Come election time, a South Dakota voter’s ballot can become pretty crowded — filled not just with candidates for office, but a mix of constitutional amendments, initiated measures and referendums to overturn existing state laws. In November 2016 alone, 10 such ballot questions were voted on, including measures on the minimum wage, redistricting, campaign finance and elections.
But it’s not just the sheer volume or the content of some of the proposals that concerns lawmakers such as Sen. Jim Bolin.
“This is not your neighbor coming up with an idea and trying to get it on the ballot; it’s really become an industry,” according to Bolin, who served on a task force of legislators and others this past interim to explore potential changes to South Dakota’s initiative and referendum process.
Out-of-state money and workers come to South Dakota, he says, where advertising is cheap and changing laws or the Constitution is a relatively inexpensive proposition. Sen. Ernie Otten adds that “people can come in here very easily, and then they don’t have to face the consequences of the change.”
Two new laws in Illinois will seek to improve conditions and long-term outcomes for women in prison by providing them with more gender-responsive programming. Under HB 1479, signed into law in January, a permanent women’s division will be created within the Illinois Department of Corrections. It complements last fall’s passage of HB 3904, which requires the women’s prison and parole system to have trauma-informed, family-centered policies and programs in place. These programs also must reflect women-centered research on the most effective types of treatment interventions.
Wisconsin appears likely to become the first U.S. state to establish a “Green Alert” system to help locate at-risk, missing veterans, The Washington Post reports. SB 473 was passed by the state Senate in January. Under the proposal, law enforcement agencies would use the state’s crime alert network (administered by the Wisconsin Department of Justice) to send along reports of missing veterans to broadcasters and outdoor advertisers. Similar alert systems already are in place in many states (including Wisconsin) for children, seniors and certain at-risk adults.
Michigan will be keeping a closer eye on the long-term fiscal health of its local governments under legislation signed into law in late 2017. SB 686 aims to address concerns about unfunded liabilities in pension and retiree health care systems.
Wisconsin lawmakers have eliminated a decades-old state property tax that had been used to protect public and private forestlands. This change will result in savings of about $27 for the average homeowner and an annual loss in state revenue of approximately $90 million, the MilwaukeeJournal Sentinel reports. The state will instead use general-fund dollars to pay for programs related to fire prevention, pest control, land acquisition, recreation and overall forest health.
A redrawing of the nation’s political maps is still three years away, but 2018 might someday be remembered as a year that changed how redistricting itself is done. If so, some states in the Midwest will be a big part of that story.
In Ohio and Michigan, voters may have the chance in the coming months to decide the fate of their states’ respective redistricting processes. The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, has taken on a case that centers on the current Wisconsin Assembly map and that raises questions about the constitutionality, and future, of partisan gerrymandering around the country.
Legislatures themselves, too, continue to consider making changes of their own.
Illinois will soon be accepting applications from individuals and businesses that want to participate in the state’s newly created Invest in Kids program. Established this year as part of a larger school finance bill (SB 1947), the program will provide a tax credit for contributions made to Scholarship Granting Organizations. These organizations, in turn, will provide financial assistance for lower- and middle-income students to attend a non-public school in the state.
Seeking to make greater use of their states’ prescription drug monitoring programs and to prevent opioid abuse, Illinois and Michigan lawmakers have established new requirements for prescribers. These measures were signed into law in December.
Wisconsin legislators have ended a decades-long prohibition on the cultivation of industrial hemp with the hope of opening new economic opportunities for the state’s farmers. Gov. Scott Walker signed SB 119 in November after it received unanimous support in the state House and Assembly.