Parts of a two-year-old Iowa law that require voters to show identification at the polls were upheld by a state District Court judge in September. Opponents of the 2017 law (HF 516) argued that the ID requirement suppressed voting by certain groups of citizens. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate has said the law aims to “make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.”
Uninsured rates have dropped sharply since 2010, and poverty rates are down as well. During this decade, income has been distributed less equally among households across the Midwest; still, income inequality is less pronounced in most states in this region compared to the rest of the nation.
After years of trying, Iowa lawmakers and others wanting to tweak or completely replace a decades-old system of selecting state Supreme Court judges were able to proclaim legislative victory in 2019. But as of early October, they still needed some wins in court to ensure the change.
At issue is Iowa’s 57-year-old merit-based selection process: State supreme court justices are appointed by the governor, whose choices are limited to a list of three candidates submitted by a judicial nominating commission. Four other Midwestern states also use some form of merit selection.
Under a new law that took effect in August (HF 50), drivers in Minnesota can only use voice commands or single-touch activation on their phones to make calls and texts. Violators of the state’s “hands-free” statute will be ticketed $50, plus court fees; the penalty is $275 for repeat violations. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 18 other states, including Illinois in the Midwest, have hands-free bans in place. In each of these states, the use of a hand-held cell phone is a primary offense, meaning a police officer can cite a driver for it without any other traffic offense taking place.
Income tax relief is coming to residents in at least two Midwestern states this biennium, while in a third state, legislators took the first step this year toward a major tax overhaul. In Wisconsin, under AB 56 and AB 251, rate reductions are being made to the state’s bottom two income-tax brackets. (Wisconsin’s graduated system has four tax brackets.)
With her signing of an executive order in August, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly pronounced the end of a longstanding “economic border war” between her state and Missouri. Her action, combined with legislation passed in Missouri this year (SB 182), stops the two states from offering tax incentives to companies in the Kansas City region. For the war to truly end, The Wichita Eagle reports, local governments on both sides of the border need to follow the states’ lead. Because they are not bound by the Kansas executive order or new Missouri law, cities and counties could still offer property tax abatements to lure businesses.
As a library media specialist in a Minnesota middle school, Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein comes across potential teachers all the time. It’s the students themselves. “At our school, students are often mentoring other students, and we are flabbergasted at what we see,” she says. “They have the patience. They have the understanding. They connect well with that other student.
“And we think, ‘This kid would make such a great teacher.’”
As a legislator, Rep. Kunesh-Podein also thinks about this: What state policies could expose more of these young people to the profession, and get them on a path to becoming a teacher? One idea, part of a legislative proposal in Minnesota this year (HF 824/SF 1012), is to bring college-level, credit-bearing Introduction to Education classes into the state’s high schools; another is to identify and eliminate barriers (financial or otherwise) that stand in the way of lower-income individuals getting certified to teach.
Attracting more teachers, as well as retaining them, has been on the minds of many state policymakers in the Midwest, as evidenced by the burst of new legislative proposals, laws and investments over the past few years.
North Dakota is the first U.S. state to authorize a central, shared-service approach to cybersecurity across all parts of state government, says Gov. Doug Burgum, who signed SB 2110 into law in April. Legislators also invested more than $15 million in the new biennial budget to add more cybersecurity personnel and enhance protective software.
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.