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State Governments & Legislatures
The 2016 presidential race raised interest in the Electoral College, and the role of states in the process
For 40 years, Mary Murphy has been introducing legislation and casting votes that shape public policy in her home state of Minnesota. But the longtime state representative always had her eye on being part of another vote, and this past year, she finally got the chance. In December, Rep. Murphy and nine other fellow Minnesotans met in St. Paul to make the state’s official votes in the U.S. Electoral College. A packed room of people — some of them high school teachers and students who had participated in a statewide mock election run by the secretary of state — watched the proceedings in the Senate Office Building. More »
Wisconsin gerrymandering lawsuit could redraw legislative maps
In November 2016, a panel of federal district judges struck down Wisconsin’s 2011 state legislative district maps as an unconstitutional gerrymander. “It is clear that the drafters got what they intended to get,” Judge Kenneth Ripple wrote in the 2-1 decision. “There is no question that Act 43 was designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared with Republicans, to translate their votes into seats.” The judges did not rule on whether the plaintiff’s proposed measuring stick — the “efficiency gap,” which measures how many votes are “wasted” in a given election — is the proper metric to determine an illegal map. Instead, they asked both sides to submit evidence for how the maps should be rectified. More »
South Dakota leads Midwest's states in rate of population growth
by Tim Anderson ~ January 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
South Dakota was the fastest-growing Midwestern state between 2015 and 2016, and the only one that topped the national growth rate of 0.7 percent.
The latest U.S. Census Bureau data, released in December, also show that South Dakota (overall growth rate of 0.9 percent) was the only state in this region with a net gain due to domestic migration.
In contrast, Illinois lost more than 100,000 residents due to movement among the U.S. states between 2015 and 2016. During this period. Illinois’ overall population fell by 0.3 percent — one of eight U.S. states to experience a decline. North Dakota is no longer having the rapid population increases that had occurred during a prolonged boom in the state’s oil industry and overall economy. That state’s population grew by only 0.1 percent between 2015 and 2016.
The U.S. Census Bureau data also chronicle population changes between 2010 and 2016. Over that time period, most Midwestern states are growing at a slower pace than the national average. A central cause of this trend is the loss of people due to domestic migration. For example, Illinois has lost 540,000 residents to other states, while Michigan and Ohio have lost 216,000 people and 183,000 people, respectively.
In Iowa, use of ‘funnel deadlines’ helps keep legislative process moving
Decades ago, after a session of Iowa’s part-time Legislature dragged into July, the state’s lawmakers agreed they needed to find a way to prevent that from ever happening again. Their bipartisan solution at the time: Create a series of deadlines for when bills had to advance or die. First established in 1979, these “funnel dates” have been an important part of the legislative process ever since — closely tracked by constituents, interest groups, Capitol reporters and legislators themselves. “Even within your own party caucus, an upcoming deadline forces people to work together,” says state Sen. Janet Petersen. More »
Michigan, Ohio lead nation in new ‘Digital States Survey’
Michigan and Ohio have been recognized as national leaders in how they employ technology to improve state government operations and services. Released in September, the biennial “Digital States Survey 2016” graded all 50 states on criteria that ranged from cost savings to improved service delivery.
Only five U.S. states received “A” grades. Ohio earned the distinction for its work in diverting spending on information technology away from government operations and toward services and applications for citizens and businesses. Michigan, meanwhile, offers hundreds of “e-services” and a mobile application (MiPage) that allows individuals to do business with the state anytime and anywhere. It also is considered a national innovator in cybersecurity and cloud-based information systems.
Here are the grades for each of the 11 Midwestern states:
Michigan and Ohio: A
Indiana, North Dakota and Wisconsin: A-
Illinois and Minnesota: B+
Iowa and Nebraska: B
South Dakota: B-
What policies do Midwestern states have regarding the carrying of concealed firearms into capitols by the public and legislators?
States in the region are split on whether to allow individuals to carry weapons, and this policy question has led to proposals in a handful of legislatures in recent years. More »
Capital Closeup: Interstate compacts can be valuable tool in protecting invaluable resource: water
When Charles Fishman, author of the acclaimed book “The Big Thirst,” praised the Great Lakes compact this summer at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting, he also called for Kansas and Nebraska to lead an effort to create a similar interstate agreement to protect the Ogallala Aquifer. But what are compacts and how do they work? How well do they work? And how could they help the Midwest preserve and protect its water resources? More »
Capital Closeup: Love or hate the office, lieutenant governors are key to succession plans
No state has eliminated its lieutenant governorship since Florida in 1885, but Illinois flirted with the idea earlier this year. A proposed constitutional amendment that would have axed the office and handed next-in-line succession to the state’s attorney general cleared the House, but was shunted aside in the Senate. More »
Capital Closeup: For legal and practical reasons, disclosure laws exempt some legislative work
Earlier this year, to coincide with an open-government initiative known as Sunshine Week, reporters from the Associated Press sent requests for the records of legislative leaders in all 50 states.
They asked for lawmakers’ daily schedules as well as emails from their government accounts. In most cases, AP reported in March, its reporters came away empty-handed, as they ran into more denials for the requests than approvals. This right to deny access to certain records is a long-standing, widespread prerogative of legislators in states across the country. More »
Ballot measures seek redistricting changes in Illinois, South Dakota
Voters in two Midwestern states may soon have the chance to take the power of drawing legislative districts out of the hands of their legislatures.
In South Dakota, a proposed constitutional amendment has already been certified and will appear on the fall ballot. It calls for a nine-member, independent commission to handle the state’s redistricting process. No commissioners could have served in state political office or a political party’s office within the last three years. In addition, no more than three people from the same political party could be named to the commission.
Similarly, rules for the proposed 11-member commission in Illinois would ensure that no single party controls the redistricting process. Enough petition signatures have been submitted to get this constitutional change on the fall ballot; however, legal challenges are likely. In Illinois, amendments typically have to be approved by the General Assembly — with the exception of certain subjects related to the legislative article of the state Constitution.
The South Dakota and Illinois proposals would not apply to congressional districts. In April, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed LB 580. Under this proposal, an independent commission would have adopted redistricting maps (including for congressional districts) and submitted them to the Legislature for approval.
How South Dakota pioneered the idea of a ‘People’s Legislature’
Shortly before the close of the 19th century, the citizens of South Dakota approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the use of two new tools of direct democracy, the voter initiative and the popular referendum. The first-of-its-kind state constitutional provision heralded a new era in voter participation in the lawmaking process, even as it reflected longstanding American traditions of civic engagement dating back to New England’s earliest town hall meetings. More »
Nebraska keeps unique method of selecting legislative leaders
Nebraska lawmakers voted in early 2016 to maintain the Unicameral Legislature’s secret-ballot method of selecting committee chairs and other leaders.
Every two years, each of the state’s 49 senators casts votes for these leadership positions (including the top position of speaker). Under this system, the jockeying among members to become speaker or chair of one of the 14 standing committees can go on for months.
Some legislators, though, have called for the process to be more transparent, by making the leadership selections a roll-call vote. The latest attempt to make this rules change failed by a vote of 30-17, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.
Proponents of the secret-ballot method say it limits the influence of party politics — an essential part of maintaining the state’s nonpartisan, unicameral legislative branch.
In most of the Midwest’s legislatures, committee chairs are chosen by the top leader of the majority party caucus. But there are some exceptions, a 2012 CSG Midwest survey found. In the Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin senates, selections are made through committees made up of legislative leaders.
Five Midwest states now using metal detectors at entrances to capitols
Ohio has joined the list of Midwestern states that require visitors to walk through a metal detector before entering the capitol building.
The state’s new security rules, which took effect this fall, also ban backpacks. Gov. John Kasich had called for the use of metal detectors soon after taking office in 2011, cleveland.com reports.
Over the past decade and a half, states such as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Kansas have installed detectors. Illinois’ policy took effect in 2004, after an unarmed security guard was shot and killed just inside the Capitol entrance.
