from local parent-discussion groups and learning activities for children, to home visits and health and child-development screenings.
And this year, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn highlighted a new Birth-to-5 Initiative for his state, an early-childhood program that focuses in part on improving families’ access to community services and training opportunities.
February 2014 marks the three-year anniversary of a joint U.S.-Canada effort to reduce unnecessary regulatory differences that raise the cost of doing business across the border — and can raise prices for consumers as well. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper created the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council to guide bilateral work to streamline and harmonize regulations. The council works toward mutual acceptance of each other’s standards when harmonization is not possible, and seeks other ways to simplify the cross-border regulatory process, such as recognizing common testing procedures and enforcement.
Iowa families who homeschool their children have some new options as the result of legislative actions this year that remove reporting requirements and allow parents to teach unrelated students. Included as part of the state’s major education-reform package (HF 215), the new provisions also allow for parent-taught driver’s education.
For many years, the livestock industry in Canada and the U.S., especially for cattle and pigs, has been integrated, with animals moving both ways across the border for feeding and slaughter. But new U.S. country-of-origin labeling requirements may change this relationship.
Canada is the largest supplier of energy to the United States, providing 9 percent of this country’s energy needs — more than Saudi Arabia and Venezuela combined. These statistics, and other information related to bilateral energy trade, were the focus of a joint meeting this summer of the MLC’s Energy and Midwest-Canada Relations committees.
The Midwest continues to develop wind energy capacity at an impressive rate. According to a recent report by the American Wind Energy Associaton (AWEA), every state in the region is expanding its installed wind capacity, with Indiana seeing triple-digit growth in the last two years.