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.
Population data released at the end of 2018show South Dakota and Minnesota growing at the fastest rates in the Midwest. They also were the only two states in this region to eclipse the U.S. growth rate of 0.6 percent between July 2017 and July 2018 (South Dakota, +1.0 percent; and Minnesota, +0.8 percent), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Wisconsin has received federal approval of changes to its Medicaid program that include requiring work for some enrollees and charging higher premiums based on the results of a health risk assessment. The approved waiver centers on childless adults applying for and receiving coverage through the public health insurance program. According to The Washington Post, Wisconsin also had originally sought to become the first state in the nation to impose drug tests on some of its Medicaid population. This requirement did not receive federal approval.
A bipartisan deal on how to manage the nation’s water resources has potentially big implications for the Great Lakes and the region’s states — authorization of a nearly $1 billion project at the Soo Locks, movement on a plan to stop Asian carp, and more money to protect drinking water.
Signed into law in October, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) also establishes new programs to research the eradication of zebra mussels and Asian carp and to explore technologies that prevent harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes.
Key developments include shifts in partisan control in one of the region's legislatures and four governor's offices, Michigan's legalization of recreational marijuana and the state's redistricting overhaul, and Nebraska's Medicaid expansion.
Two Midwestern states announced plans this fall to do more to prevent elder abuse. In Ohio, a new $1.3 million project will seek to raise public awareness, create an online referral system to report abuse, and establish new county-level collaborations. Much of the money for this new initiative is coming from a federal grant. This year, too, Ohio has expanded its mandatory-reporter law. Under HB 49, which took effect in September, many more individuals must report cases of elder abuse or face fines. The list of mandatory reporters now includes pharmacists, certified public accountants, financial planners, real estate agents and first-responders, among others.
This year, the region's legislators tackled some of the nation's biggest issues, from school safety to labor shortages. Notable changes in state tax policy, gun laws, retirement systems and legislative pay also marked the 2018 legislative year.