In November, Nebraska legislators reviewed a proposal from state Attorney General Doug Peterson to add detectors at the state Capitol building. The proposal, Peterson wrote to lawmakers, is a recognition of the “times in which we live.” According to omaha.com, current security measures in Nebraska include the use of uniformed troopers, security guards, cameras, panic alarms and a computer alert system. But Nebraska is one of six Midwestern states that do not employ metal detectors at Capitol entrance buildings. The others are Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Do state legislative committees in the Midwest allow for remote testimony by video conferencing or other means?
by Ilene Grossman ~ December 2015 ~ Question of the Month »
Most legislatures do not have firm rules in place, and nearly all committee witnesses still make their statements in person, according to a recent CSG Midwest survey of the region’s legislative service agencies. However, most states in the Midwest do provide remote testimony as an option in certain situations — especially those in which an invited committee guest faces travel-related obstacles. More »
Capital Closeup: New-member orientations for legislators serve as building blocks for success
For most new state legislators, only a few weeks separate their November election victories and their first day in office.
There is a lot to learn in that short time frame — everything from the legislative process and constituent services, to information about the staffing and resources available to them. Orienting these new members, then, is crucial to helping make the legislative branch run smoothly, especially in states and in election years with high rates of turnover due to term limits and other factors. Offered in every Midwestern state legislature, new-member orientations are run by nonpartisan staff, often with oversight from legislative leaders or a joint or bipartisan legislative committee. More »
Capital Closeup: Illinois’ governor has broad veto authority, and more time to use it
In most states, it doesn’t take long for a bill passed by the legislature to be acted on by the governor.
The governors of Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota have only three days to veto a measure once they’ve received it, and in most other state constitutions, the time frame for gubernatorial action is between five and 10 days. But in Illinois, weeks can, and often do, go by between legislative passage and the governor’s signing or veto of legislation. More »
Capital Closeup: In Nebraska, the filibuster helps shape
legislative debate and negotiations
Best known today for its use in the U.S. Senate, the filibuster is a legislative tactic that dates back centuries — even to the days of ancient Rome.
But for most legislators serving in the 11-state Midwest, this maneuver to stall debate or block a bill’s passage is much more a curiosity than a legislative reality or obstacle. The one exception is Nebraska, home to perhaps the most unique legislative branch among the 50 U.S. state governments. More »
Capital Closeup: Proposals in Illinois, Michigan aim to kill the ‘lame duck’ session
For many states in the Midwest, lame-duck sessions don’t occur because of the typical calendar for a part-time legislature: Lawmakers adjourn well ahead of Election Day.
But at the federal level, and in states such as Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, “lame duck” sessions occur regularly — after fall elections but before a new legislature convenes. Some legislators in Michigan and Illinois say it is time to kill the lame duck in their states. More »
Stronger Indiana ethics law includes more help for legislators to comply
Seeking to improve transparency and remove conflicts of interest for elected officials, Indiana lawmakers have revamped their state’s ethics laws.
According to the South Bend Tribune, legislators will be required to report more on their financial-disclosure forms and on their statements of economic interest. They must now report close relatives who are lobbyists, for example, and also disclose any business interest worth at least $500,000.
HB 1002 also creates a new Office of Legislative Ethics. Housed within the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, this new office will help lawmakers understand and follow the state’s ethics rules. Indiana’s two legislative chambers must also adopt their own codes of ethics and provide training to members.
Three years ago, the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity evaluated each state on the laws it had in place to ensure “legislative accountability.” Its grades were based on the strength of state conflict-of-interest rules and public access to records on legislative proceedings and to the asset-disclosure records of elected officials. No state in the Midwest received higher than a C- in the report.
North Dakota bills call for legislature to adopt annual-session model
At one time in the nation’s history, most state legislatures met only once every two years. That changed in the 1960s and 1970s with a rise in the complexity of state governments and the size of their budgets, but one holdout in the Midwest remains.
North Dakota is one of four U.S. states (Montana, Nevada and Texas are the others) where the legislature does not meet every year. Some proposals this year, though, aim to change that; HB 1342 and SB 2247 call for the state’s legislators to meet every year.
One rationale for the change, The Bismarck Tribune reports, is rapid growth in the state due to its oil boom. The volatility of oil revenues, too, is adding more uncertainty to state revenue. Under the North Dakota Constitution, legislators are limited to meeting 80 days in regular session over the course of a biennium.
At the start of the 2015 session in Minnesota, some legislators raised the idea of not meeting next year due to a major construction project at the Capitol.
Minnesota and North Dakota are two of seven Midwestern states that continue to operate under biennial budget cycles. The others are Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Capital Closeup: Legislative immunity is an age-old, but misunderstood, protection for lawmakers
From time to time, a legislator makes headlines by invoking “immunity” when he or she is stopped by law enforcement. The news stories almost always bring up this question: Do lawmakers really have a “get out of jail free” card? The answer is, almost always, “no.” Most states have in their constitutions privilege for legislators, but the actual protections can be misunderstood by law enforcement, the public and lawmakers alike. More »
Year in Review: A look at the some of the policy trends, and ‘firsts,’ in Midwest’s legislatures
Compared to years of the not-so-distant past, 2014 was a relatively quiet one in capitols across the Midwest.
The fiscal storm that hit legislatures five years ago has now passed, and no single issue dominated headlines — unlike in 2011 and 2012, when debate over state laws on public and private unions captured international attention. Yet a lot got done in 2014. There were also several policy areas that got the attention of multiple Midwestern legislatures this year — including tax cuts, raises in the minimum wage, new medical-marijuana laws, restrictions on the use of drones, and state mandates related to autism coverage. More »
Across the Midwest, legislators rely on the work of nonpartisan staff, but the structure and oversight of these agencies vary
More than 100 years ago, the state of Wisconsin started what has since become an indispensable part of the daily work of state legislatures — the nonpartisan legislative service agency.
From bill drafting to a host of research services, agency staff help make the legislative process work in capitols across the country. More »
Republicans maintain, and strengthen, control of Midwest's state legislatures in 2014 elections
With the notable exceptions of Illinois and Minnesota, this November’s elections did little to change the partisan balance of power in Midwestern states. When legislatures meet next year, the Republican Party will continue to have control of them and the governors’ offices in Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Democrats, meanwhile, lost single-party control in the only two states where they had it. The GOP now holds a majority of seats in the Minnesota House, and Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn lost his
re-election bid. More »
Potential power of technology seen in new Illinois, Michigan partnership to improve Medicaid management
States are consistently improving their use of technology to better serve their citizens, according to a recent nationwide analysis by the Center for Digital Government.
Every two years, the organization looks at state governments’ ability to be more efficient and provide better service — and Midwestern states fared well in the most recent rankings compared with other regions. Michigan and Ohio had among the highest grades in the “Digital States Survey.” More »
Minnesota governor issues executive order to boost state's hiring of disabled
Concerned about a steady decline in the proportion of state workers who are disabled, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is ordering agency heads to do more.
His executive order also includes a workforce goal — that by 2018, 7 percent of the people employed by Minnesota’s state agencies be individuals with disabilities.
In 2013, about 3 percent of the state workers in Minnesota were disabled. In his August announcement, Dayton pointed to neighboring states that have higher rates — 5.8 percent and 4.4 percent in Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively. State agencies will get guidance on how to recruit and hire people with disabilities. They must also promote employment opportunities for this population and, four times a year, report progress on meeting the state’s new goals.
Minnesota is not alone in establishing new initiatives to expand work opportunities for the disabled. Michigan, for example, issued a “Better Off Working” plan in August that identifies policy changes to help individuals with disabilities find work. One of the recommendations is to improve the state’s own hiring process. In 2012, Ohio Gov. John Kasich launched the Employment First Initiative, the goal of which is to deliver “meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”
Citizen petitions lead to legislative action, two new laws in Michigan
Over the past year, Michigan legislators and a group of citizens have teamed up to pass measures using a lawmaking option available in only one other Midwestern state.
