Within weeks of being sworn into office, two of the Midwest’s newly elected governors took action on gun legislation, though the two measures have very different aims. South Dakota’s SB 47 was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Kristi Noem. It allows individuals to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. South Dakota joins two other Midwestern states (Kansas and North Dakota are the others) with so-called “constitutional carry” laws, according to the National Rifle Association. South Dakota still has restrictions on who can carry a concealed weapon, The (Sioux Falls) Argus Leader reports, and individuals may still want a permit for reciprocity with other states.
The Midwest is expected to lose three congressional seats and electoral college votes — and maybe more — during the nation’s next reapportionment, the political consulting firm Election Data Services notes in its most recent analysis of population trends.
The firm’s findings are based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates from December. That data show Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota losing one seat each. Ohio also loses one when trends are projected to 2020 — the year when populations are calculated to determine each state’s number of U.S. House seats. These numbers also impact the distribution of federal funds to states and local communities.
With few exceptions, the Midwest’s legislatures have more women serving in them this year than in 2018. And in six of the region’s states — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio — the numbers are at historic highs.
Why the jump? Why is there a gender gap in politics? What kind of effect does more female representation have on policymaking? Those questions have been the subject of much political science research over decades, and the answers are sometimes simple, sometimes complex. Here is what CSG Midwest learned in a interview with Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
The opioid crisis in Ohio has made the need for foster care families greater than ever, and the state launched a new website and public awareness campaign in January to get more children placed in safe, loving homes. Ohio has nearly 16,000 children in the custody of county children services agencies. Since 2013, the number of children entering the state’s foster care system has risen 24 percent. Many of these individuals are quite young —17 percent of the foster care population is under 12 months of age and 35 percent is 3 years old and younger.
By July of next year, a practice in Ohio’s commercial harbors will no longer be allowed — the dumping of dredged materials into the open waters of Lake Erie. This ban is the result of a bill passed by the legislature in 2015 (SB 1), and is part of the state’s broader efforts to keep excess nutrients from entering the shallowest of the Great Lakes, causing harmful algal blooms and degrading water quality.
The legislative action from four years ago, along with subsequent funding commitments, has led to an unprecedented effort in the state to find beneficial uses of these materials — the rock, sand, gravel, mud and clay removed from the bottom of shipping channels to keep them safe for navigation.
The only state in the Midwest that does not automatically restore the voting rights of people with criminal felony convictions is considering a change in this policy, via an amendment to its Constitution. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed the idea in her Condition of the State address, and it has since been the subject of legislative committee hearings.
According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa and Kentucky are currently the only two U.S. states where a felon is permanently disenfranchised, minus an action taken by the governor or president.
The nation’s high school graduation rates continue to rise, new federal data show, though progress has slowed on this achievement indicator — one of the fundamental ways that states will assess the performance of their schools, districts and overall K-12 systems under the U.S. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
In the Midwest, rates for the 2016-’17 school year ranged from a high of 91.0 percent in Iowa (tops in the nation) to a low of 80.2 percent in Michigan. Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin joined Iowa in exceeding the U.S. average of 84.6 percent, which was up half of a percentage point from the previous school year.
In future Michigan elections, getting initiatives on the ballot will require more than simply gathering enough valid signatures from anywhere in the state. HB 6595, signed into law in late December, requires what its supporters have called “geographic diversity.” No more than 15 percent of the signatures used to determine the validity of an initiative petition can come from a single congressional district. Michigan has 14 congressional districts. This new law applies to voter-initiated constitutional amendments, statutes and veto referenda.
A first-of-its-kind study in Minnesota details a dramatic rise in the use of telemedicine in that state. Between 2010 and 2015, the state’s number of “virtual visits” jumped from 11,113 to 86,238. These new findings, the result of research conducted by the state Department of Health and University of Minnesota School of Public Health, show that telemedicine “may be emerging as an option to overcome some of the geographical barriers of accessing specialty care,” state Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm says.
Two states in the Midwest have new laws in place that aim to improve the safety of nurses and other health care professionals. The Illinois General Assembly passed HB 4100 in response to two high-profile incidents. In one case, the Chicago Tribune reports, two nurses were taken hostage after an inmate being treated at their hospital got hold of a corrections officer’s gun. One of the nurses was sexually assaulted before police fatally shot the inmate. A month later, a nursing assistant and corrections officer were taken hostage at another hospital.