Later this year, South Dakotans will vote on whether the state should have a higher bar for changing the Constitution. Under the proposal, placed on the ballot this year by the Legislature, constitutional amendments would require approval of 55 percent of the votes cast.
Illinois lawmakers have changed the process for investigating claims of inappropriate behavior in the legislative branch, a move that proponents say will give individuals more confidence to report inappropriate behavior. HB 138 was signed into law in June. With the statutory change, the Legislative Inspector General can conduct independent investigations into sexual harassment allegations without obtaining consent from the Legislative Ethics Commission — a bipartisan group of Illinois representatives and senators.
Last fall, nine Lake Erie experts identified specific strategies that they viewed as most important to reducing phosphorus runoff and preventing harmful algal blooms in the lake’s western basin. As of early June, Ohio legislators were moving toward passage of a bill backing those scientists’ findings with state dollars.
“That was the blueprint — use those evidence-based strategies and then target the funds to critical areas in the sub-watersheds [of the western basin],” says Rep. Steven Arndt. Ohio admittedly has a long way to go to reach its target — a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loads by 2025. That is the amount specified in binational agreements between the United States and Canada and among the governments of Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.
As part of what state officials say is the strictest set of lead and copper standards in the nation, Michigan will require all of the state’s public water systems to replace their lead service lines. Starting in 2021, the Detroit Free Press reports, each public water system must replace, on average, 5 percent of its lead service pipes per year over a 20-year period, with water customers paying for most of the estimated $2.5 billion price tag.
For the fiscal year that began in July, Illinois assumed a revenue boost that it and most states have long been waiting to get on the books — tax collections from remote sales. The state’s assumption is $150 million, based on the nine months that those collections can begin after Illinois’ “economic nexus” law takes effect this fall. (Spread over the course of a full fiscal year, the estimate rises to $200 million.)
In the years ahead, this revenue source is expected to be part of budget estimates and collections in every Midwestern state, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 21 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair(unlike Illinois, most states did not include an increase from online sales tax collections in their FY 2019 estimates).
By a vote of 5-4, the justices overturned a 1992 ruling, Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, that had barred states and local governments from requiring vendors with no physical presence in the state to collect sales taxes. In the years since Quill, online transactions skyrocketed, calls among brick-and-mortar businesses for sales-tax fairness intensified, and multiple attempts at congressional action (always an alternative to a new court decision) failed.
“Hooray for South Dakota,” John Hicks, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said, noting the state’s passage of legislation in 2016 that became the basis for challenging, and eventually overturning, Quill.
For policymakers interested in getting innovative energy bills signed into law, the nation’s capital is the last place to be, a former U.S. governor told the Midwest’s legislators in July. Instead, he said, go to Springfield, Lansing or the many other state capitals where policy breakthroughs have occurred.
At any given time, Ritter noted during a session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting, his center is tracking up to 4,500 state-level energy bills. Legislatures not only are brimming with new ideas, he added, but they remain a place where compromises can be forged — across party lines and among competing stakeholder groups.
“There may be partisanship at the state level, but it is oftentimes not intractable,” Ritter said. “It’s not the kind of partisanship where conversations break down.”
Michigan and Illinois provide two cases in point. Lawmakers there successfully built support for measures (SB 437 and 438 in Michigan, and SB 2814 in Illinois) that are now viewed as cornerstones of the two states’ energy futures.
For his first job out of college, psychologist Mark Weist went to work at a mental health center, splitting his time between providing services at the center and a local school. The differences in the two settings were dramatic.
“At the mental health center, people weren’t showing up,” Weist, a professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, said during a presentation at this year’s Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting. “We’d be scheduled to see six or seven families in a day, for example, and only somewhere between one and three showed up.
“But in schools, there was this tremendous pent-up need for services.”
That experience nearly 30 years ago has led Weist to become a national leader in efforts to bring the mental health system into the schools, allowing community practitioners to work alongside school psychologists, nurses, social workers and counselors. He listed multiple benefits of school-based mental health: better identifying students in need, improving service access and use, and reducing barriers to learning.
One year ago, Iowa legislators passed a bill to advance the instruction of computer science. With the start of the new school year, two key objectives of that measure are in place. The Iowa Department of Education announced in June that new voluntary academic standards and a $1 million fund for professional development had been established. Developed by the State Board of Education, the new standards outline what students in every grade should know and be able to do in the area of computer science. The fund will go to local schools that help staff pursue teaching endorsements or other learning opportunities in computer science.
Three years ago, Illinois became the nation’s first U.S. state with a law to help private-sector workers save for retirement via a state-facilitated savings plan. This summer, the treasurer’s office began its rollout of this potentially groundbreaking initiative, known as Secure Choice.
The program launched with a small set of voluntary employers in Illinois who agreed to automatically enroll workers through their payroll systems. But participation soon will be mandatory for many Illinois businesses — namely, those with 25 or more employees that don’t offer a 401(k) or other qualified savings plan of their own.
“By the fall of 2019, all of the employers who are required to participate in Secure Choice will be registered and enrolled and have their employees ready to go,” says Courtney Eccles, director of the program for the Illinois treasurer’s office.
Michigan has become the third Midwestern state in three years to repeal its prevailing-wage law, which requires government contractors to provide employees with union-level wages and benefits for state or local public works projects. This legislative action came in June and did not require gubernatorial action. That is because the prevailing-wage repeal was scheduled to appear on the fall ballot. Under Michigan law, the Legislature has 40 days to adopt or reject a ballot proposal. If a proposal is not enacted within this time frame, it goes to the voters. The Detroit Free Press called the Legislature’s decision “the latest blow to organized labor.”