Late in 2017, Michigan lawmakers ended their legislative year seeking a fix to another problem with drinking water in the state. It wasn’t lead contamination this time, but rather the discovery of 28 sites in the state with known levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The Legislature allocated $23.2 million for various response and mitigation measures.
In early 2018, the Minnesota attorney general finalized an $850 million settlement with 3M over groundwater contamination in the east metropolitan area of the Twin Cities. The cause: The company’s disposal, over decades, of PFAS chemicals used for products such as Scotchgard, stain removers and fire retardants.Though these chemicals were used for decades, and many of them have been phased out of production, they are considered an “emerging contaminant” — because environmental and health officials have only recently begun to test for the presence of PFAS chemicals in drinking water, detect them, and understand their potential impact on human health.
The new funding in Michigan will be used to purchase new lab equipment, expand testing of drinking water, and purchase filtration systems for affected residents. A longer-term fix is likely to be more problematic and costly, whether it’s pumping out all the groundwater and removing the chemicals or hooking up the owners of private wells (this has been the group most affected in Michigan) to a municipal system.
One year ago at this time, in a discussion started by a member of the Indiana State Board of Education, Sen. Jeff Raatz began thinking about a policy response to one of the biggest concerns raised about students graduating from the state’s K-12 school system. “How do we help them get the employability skills they need?” Raatz asked.
One of the answers was this year’s passage of SB 297, a measure that will have every public school in the state incorporate those types of skills (also sometimes referred to as “soft skills”) into their K-12 curriculum.
At the elementary level, for example, it might mean students are expected to greet their teacher with a firm handshake and appropriate eye contact. In other classrooms, a greater emphasis could be placed on problem-solving and adaptability, teamwork and social skills, or punctuality and self-management.
With the signing in March of South Dakota's SB 62, every state in the Midwest now has a law that requires consumers to be informed of data breaches involving their personal information.
The new South Dakota statute describes this type of breach as the unauthorized acquisition of computerized data that “materially compromises the security, confidentiality or integrity of personal or protected information” — for example, a person’s name combined with his or her Social Security number, email address, or credit card information. Notification to the consumer must be made within 60 days. A breach involving more than 250 South Dakotans must be reported to the state attorney general.
Michigan has 3,000 miles of coastline and more Great Lakes water within its jurisdiction than any other state or province in the basin. But one of the big ecological threats to this freshwater system is well outside the state’s borders — in Illinois and Indiana, where invasive species of Asian carp would be most likely to enter the Great Lakes basin, via the Chicago Area Waterway System.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, 18 states had at least 30 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in state-funded preschool as of 2016. That compares to only two states in 2002. In the Midwest, Wisconsin and Iowa have the highest rates. (Nationally, only Florida and Oklahoma rank ahead of Wisconsin.)
The Wisconsin Constitution calls for schools to be “free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years,” and local districts receive state dollars for 4-year-old kindergarten via the K-12 funding formula (aid is equivalent to 0.5 or 0.6 dollars per child). Nearly all of Wisconsin’s school districts now provide voluntary, universal kindergarten to 4-year-olds.
Iowa also is among the nine U.S. states that provide districts with preschool dollars via their K-12 funding formulas, according to the Education Commission of the States. School districts in Iowa receive foundation aid based on their enrollment count for 4-year-olds (50 percent per child). The number of children served through Iowa’s preschool program has more than quadrupled since its inception in 2007, with about 98 percent of the state’s school districts now participating.
The race for governor in Kansas got off to an unusual start this election cycle — the announced candidacies of six teenagers, the editor of an alternative weekly newspaper in Oregon, and even a dog. The canine’s run was stopped, but at least as of early this year, nothing in the state’s Constitution or statutes prevented minors and out-of-state residents from seeking the governorship.
“If this isn’t changed, people in prison could run,” adds Kansas Rep. Blake Carpenter, noting the lack of a requirement that a gubernatorial candidate be a “qualified elector.”
Carpenter’s HB 2539, which as of late February had passed the House by a wide margin and was awaiting action in the Senate, adds the “qualifying elector” requirement for anyone running for statewide office. (His bill wouldn’t take effect until January 2019, thus not impacting the campaigns of teens or out-of-state residents running this year.)
Ohio already has a plan in place that will change how the state’s legislative lines are drawn after the next U.S. census, and voters will have the chance in May to change the process for congressional districts. SJR 5 was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, culminating months of bipartisan legislative negotiations, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reports.
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.