Most recently, the Legislature passed a citizen-initiated statute on wolf hunting. According to mlive.com, the measure is an attempt to allow the hunting to continue. In December, legislators approved a citizen-initiated petition that prohibits insurers from including abortion coverage as a standard part of plans.
In both instances, these proposed laws were brought to the Michigan Legislature. The first step in this process is collecting enough signatures — at least 8 percent of the votes cast for all candidates for governor in Michigan’s last election. Once legislators receive this “indirect citizen-initiated statute,” they have 40 session days to act on it. (Gubernatorial approval is not required.) Otherwise, the measure is placed on the ballot for a statewide vote.
Ohio is the only other Midwestern state with such a process in place. Five states in the region (Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota) give voters the ability to overturn a previously passed legislative measure, under a process known as the “veto referendum.”
Capital Closeup: The legislative experience of serving with a loved one
Six pairs of immediate family members currently serve together in four different Midwestern state legislatures. In this Capital Closeup article, some of them share their experiences. More »
In Midwest, states split on whether
legislating should be part- or full-time
In Michigan, the state’s legislators meet year-round, earn among the highest legislative salaries in the nation, and get support from a staff of more than 700 people.
For a time earlier this year, some inside the Capitol wondered if that might all soon change. More »
State legislatures have risen in stature and power, but challenges remain — from term limits to the increased size of legislative districts
Gridlock continues to reign in the nation’s capital, with power divided among two political parties that have become more ideologically distinct and among members of U.S. Congress who have become more ideologically distant from one another. That contrasts with trends at the state level, where a single party now controls the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in close to 80 percent of state capitols. That is the highest rate of unified government in more than 50 years. More »
Minnesota’s session focused on addition by subtraction (of old laws)
In Minnesota, a 75-year-old law had made it illegal to drive in neutral. Another measure made it a misdemeanor to carry fruit in an illegally sized container.
Those statutes — and many others — are now gone as the result of what Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers dubbed the 2014 “unsession.” In all, close to 1,200 laws and other state policies were eliminated or changed.
One of the primary goals this year in St. Paul was to update or streamline unwieldy regulations. For example, according to the St Paul Pioneer Press, the Legislature expedited the state’s environmental permitting process. For simpler projects, permits should now be issued or denied within 90 days. A decision on more-complicated projects (those that require a public comment period, for example) must be made within 150 days. Minnesota legislators also changed the state’s laws on tax credits to make them more consistent with the federal tax code — which will make filing easier for residents.
Every year, hundreds of new bills are enacted in most Midwestern states. According to The Council of State Governments’ “The Book of the States,” 948 bills were enacted in Michigan alone in 2012 — highest number in the Midwest and second-highest in the nation.
First in the Midwest: "Most copied legal innovation in nation's history" began in Illinois
The idea of separate courts and a distinct system of justice for juveniles has its roots in legislation passed by Illinois lawmakers on the last day of their 1899 session. “[It is] the most copied legal innovation in our nation’s history," says professor David Tanenhaus. More »
Wide variations seen in how much residents trust state government
Residents’ trust in state government varies widely depending on where they live — with trust levels as high as 77 percent in North Dakota and as low as 28 percent in Illinois, according to a recent Gallup poll.
The state-by-state results were based on interviews conducted in 2013.
The results from the Midwest mirror national results: In smaller-populated states, trust levels tend to be higher. Another factor appears to be the health of states’ economies. Trust levels in Illinois were 12 percentage points lower than in any other U.S. state, Gallup says, a reflection of the state’s history of corruption. (The last two governors served prison time for crimes committed while in office.)
The average U.S. state had 58 percent of respondents say they had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in state government. In addition to North Dakota, five states in the Midwest had trust levels above that average: Indiana (68 percent), Iowa (67 percent), Minnesota (62 percent), Nebraska (73 percent) and South Dakota (74 percent).
On the flip side, trust levels were below average in Kansas (56 percent), Michigan (54 percent), Ohio (54 percent) and Wisconsin (57 percent).
Drop in public-sector jobs continues in parts of the Midwest
Some Midwestern states continue to shed public sector jobs, new U.S. Census Bureau data show, with Michigan leading the nation in the decline of state and local government employment between 2007 and 2012. More »
Capital Closeup: Region’s legislatures use variety of methods to oversee state agencies
By mid-April, the 2014 legislative session had ended in Nebraska, with its 49 senators leaving the Capitol and returning to their jobs and lives outside of state government.
But the work of state government continues, with many important decisions left in the hands of Nebraska’s state agencies. And in a state with a term-limited, part-time Unicameral Legislature, Sen. Sue Crawford says, there should be concern about a potential lack of oversight of the agencies and how they set administrative rules. More »
First in the Midwest: Idea to provide nonpartisan legislative service first took root in Wisconsin, and then spread across the country
When Wisconsin lawmakers authorized the establishment of a “working library” to be housed in the state Capitol in 1901, the seed was planted for what soon became an invaluable resource for the Legislature and the citizens of Wisconsin. More than 100 years later, the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau — the nation’s first nonpartisan legislative service agency to provide drafting and research services to legislators — boasts an impressive record of innovation and public service and remains a vital facilitator of the legislative process in Madison. More »
In Michigan, voters may decide fate of state’s full-time legislature
by Tim Anderson ~ March 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Which states operate under full-time legislatures, and which have part-time lawmakers? The answer is not always clear-cut, and is based on a mix of factors such as compensation, days in session and staffing levels.
But there is no question that Michigan employs a full-time model. Its 148 legislators meet year-round and are paid an annual salary of $71,685.
According to the Detroit Free Press, more than 700 people work in the Legislature. A pending ballot initiative, though, could reshape the state’s governance structure. It calls for legislators to be paid no more than $35,000 a year and to hold one regular session per year lasting no more than 60 consecutive days. Legislative staffing levels would be capped at 250.
Lawmakers in seven Midwestern states are paid less (much less in many cases) than $35,000 annually: Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin (four of the region’s five highest-populated states) set salaries at a level more commensurate with full-time work. These four states also don’t have statutory or constitutional limits on session lengths. In contrast, session days are capped at 60 in Nebraska (for even-numbered years) and 40 in South Dakota. In the Midwest’s lowest-populated state, North Dakota, legislators meet once every two years.
Minnesota bill would set higher bar for changing Constitution
Some Minnesota legislative leaders are advancing a plan this year to set a higher threshold for amending their state Constitution.
Currently, a simple majority vote in a single legislative session is needed to pass on an amendment to voters. The 2014 proposal (SF 4) would require 60 percent approval in both legislative chambers before an amendment appears on the state ballot, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
According to CSG's’ “The Book of the States,” most U.S. states already have supermajority vote requirements in place. Among those states are Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio (three-fifths) and Kansas and Michigan (two-thirds).
In Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin, constitutional amendments must be approved by successive legislative assemblies (a simple majority vote by the legislatures is required in these three Midwestern states).
In five Midwestern states, the path to passing a constitutional amendment can skip the legislature altogether. With enough signatures, a citizen-initiated petition to change the Constitution can appear on ballots in Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota.
Capital Closeup: Indiana legislature’s paperless initiative aims to increase efficiency
In 2011, the Indiana legislature embarked on the first major revamp of its website and information management system in more than 15 years. The goal: to increase efficiency and keep up with the rapid increase in electronic devices being used by legislators, staff and the public. More »
Midwest states vary widely on rates of population growth; three on track to lose congressional seats and Electoral College votes in 2020
The Midwest’s least-populated state continues to grow at the fastest rate in the nation.
Between 2012 and 2013 alone, North Dakota’s population increased by more than 3 percent, new U.S. Census Bureau figures show.
