A decade ago, Ami Wazlawik, now a member of the Minnesota House, was graduating from college at an inopportune time — in the middle of the nation’s Great Recession. “I was like everyone else,” she recalls, “looking for a job.”
Instead, she found community service, working with students for a school year as a part of Minnesota’s Reading Corps, an experience that had a lasting impact not only on the students she tutored, but on her own life. Wazlawik says Reading Corps helped cement her commitment to being an active citizen, and is one reason she ran for public office.
And the program itself is often cited as a national model for how states can leverage the power of public service to address longstanding challenges or long-term goals.
School closings due to harsh winter weather are nothing new for the Midwest. But this past school year, heavier-than-usual snowfall and a polar vortex led to more shutdowns than usual in some parts of the region, and opened up discussions this year about state laws to help districts adjust.
Among the options considered by legislatures: one, provide “amnesty” to districts during especially bad-weather school years, meaning they’re eligible for full state aid even if they don’t meet state mandates on the number of instructional days; and two, make greater use of virtual learning.
A legislative change in Iowa's process for selecting Supreme Court judges will put more power in the hands of the governor. SF 638, signed into law in May, alters how the 17-member State Judicial Nominating Commission will be appointed.
The governor now has the authority to choose a majority of commission members, nine of the 17. The remaining eight appointments will come from elections held among the state's lawyers.
Illinois has become the first state in the nation to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana through an act of the legislature. Sent to the governor for signing in early June, HB 1438 was being hailed by its legislative sponsors as marking a new era in Illinois public policy and as a “model for other states in its commitment to equity and criminal justice reform.”
When a health consumer receives care outside of an insurer’s network of providers, he or she may receive a surprisingly high medical bill, and face the prospects of paying unexpectedly high out-of-pocket costs.
These situations are not uncommon, and often not the fault of the health consumer — for example, he or she requires immediate emergency care, or an out-of-network provider is part of a larger team of physicians providing complex medical treatment.
As evidenced in recent polling data and new state laws, “surprise billing” has become a widespread concern among health care consumers and policymakers alike. In a poll conducted last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation, two-thirds of Americans said they were either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about being able to afford their own or a family member’s unexpected medical bills.
The Commonwealth Fund, meanwhile, has been tracking the spread of laws to protect individuals from certain types of “surprise billing.” By the end of 2018, the number of states with such laws had reached 25: nine with comprehensive laws (including Illinois in the Midwest) and 16 with “partial protections” (including Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota).
Iowa legislators have created a first-of-its-kind system to better meet the mental health needs of children. As part of HF 690, signed into law in May, an appointed state board will be created to oversee this new comprehensive, coordinated system.
Members of the board will include a mix of state executive branch leaders (in health and education), experts in child welfare and mental health, local school leaders, pediatricians and law enforcement. Legislators will serve on the board as non-voting members. Iowa’s new law also spells out the types of “core services” that the system must deliver to children. That list of services includes: early intervention, medication management, outpatient therapy, access to a 24-hour crisis helpline, mobile response teams, and the availability of community-based and residential services to stabilize behavioral health crises in children.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes has an important new supporter — J.B. Pritzker, the recently elected governor of Illinois. In an April letter to the Corps, Pritzker said the state was “willing to move forward to preconstruction, engineering and design” on the Brandon Road Lock and Dam Project. But he also expressed concern about the estimated price tag: $778 million.
Turnout rates among younger voters jumped in 2018, though they still lag other age cohorts. States, meanwhile, have a mix of new laws and programs to encourage voting among young people and to remove potential obstacles.
Starting in 2021, North Dakota and Wisconsin will be the only two Midwestern states with chief state school officers elected by voters. Indiana legislators accelerated their state’s switch in governance structure with this year’s HB 1005, which replaces the position of school superintendent in two years with a governor-appointed secretary of education. (The change had been scheduled to take effect in 2025.)