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.
Michigan Sen. Curt VanderWall calls it the “most scrutinized pipeline in the nation.” And whatever one thinks the state should do about the future of Line 5 — which is located under the Straits of Mackinac and carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids every day — it’s hard to disagree with the observation. Built in 1953, the twin pipelines have been called a “sunken hazard” that put the “Great Lakes at risk of a catastrophic oil pipeline rupture.”
But VanderWall and others note that Michigan relies on the energy supplies being shipped via Line 5. He says, for example, that most of the propane used in the Upper Peninsula comes from the 645-mile pipeline, which starts in Wisconsin, goes under the Straits, and then winds through Michigan before reaching Ontario.
“To get the same supplies by truck, you’d need 2,400 trucks doing it every day, nonstop,” says VanderWall, a member of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus Executive Committee. “The pipeline is the safest way to transport the oil. We need to make it safer.”
The state’s policy solution, at least for now, is this: Allow Line 5 to continue to operate for another few years, under enhanced inspections. Meanwhile, begin construction on a utility tunnel, located up to 100 feet beneath the lakebed, that would secure a new pipeline.
As she’s worked on policies to improve how her state handles sexual assault investigations and helps victims, Nebraska Sen. Kate Bolz has talked to advocacy groups and consulted with experts. But she also has in her mind a constituent, a survivor who approached her after a town-hall meeting.
“She was so young and had been so hurt by her circumstance,” Bolz says, “and she talked about the kind of support and information she needed.”
“Over the past couple of years,” she adds, “we’ve heard a lot from survivors.”
The same likely can be said for legislators across the Midwest, as evidenced by statistics on the prevalence of sexual assault and the burst of activity in state capitols. According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States every 98 seconds. And more than 20 percent of women report having been a victim of rape (either attempted or completed) during their lifetimes, federal data show.
States have explored various ways to improve their policies around sexual assault, and the result has been several new laws that aim to help victims and improve investigations of the crime, particularly through a better handling of sexual assault kits. Here is a look at some of the strategies being proposed and implemented in the Midwest.