That is double the growth of nearly every other U.S. state. Over the past two years, Minnesota and South Dakota are the only other Midwestern states where population increased at a rate higher than the United States as a whole. Illinois, Michigan and Ohio continue to have among the slowest growth rates in the nation, and one consequence of that trend is the likely loss of congressional seats and Electoral College votes after the 2020
reapportionment. More »
Change in Kansas law now allows legislators to carry guns in Capitol
Kansas legislators can carry concealed weapons inside the Capitol this year as the result of a 2013 law, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.
Under the measure (HB 2052), the operators of a government or public building must screen all visitors for weapons if they want to prohibit concealed-carry permit holders from bringing a gun inside the building.
Separate provisions, however, were established for gun policy at the Capitol, where metal detectors are currently used. (A 2013 CSG Midwest survey found that four states in the region have metal detectors at their capitol entrances: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Kansas.) As a result of these provisions, the general public is barred from carrying weapons into the Kansas Capitol until at least July 1, when legislative leaders will determine if “adequate security measures” are in place (as defined in HB 2052) — a requirement for the ban to continue. Legislative leaders were told in December, though, that under the new law, this general prohibition does not extend to legislators.
A 2013 CSG Midwest survey of capitol police found that three states in the region — Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns into some or all parts of state capitol buildings. In Minnesota, individuals must notify security in advance.
Protecting, enhancing state Capitol goals of new Michigan law
Michigan legislators have added the state Capitol building and its grounds in Lansing to the list of designated state historic sites.
The same legislative package (SB 665, SB 666, HB 5134 and HB 5135) also creates a new state commission that will be responsible for operating, restoring and improving the site. The bills received unanimous legislative approval and were signed into law in December by Gov. Rick Snyder, who said the legislative actions “will give the treasured building the protection and preservation that it and future generations of Michiganders deserve.”
The newly formed six-member commission will include the Senate secretary, House clerk and a gubernatorial appointee. The other three members must have experience in historic preservation and the maintenance and operation of historic structures. One of the commission’s tasks is to make recommendations to the governor and Legislature on funding for the site. The recently enacted legislative package creates a Michigan State Capitol Historic Site Fund, but as the Detroit Free Press notes, an ongoing funding source has not yet been designated.
The 135-year-old Michigan Capitol is already a designated National Historic Landmark. The state capitol buildings in Nebraska and Wisconsin also have this designation.
Minnesota law relaxes restrictions on lawmakers accepting free meals
A new law in Minnesota has relaxed part of a 19-year-old policy prohibiting legislators from accepting gifts from lobbyists and interest groups.
Minnesota’s gift ban is one of the nation’s strictest, with lawmakers prohibited from accepting anything of value unless they are giving a speech or taking questions. Until recently, the ban included meals.
But under a bill passed this year (SF 661), legislators and their staffs can eat and drink for free at events hosted by outside groups — as long as all legislators are invited at least five days in advance, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Proponents say the new rules could ease partisanship and improve legislative camaraderie. Critics of the change worry it will lead to improper influence by outside groups.
An October 2012 Stateline Midwest article examined some of the differences in state laws regulating gifts to legislators from lobbyists. At that time, for example, states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin had complete bans, while Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota set no monetary restrictions. Most common, though, was for states in the region to set monthly or yearly monetary limits. As of 2012, annual limits ranged from $100 in Illinois to $40 in Kansas. In Nebraska and Michigan, the limits were set at $50 per month and $25 per month, respectively.
First in the Midwest: After nearly 100 years, North Dakota still values its state-owned bank — the only one of its kind in the nation
Not far from the North Dakota state Capitol in Bismarck stands a sleek, glass-covered building that, at first glance, belies its historic ties to the state’s progressive-era roots.
Despite its modern façade, however, the Bank of North Dakota — the nation’s only state-owned and state-operated bank — stands in part as a testament to the agrarian revolt that engulfed the young state and eventually ushered in a sweeping series of government reforms almost 100 years ago. More »
Capital Closeup: In era of federal gridlock, states have emerged again as a policy force
In their new book “Why States Matter,” two of the nation’s leading scholars on American politics describe the far-reaching influence of states on the lives of citizens and on the direction of U.S. policymaking. They also say states matter more today than they have in at least two generations. And with no sign to an end of political gridlock in Washington, D.C., this rise in influence is likely to continue, creating new challenges and opportunities for state legislators and other leaders. More »
First in the Midwest: Two decades ago, the Minnesota Legislature opened the door to charter schools — a step eventually followed by states across the country
With the passage of a groundbreaking statute in 1991, Minnesota legislators paved the way for a national charter school movement and triggered a flurry of action in legislatures across the country. More »
Capital Closeup: For legislators, no easy answers on how to set their own pay
For the past decade and a half, the annual salary for Minnesota legislators has remained at $31,140. And state Sen. Roger Reinert says there has been a noticeable consequence of this stagnation — closing the option of legislative service to many people. “Increasingly, we are seeing either very young or retired members [in the Legislature],” he says. “Mid-career professionals who do not reside in the Twin Cities metropolitan area struggle to maintain a work/public service balance.” More »
Illinois governor blocks legislator pay, setting up battle over veto power
by Tim Anderson ~ July/August 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A decision by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in July to block the salaries of state legislators has resulted in a constitutional showdown between the legislative and executive branches of government.
According to the Peoria Journal Star, Quinn made the move due to legislative inaction over the state’s pension crisis.
A few weeks later, legislative leaders filed a lawsuit contending the governor’s suspension of legislative pay is unconstitutional and threatens “the independence of a co-equal branch of government.” If left unchallenged, the leaders said, the governor’s actions would set a “dangerous precedent”: the withholding of salaries as a tactic for future governors to coerce legislative action.
When he made the move, Quinn cited his line-item veto authority. He vetoed out the legislators’ salaries from a state budget bill. In the Midwest, every state except Indiana provides the governor with some type of line-item veto authority, according to CSG’s 2013 “The Book of the States.” In Illinois, those powers extend to all bills. This gubernatorial power is reserved for only appropriations bills in the region’s nine other states.
Supermajority votes of the legislature can override gubernatorial vetoes.
Capital Closeup: Practices, laws on legislative adjournment and session length vary across
In some Midwestern states, "hard caps" on when legislatures must adjourn are in place — in the form of state laws or constitutional provisions. Other Midwestern states have "soft" or indirect caps, while others have no restrictions on the duration of legislative sessions. More »
In swing states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, small election wins now translate into big
When people are being encouraged to cast their ballot on Election Day, you often hear the phrase, “Every vote counts.” That old phrase is quickly turning into a literal truth — with huge policy implications — and just maybe, it’s also a way out of political gridlock in the nation's capital. More »
Upholding legislative civility a big challenge in era marked by a rise in polarization and a greater impact of timeless moral factors on politics
In his keynote address to the Midwestern Legislative Conference, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt described civility this way: “The ability to disagree with others while respecting their sincerity and decency.” More than in any other political era of the recent past, he added, our nation’s ability to maintain a healthy level of civility is
at risk. More »
First in the Midwest: A century ago, Wisconsin adopted a new kind of revenue source — the income tax; its decision has had a lasting impact on state governments
When Wisconsinites went to the polls in 1908, they had tax reform on their minds. The existing state revenue system was perceived by many as being unfair, and reformers, including former Gov. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, had been calling for change for years. More »
Capital Closeup: Conflicts of interest inevitable in legislatures; rules that govern legislator recusal and voting vary from state to state
Legislating is not a full-time job for most of the Midwest’s 1,550 state lawmakers — at least when it comes to pay. And
Nicholas Kusnetz of the Center for Public Integrity says a majority of voters have embraced the idea of a “citizen legislature” — individuals from different walks of life gather in the capitol, conduct the state’s business, and then return to their homes and places of employment.
It sounds good in theory, Kusnetz says, but he adds that states should do more to address an unavoidable reality: the slew of conflicts of interest that arise when lawmakers rely on outside income. More »
Pay raise for governor, state legislators mulled in Minnesota
More than a decade has passed since Minnesota legislators and the state’s governor last received a salary increase. That may change since this year, if the Legislature follows through on a pay raise recommended by Minnesota’s 16-member Compensation Council, a mix of state legislators, judges and members of the executive branch.
As in most Midwestern states, legislative service in Minnesota is considered “part time.” Members receive $31,140 a year, a figure in the mid-range for states in this region. The council says salaries need to be raised so that individuals “are not deterred by loss of income from running for office. Otherwise, we face the prospect of a Legislature that is not representative of Minnesota’s citizenry.” In April, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports, the Minnesota Senate approved a plan to make the salary of legislators one-third of that of the governor. The same measure would boost the governor’s salary from $120,000 to $128,000 by 2016, thus boosting legislators’ wages by about 35 percent.
In 2012, annual legislative salaries in the Midwest ranged from a high of $71,865 in Michigan to a low of $6,000 in South Dakota. Legislators are paid a per-day salary in Kansas ($88.66 during session) and North Dakota ($152 during session).
Only in the Midwest: Every four years, the race for president starts in Iowa, and leaves a lasting impact on the state’s political process
For most presidential candidates, the road to the White House begins in Iowa. Since the 1970s, the state’s presidential caucuses have served as the nation’s first real test of voter interest in competing candidates, and have launched the successful campaigns of presidents from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama.
As important as they are to the candidates themselves, the Iowa caucuses are significant in other ways as well. More »
Capital Closeup: States vary on gun rules in capitol buildings
When Minnesota legislators opened hearings on a series of gun control proposals in February, interested onlookers packed committee hearings. And some of those in attendance were likely packing heat. More »
Only in the Midwest: At more than 300,000 people, Ohio's Senate districts are largest in region — and among largest in nation
Across the Midwest, the average state representative serves just over 58,000 constituents, while the average state senator represents almost 122,000. Both of these numbers are slightly lower than the corresponding national averages, and state-specific figures vary significantly, depending on population size and the number of seats in each legislative chamber. In North Dakota, for example, each legislator represents just over 14,000 constituent; at the other end of the spectrum, Ohio stands out as the state with the region’s largest legislative districts. More »
Wisconsin lawmakers eye change in process for when bills take effect
The legislature passes it, the governor signs it into law.
The path for a bill to become a law is well known, but there is another step that is more obscure and less uniform — when enacted measures actually take effect.
Early this year, Wisconsin lawmakers appeared likely to change the unique process currently in place in that state, namely that the secretary of state must publish an act before it can take effect.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a bill passed by the Senate in late January would instead allow legislation to take effect two days after the governor signs it. The change was spurred by controversy over a 2011 measure that limited collective bargaining rights for public employees. That bill was passed by the legislature and governor, but the secretary of state delayed publishing the act for months due to a court order. The goal of the 2013 legislation is to eliminate such delays in the future.
In most states, laws generally take effect on a particular day (for example, July 1 in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota, or 90 days after the end of session in Michigan). However, state legislatures also typically have the flexibility to change the effective date through emergency clauses or other means.
Capital Closeup: Median age of Midwestern state legislators is slightly below national average; lawmakers span seven decades in age
While the average legislator in this region is in his or her 50s, Midwestern state legislatures have many different generations of members working side-by-side. Nationwide, the average age of a state legislator is 57, according to Adam Brown, a political researcher at Brigham Young University. In the Midwest, however, it was slightly lower in 2012: 54. More »
Michigan recall law for state legislators gets revamped
One of the five states in the Midwest that allows for voter recall of state legislators has made significant changes to the process.
Michigan’s HB 6060 and HB 6063, signed into law in December, reduce the amount of time to gather recall-petition signatures (from 90 days to 60 days) and change the format of the recall election. There will no longer be an up-or-down vote on the current officeholder. Instead, voters will choose between the officeholder and a challenger. Lastly, mlive.com reports, the new laws place limits on when legislators can be subject to a recall. House members, who serve two-year terms, are exempt in the first six months or last six months of their term in office. State senators cannot be recalled in the first year or last year of their four-year term.
Several Michigan legislators have been the targets of recall campaigns in recent years, and one member of the House was ousted from office in 2011. That same year, many lawmakers in Wisconsin had to fend off recall elections, including more than a quarter of the members of the state Senate.
Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota are the other three Midwestern states with provisions to recall state legislators from office.
New year, new faces: Legislative turnover high in many states as a result of 2012 elections
by Tim Anderson ~ December 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The 2013 legislative sessions in the Midwest will begin soon with hundreds of new lawmakers taking office, but with a balance of power between the two major political parties that remains largely unchanged. More »
National study puts North Dakota on top of list of best-run states; four other
in top 10
Five of the nation’s 10 best-run states are in the Midwest, a study by the financial news service 24/7 Wall St. concludes, led by North Dakota and its oil-fueled economic boom. The state rankings are based on a host of factors, but most center on fiscal and economic conditions — for example, state credit ratings, unemployment rates, GDP growth, and levels of debt relative to personal income and state revenue.
On those measures and others, North Dakota ranks above most or all other states.
States with agriculture-driven economies tended to place high on the list, including:
Nebraska (ranked third), which has the second-lowest unemployment rate and debt per capita in the country;
Iowa, (ranked fifth) which has a low debt burden and a high credit rating; and
South Dakota (ranked seventh), which has low taxes and a pension system that is funded at close to 100 percent.
Minnesota rounded out the top-10 list, thanks in large part to that state’s low poverty and crime rates, as well as the relatively high percentage of residents who have health insurance and a high school diploma.
Only in the Midwest: In Kansas, requirement that census data be adjusted makes for unique redistricting
process — and results
When the 2012 session of the Kansas Legislature adjourned last May, lawmakers left one important piece of business unfinished. More »
In Indiana, lottery sales and marketing put in hands of private firm
Indiana lottery officials announced in October that they were handing over day-to-day operations of sales and marketing to a private contractor.
This decision to outsource services is designed to boost state revenue from the Hoosier Lottery, with officials projecting an annual increase of $100 million during the first five years of the integrated services agreement.
Gov. Mitch Daniels noted in a press release following the decision that his state’s lottery revenues “lag far behind most states.” GTECH, the company handling sales and marketing for Indiana, will receive performance incentives. According to The Wall Street Journal, Hoosier Lottery officials expect revenue to increase when they begin to sell tickets at grocery stores, big-box stores and discount stores. Illinois was the first state to hand over management of its state lottery.
The Chicago Tribune reported in July that in the first year of this new arrangement, the lottery turned a record profit. Net revenue, though, was still less than promised.
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, ticket sales from state-administered lotteries in the Midwest range from $2.3 billion in Ohio to $23 million in North Dakota.
Change in lobbying laws has changed culture inside state capitols
by Laura Tomaka ~ October 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
State laws seek to middle ground on lobbying and policymaking: Accept lobbying as a part of the policymaking process, but regulate the activity to guard against the dangers of lobbyists having an undue influence. More »
Minnesota now lone Midwest state to publicly finance legislative races
In Minnesota, close to 400 people are running for seats in the Legislature as nominees of the state’s two major political parties. A vast majority of them — 87 percent — have received a public subsidy for their campaigns.
The recently released state data show the extent to which candidates have bought into Minnesota’s public financing system, which provides the subsidy in exchange for a candidate agreeing to abide by spending limits. The limits in 2012 for legislative races range between $34,300 and $90,000.
In all, this year’s candidates are receiving $1.9 million in public subsidies, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board reports. The money comes from a tax check-off program and a $1 million general-fund appropriation.
Minnesota is the only Midwestern state that provides direct public financing to legislative candidates. Wisconsin did away with its Election Campaign Fund last year, and in Nebraska, a 1992 campaign-finance law was ruled unconstitutional this summer by the state Supreme Court. Under this law, a subsidy was provided to a candidate who agreed to a spending limit and whose opponent exceeded it.
Only in the Midwest: Illinois has unique partisan system of electing, retaining judges
Although judicial elections have long been a mainstay of the electoral landscape in many states, they have seldom attracted the same level of attention routinely paid to partisan contests for legislative seats or constitutional
offices. In recent years, however, a number of high-profile supreme court races have increasingly called attention to the means by which judicial officers are chosen. More »
Ohio voters will get final say on who should draw political maps
Ohio voters will decide in November whether the task of redistricting should be taken away from state elected officials and put in the hands of a 12-member commission.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have an immediate impact; the ballot proposal calls for new maps to be redrawn prior to the 2014 election.
Under current Ohio law, the General Assembly is put in charge of the congressional map while a five-member board of state elected officials has purview over state legislative districts. In contrast, the newly formed 12-member commission could not include current and former officeholders, their family members, or lobbyists and big political donors.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, six U.S. states already have put politician-free commissions in charge of redistricting.
In the Midwest, legislatures get at least the first crack at drawing and/or approving new political maps. Iowa, though, is often singled out for its unique process: Nonpartisan legislative staff develops a map, which then must be approved or rejected, without modification, by the legislature. If the legislature fails to approve staff’s first two plans, it may amend the third map as it would any other bill.
Capital Closeup: Gains made by women in state legislatures have largely stalled over past decade
Representation of women in state elective office has increased in the Midwest over the past 35 years, but since the late 1990s, the gains have slowed — and even stopped in some instances. More »
Only in the Midwest: Michigan's term limits law puts lifetime cap on legislative service
Four states in the Midwest — Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota — have term limit laws for legislatures. But Michigan's law stands apart from the other three in one important respect. More »
In Minnesota and Kansas, redistricting maps drawn by courts
The once-a-decade task of redrawing state political maps tends to bring with it some unexpected twists and turns, and the latest round of redistricting has been no exception.
In Kansas, lawmakers were unable to agree on a plan for new congressional and state legislative districts. As a result, The Wichita Eagle reports, the work was turned over to a three-person panel of federal judges. Minnesota is the other Midwestern state where the redrawing of political maps was put in the hands of the judiciary. In that state, the GOP-led Legislature’s plan was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. This stalemate resulted in a five-member panel of state judges drawing the new maps, which pair a “staggering” 46 incumbent state legislators, the website Ballotpedia reports.
Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin are among the states where legislature-approved maps have faced court challenges. As of May, none had been overturned, though a federal court ruling in April ordered Wisconsin to redraw two Assembly districts. In Ohio, meanwhile, an effort is under way to change the redistricting process via a ballot initiative. According to the Dayton Daily News, initiative supporters want a “politician-free” commission to draw the maps. A legislative task force has also been exploring ways to change the process in Ohio.
Capital Closeup: Recent disputes focus public attention on state laws determining effective date of bills
When can and do bills enacted into law actually take effect? It is a question that usually merits scant attention outside the walls of state capitols, but over the past two years, the institutional issue has become part of the bigger story over the future of public employee union laws in the Midwest. More »
Only in the Midwest: Sizing up the Minnesota Legislature: The pros and
cons of policymaking in the Midwest’s largest legislative body
High above the main entrance to the Minnesota
State Capitol building, the Quadriga, a striking gold-leafed copper sculpture of
a four-horse chariot and figures, keeps steady watch over the grounds that
surround it. But it’s what is inside the historic, 107-year-old
landmark that really sets the Minnesota Capitol apart from others in the
Midwest. More »
Which states in the Midwest post the salaries of employees on their websites?
by Tim Anderson ~ April 2012 ~ Question of the Month »
As part of websites created over the past five years to improve state-spending transparency,
Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and South Dakota post the salaries of public employees. In Kansas, wages can be viewed by job title and
agency. More »
After huge GOP wins in 2010, partisan control of Midwest's legislatures up for grabs again
When voters go to the polls this November, much of the attention will be focused on the race for president and partisan control of the U.S. Congress. But the elections will also determine which party enjoys majorities in the Midwest’s 20 partisan legislative chambers. More »
Study says states need to do more to prevent risk of
Capital Closeup: In most Midwestern states, legislatures can initiate special sessions, but it is an authority used sparingly
For decades, Nebraska legislators have had the statutory authority to call themselves into special session. They never have, but last year, Sen. Annette Dubas and some of her colleagues started taking steps to make state legislative history. More »
Putting power in states’ hands: Compact aims to
improve process for siting transmission lines
Many states in the Midwest are increasing their
production of electricity, often through the development of wind energy, and
power companies are looking to export that excess electricity to other states.
To do this, though, additional transmission capacity is needed. More »
Only in the Midwest: Indiana’s second-in-command afforded powers second to none compared to region’s other lieutenant governors
The office of lieutenant governor in Indiana carries with it an array of responsibilities and duties that is unmatched in the Midwest and in most other states in the nation. More »
What are Midwestern states’ rules regarding protests and
demonstrations in capitol buildings?
A. In the last year, state
capitols in the Midwest have become hotbeds of political protest as lawmakers
have debated highly contentious issues. That activity has led, in some states,
to a re-examination of rules that aim to seek a balance between public safety
and public access. More
Iowa requiring close look at impact of new agency rules on jobs
In Iowa, any proposed new rule or regulation by a state agency must be accompanied by a “jobs impact statement” — the effects, positive or negative, of the state’s action on employment in the private sector.
The requirement is the result of a gubernatorial executive order signed in 2011. Iowa legislators now want to make the rule more permanent, by passing legislation that would require jobs impact statements no matter who is serving as governor.
According to the Sioux City Journal, HF 2042 was the first bill approved this year by the Iowa House and did not receive a single no vote. (It had not yet been considered by the state Senate as of late January.) Like the executive order, the bill calls for an analysis of the cost of any new administrative rule on local governments and businesses. Whenever possible, too, the jobs impact statement must determine the per-employee cost of implementing or complying with a state rule.
Some states require that economic impact analyses be done on proposed legislation. A 2011 study by the state of Connecticut found that at least seven states (none of the seven were in the Midwest) have such requirements, some of which focus specifically on a bill’s effects on jobs and small businesses.
Capital Closeup: Selecting committee chairs: Process is largely controlled by leadership, but Nebraska is one notable exception
In Nebraska, the jockeying to become chair of one of the state’s 14 standing committees can last from the day one session ends to the day the next session is ready to begin. More »
Ohio lawmakers begin decade-long review of state Constitution
Since being adopted, Ohio’s 161-year-old state constitution has been amended more than 160 times.
It has much less frequently been given a systematic, thorough review by lawmakers and other state leaders. But starting this year, in a process that will run through 2021, a 32-member group of state legislators and others has been tasked with studying the Ohio Constitution and exploring ideas for changing it. The Constitutional Modernization Commission was established as the result of legislation (HB 188) signed into law in 2011.
Any constitutional amendments proposed by the commission will require a two-thirds vote of members before being sent to the General Assembly for consideration, The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Ohio voters will have the ultimate say on any proposals. They will also decide this year whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. Such a vote takes place once every 20 years. Thirteen other states require periodic votes on whether to hold constitutional conventions, including Illinois (every 20 years), Iowa (every 10 years) and Michigan (every 16 years), according to CSG’s “The Book of the States.” In recent years, residents in those three states all voted not to hold conventions.
Indiana legislature will reduce paper trail by relying more on iPads
Like other state legislatures, the Indiana General Assembly uses lots and lots of paper — an estimated 17 tons every session. For a single piece of legislation last year (the state’s budget bill), a total of 133,080 pages were printed out. That is the equivalent of 16 trees.
In 2012, though, Indiana lawmakers hope to use a little less paper under a pilot project that will have them relying more on iPads. According to the Northwest Indiana Times, two legislative committees will go “paperless“ next year. Committee reports and documents will be distributed electronically, via iPads. Meanwhile, the state will examine ways to build out the technologies needed to expand the use of computer tablets as lawmakers familiarize themselves with the devices.
An Indiana Legislative Service Agency study found that 18 states have already launched paperless initiatives. In the Minnesota Legislature and Wisconsin House, one or more legislative activities have been converted to a paperless process. The Kansas and Ohio legislatures have also taken steps to reduce the use of paper. The same study estimated that during Indiana’s 2011 session, $550,000 was spent “moving paper.” This total includes actual paper and equipment costs as well as the time that staff devotes to distributing, filing and retrieving paper documents.
Capital Closeup: Michigan ends health benefit for legislators now
only available in 2 Midwestern states: Ohio and Illinois
by Tim Anderson ~ December 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
Michigan Rep. Joel Johnson says he entered elective office this year looking
to save taxpayers money whenever and wherever he could. Within weeks, he found
one of his first targets: a health care benefit for him and his legislative
colleagues. More »
Only in the Midwest: Most states rely heavily on income tax, but South Dakota hasn’t
had one in 70 years
South Dakota, like most other states, adopted a statewide tax on personal income early in the last century — only to abandon it during World War II, when sales tax revenues soared nationwide. More »
Supreme costs: Five Midwestern states have among most expensive
elections in nation
The trend toward big spending on state supreme court races took at least two
new turns during the 2009-10 election cycle, according to a report issued in
October by three judicial watch groups. And at the center of these changes are
several states in the Midwest. More »
Major decisions coming on future of Kansas’ retirement system
Change is coming to Kansas’ pension plan for public employees.
But what form it takes remains uncertain, as a study commission of lawmakers and non-government officials readies recommendations for legislative consideration in 2012.
According to The Topeka Capital-Journal, some kind of defined-contribution system — either for all new workers, or a “stack plan” that puts worker salaries above a certain level into a 401 (k)-style plan — will likely be proposed. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved higher contribution rates for public employers and workers. Those changes would take effect in 2014, but are contingent on the Legislature voting on the commission’s recommendations.
Like most states, Kansas currently employs a defined-benefit model, tying retirement benefits to a worker’s years of service and salary. One exception in the Midwest is Michigan, which uses a defined-contribution plan. According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, Indiana and Ohio have hybrid defined-benefit/defined-contribution plans for state employees. Nebraska, which once had a defined-contribution system, now uses a “cash balance” plan: Each worker has a retirement account and is guaranteed a 5 percent return on investment. Upon retirement, the worker can set up an annuity or get a lump-sum payment.
The map-maker: Using the ‘competition model’ as an alternative to current redistricting process
He was fascinated by maps as a child, teaches physics at Northern Illinois University, and is a former alderman and mayor who helped redraw ward boundaries in his hometown.
It is no wonder that Illinois Rep. Mike Fortner has taken a keen interest in redistricting since joining the state General Assembly in 2007. More »
Awarding innovation: CSG honors cloud-computing
efforts in Michigan, wellness program in Nebraska
They are dissimilar programs trying to tackle very different issues in state government.
But a new wellness plan for Nebraska state employees and a cloud-computing initiative in Michigan have least one thing in common: They have been identified as among the nation’s most innovative and exemplary programs in state government.
Both were selected as winners of 2011 CSG Innovations Awards and recognized at a ceremony in October at The Council of State Governments’ National Conference. More »
Capital Closeup: 11 ways to staff a Midwestern legislature:
Data on staffing levels show wide variety in level — and type — of resources provided to region’s lawmakers
The way individual state legislatures structure themselves can depend on a number of varying factors, and chief among those is the use of staff.
Staffing patterns in the Midwest’s 11 state legislatures differ greatly — with variation seen in everything from the total number of people employed by the legislature, to the size of personal and partisan caucus staffs, to the staffing of committees. More »
Jobs in state, local government falling in most Midwestern states
Anderson ~ October 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In Ohio, the Dayton Daily News reports, the state and its local governments are shedding jobs and increasingly replacing full-time workers with part-time employees.
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader tells a similar story in a September article about trends in South Dakota: The number of state and public workers fell 4 percent between 2009 and 2010, and the decline is expected to continue in 2011 as the result of budget cuts. Fiscal woes have also led the Illinois governor to propose closing seven state-run facilities, including a prison, resulting in the loss of nearly 2,000 state workers, the Bloomington Pantagraph reports.
Across the country, the number of jobs in state and local governments is shrinking, recent U.S. Census Bureau data show. In Illinois and Ohio, for example, there were 10,000 fewer full-time state and local government workers in 2010 than there were in 2009. Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota also reported drops. South Dakota had the region’s sharpest percentage-point decline.
In the U.S., education (K-12 and higher education) accounts for half of the full-time jobs in state and local government. Higher education accounts for nearly one-third of the jobs in state government and 40 percent of the payroll.
Only in the Midwest: A look at the broad budgetary powers given to the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance
In 1911, lawmakers in Wisconsin approved a flurry of sweeping and innovative
proposals that distinguish that year’s legislative session, even a century
later, as one of the most significant in the state’s history.
measures enacted that year were the nation’s first state income tax law, the
first state worker’s compensation law, a minimum-wage requirement for women, a
bill regulating child labor and another establishing a new Industrial
Commission. But one of the most enduring legacies of the 1911 session was a measure that
established a new joint legislative committee charged with overseeing the state
budget process. More
Nebraska near top of list of ‘most educated’ state legislatures
~ Stateline Midwest »
How educated are state legislators compared to the citizens they represent?
That was the question The Chronicle of Higher Education set out to answer this summer by examining the educational backgrounds of the nation’s 7,000-plus state legislators. It found significant variations among the different legislatures, but at least one commonality: A state’s elected officials are much more likely to have college degrees than the general public. Nationally, 75 percent of legislators have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to about 30 percent of all Americans.
Here are some findings for the Midwest:
• The region’s smallest legislative body is its most educated. In Nebraska’s 49-person Unicameral Legislature, 87 percent of members have a bachelor’s degree or higher (third-highest in the nation). Five other Midwestern states have rates higher than the national average: Illinois, 81.9 percent; Minnesota, 83.9 percent; Ohio, 80.3 percent; and Wisconsin, 77.5 percent.
• South Dakota has the region’s lowest percentage of legislators with bachelor’s degrees (60.9 percent). Indiana (73.4 percent), Iowa (71.3 percent), Kansas (68.6 percent), Michigan (72.9 percent) and North Dakota (68.9 percent) also fall below the U.S. average.
2011 becomes election year due to surge in recall campaigns
Stateline Midwest »
Five states in the Midwest allow for the recall of state legislators, and it is an electoral procedure being used now more than ever before in the region.
This summer, more than a quarter of the Wisconsin Senate faced the prospect of being recalled; most of the nine sitting senators prevailed in their elections. Meanwhile, an effort is under way in Michigan to remove a legislator who serves as chair of the House Education Committee. These recall drives were launched in the two states following contentious debate over taxes, spending cuts and collective bargaining.
Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota are the three other states in the region that provide for the recall of state legislators. In Kansas, a petition must include signatures equal to 40 percent of the votes cast in the previous election for the position held by the officeholder. The other states use a 25 percent requirement (usually based on votes cast by the electoral district in the previous governor’s race). In Minnesota, the state Supreme Court must determine if there are sufficient grounds for a recall. Elected officials in that state can be removed from office for one of three reasons: “malfeasance,” “nonfeasance” or a “serious crime.” Like Minnesota, Kansas sets specific grounds for a recall. That is not the case in Michigan, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Sizing up the size of legislatures part of redistricting discussions
~ Stateline Midwest »
The latest round of redistricting has some lawmakers re-evaluating the size and number of legislative districts in their states.
In North Dakota, The Bismarck Tribune reports, this sort of re-examination has in the past led to a reduction in senators and representatives. The Legislature currently has 141 members, down from 159 in the 1980s. However, some lawmakers have suggested reversing this trend. Adding new members, they say, would keep already large rural districts (where population is declining) from having to greatly expand. The North Dakota Legislative Council estimates the 10-year cost of adding a district (three legislators per district) at $1.2 million. The North Dakota Constitution allows for as many as 162 members and as few as 120.
Most constitutions in the Midwest establish the exact size of legislatures or set size limits. (The lone exception is Minnesota, where size is prescribed by statute.)
Most states are already at their limit. One state that is not is Nebraska, whose Unicameral Legislature has 49 members. A proposal was made this year to increase the size to the 50-member maximum. LB 195 failed to advance, as did another proposal (LB 233) to eliminate four districts. The Unicameral must have between 30 and 50.members.
Ron Brownstein: Era of
political volatility, extreme partisanship resulting in inadequate policy
response to nation's critical policy challenges
by Tim Anderson ~ MLC Annual
Meeting Edition 2011 ~ PDF
of Stateline Midwest article »
In political terms, two years seems like a long, long time ago. In the
Midwest, Barack Obama had captured victories in seven of the 11 Midwestern
states, and Democrats had gained control of a majority of the region’s partisan
legislative chambers and governorships. More »
Turbulent economic, political era ahead for ‘patchwork Midwest’
In 1950’s “All About Eve,” Bette Davis utters the famous quote: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Considering how fractured the country is, and the continuing toll wrought by the Great Recession, state legislators in the Midwest might want to be thinking about fastening their own seat belts.
That was the message of Dante Chinni, co-author of “Our Patchwork Nation” and a speaker at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting in July. More »
The minority rules: Measuring the power of majority party, rights of minority in legislatures
by Tim Anderson ~ June 2011
~ Stateline Midwest »
The balance between the powers of the majority party and procedural rights of the minority in legislatures is an institutional issue not often discussed beyond the walls of state capitols. But this year was an exception, the result of the closely watched “walkouts” this year by two minority-party caucuses in the Midwest. More »
Ohio mandates audits of state agencies to improve operations
~ Stateline Midwest »
Seeking greater efficiencies in state government operations, Ohio lawmakers are turning to the power, expertise and resources of the state auditor for help.
Legislation passed in April (SB 4) requires that four performance audits of state agencies be conducted each biennium. Those audits can be of the entire agency or of a particular program or entity within it. The state auditor will consult with the governor and legislative leaders on what agencies to review each biennium.
SB 4 also establishes a new fund to make loans available to state agencies to pay for the costs of the performance audits. At the conclusion of each agency review, the auditor will offer recommendations for cost savings and operational improvements. Agencies that do not follow the recommendations will have to report back to the legislature on why the proposals were not implemented.
In a 2008 report, The Pew Center on the States recommended that legislatures expand the capacity of auditor general’s offices in order to improve government performance. That Pew study, “Grading the States,” singled out three Midwestern states for having strong auditing systems in place: Kansas, Michigan and Minnesota.
Inside Census 2010, Part 3: Population loss in Midwest's cities continues, with ‘black flight’ among the latest trends seen by demographers
The story of the population and economic decline of some of the Midwest’s largest, historically most important cities did not begin in 2000 and will likely not end in 2010.
Nonetheless, data from U.S. Census 2010 are striking in showing the extent of the out-migration from many of this region’s central towns. More »
Only in the Midwest: Distinctive legislative rules in North Dakota — including allowing all bills to receive votes on the floor — reflect commitment to openness
Across the country, no two legislatures go about the business of lawmaking in exactly the same way.
Still, for the most part, the basic procedures used in most capitols are similar enough that a visiting legislator would quickly recognize key features of the process in almost any state.
Here in the Midwest, however, one legislature stands apart from the rest, thanks to a unique combination of traditions, operating authority, customized rules and subtle nuances that make it unlike any other in the region. More »
Big split over unions: Debate over collective
bargaining puts eyes of the world on Midwest, and fight over future of state
laws has just begun
From the moment a restructuring of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining system
was introduced, it became clear to legislators that state politics and
policymaking — and their own jobs — were going to change as well. More »
Inside Census 2010, Part 2: Data show sharp population drop in rural Midwest; Kansas employs new strategy
to help reverse trend
constituent had just called Sen. Jeff King to tell him about having to leave
rural southeast Kansas due to a lack of broadband access. Another sent an e-mail
worried about losing the local grocery store.
These stories have become all
too familiar to King, who represents a part of the state that is experiencing
steep declines in population. More »
Another type of budget debate: Annual vs.
biennial budget cycles — Which is most advantageous to legislatures?
State leaders are always looking at ways to save money, especially when
budgets are tight. The most obvious way to save money is through budget and
program cuts. But some states are also exploring options to refine their budget
processes in hopes of spurring more-effective long-term fiscal
planning. More »
Only in the Midwest: 74 years after it was created, Nebraska Unicameral remains a unique part of nation’s political system
A senate, a house of representatives, majority and minority caucuses and partisanship leadership structures — these are some of the common features of state legislatures across the country. From coast to coast and in almost every state, bicameral legislatures are the American norm, with one noteworthy exception here in the Midwest. More »
What kind of population variations among state legislative and U.S. congressional districts are legally permissible?
The once-a-decade task of redistricting is now in full swing in the Midwest, a region that will lose six seats in the U.S. Congress as the result of reapportionment and that, like the rest of the country, continues to see shifts in population from rural to metropolitan areas. More »
Midwestern states prepare for redistricting in 2011
As the legislative session began in Iowa, state officials started the process of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional districts.
But in Des Moines, the process won’t be the same as it is in other Midwestern state capitals, where legislators get the first crack at reconfiguring political districts based on new population data. More »
Inside Census 2010, Part 1: Midwest will lose money and influence as a result of 2010 Census results
In a decade when the U.S. population grew at the smallest rate since the 1930s and the Great Depression, every Midwestern state failed to keep pace with the nation’s 10-year growth rate of 9.7 percent.
One consequence of the 2010 Census for the 11-state Midwest will be the loss of five congressional seats — and five votes in the U.S. Electoral College. The new census data, which were released late last year, will also be used to determine state-by-state allocations of federal funding. More »
How do states in the Midwest handle recounts in legislative and statewide elections?
December 2010 ~ Question of the Month »
Election recount laws vary greatly in the Midwest. In some states, recounts are automatically triggered in close races. In addition, a number of states in this region allow candidates, election officials or the voters themselves to request recounts. More »
Minnesota streamlines legislative committee structure
~ Stateline Midwest »
The number of legislative committees in Minnesota will be significantly reduced over the next biennium, a move that leaders say will save the state money and free up lawmakers to spend more time with constituents.
The changes were announced in November and will take effect in early January. The streamlining of legislative committees is expected to result in savings of $500,000 or more. Legislative leaders say the change also should make it easier for the public to follow the lawmaking process. The House will have 24 legislative committees and divisions, down from 36. The number of Senate committees and divisions was cut from 25 to 16, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
According to The Council of State Governments’ “The Book of the States,” the number of legislative committees varies widely from state to state. Nebraska, the only U.S. state with a unicameral legislature, had 14 legislative committees in 2009 — fewest among the 50 states. In contrast, Illinois had 85.
The number of standing committees in the eight other Midwestern states is as follows (as of 2009): Indiana, 43; Iowa and Michigan, 46; Kansas, 63; North Dakota, 23; Ohio, 48; South Dakota, 27; and Wisconsin, 64.
Drawing the lines: Midwestern lawmakers turn their attention to redistricting
Thirty years ago, Iowa passed landmark legislation that changed how its legislative and congressional districts are redrawn.
Today, the state’s process remains a unique approach, and policymakers in this region have been looking at Iowa’s model in recent years as they consider redistricting reforms in their own states. More »