Two changes in Iowa’s driver’s license laws will be welcome news to many of the state’s motorists: Renew your license less frequently, and from the comfort of your home. HF 355, signed into law in May, allows eligible drivers to renew their licenses online. Eligibility will be determined by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
In the Midwest, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan already offer electronic renewal. In South Dakota, as the result of legislation passed earlier this year (SB 45), drivers will have one of two options starting next year: renewals by mail or via the Internet. States that provide the online option still require in-person renewals — typically every other renewal period.
Along with the convenience factor for motorists, Iowa lawmakers say, electronic renewals will save the state an estimated $1.2 million a year. A second bill signed into law, SF 224, will make driver’s licenses valid for eight years for Iowans between the ages of 18 and 74. Licenses previously had to be renewed every five years. In most other Midwestern states, the renewal period is between four and six years, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The lone exception is Wisconsin, which had already made licenses valid for eight years.
Kansas law, Michigan bill bring drug tests to public welfare system
Beginning next year, individuals receiving welfare or unemployment benefits in Kansas could be subject to a state-run drug test.
Under SB 149, signed into law in April, screenings will be administered for cases involving a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. The criteria include the individual’s demeanor, employment background and arrest record. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, anyone who tests positive for drugs must complete a state-funded drug treatment and job skills program. Failure to take part in the program will result in the cancellation of benefits. Individuals who fail another drug test would have to complete another treatment and job-skills program. A third failed drug test would make individuals ineligible for unemployment benefits. For cases in which a parent becomes ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, a “protective payee” will be designated by the state so that a child can still receive payments.
In May, the Michigan House passed a similar drug-testing bill, HB 4118. Supporters of these measures say they ensure the wise use of taxpayer dollars and will help break the cycle of poverty. Opponents argue that drug-testing bills unfairly target a state’s most vulnerable citizens, are unconstitutional, and don’t address the complicated causes of poverty.
Illinois legislature OKs ban on drivers’ use of hand-held cell phones
Illinois lawmakers passed a bill in late May to make their state the first in the Midwest to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.
Chicago and some other municipalities had already outlawed the use of cell phones without a hands-free device. Illinois’ ban, though, has only applied to school and construction zones.
According to the Springfield State-Journal Register, a $75 fine would be levied for a first offense. Some lawmakers objected to singling out one type of distracted driving, while leaving other types untouched under state law. However, HB 1247 passed the House and Senate with comfortable margins of support.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, 11 states already have general bans on drivers’ use of hand-held cell phones. In the Midwest, though, these restrictions have only applied to young or inexperienced drivers. Every state in the region except South Dakota has a text-messaging ban that applies to all drivers. In Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio, the violation is a secondary offense — officers may cite a driver for text messaging only if another traffic offense occurred. Text messaging is a primary offense in seven Midwestern states. When states have banned the use of hand-held cell phones, they have made it a primary offense.
Minnesota will be first state in region to fund all-day kindergarten
Next year, families in Minnesota will for the first time have access to free all-day kindergarten, thanks to an education bill approved by lawmakers last month. The measure was part of the state’s omnibus K-12 education budget, which includes $134 million in state funding for optional all-day kindergarten.
Like most other Midwestern states, Minnesota currently requires schools to offer only half-day kindergarten. Minnesota school districts, though, have been permitted to offer a full-day program and charge tuition. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, Illinois, Kansas and Ohio also have allowed districts to charge parents tuition for a full day of kindergarten.
In Minnesota, about 75 percent of students had access to this extended-day option and about 10,000 families paid for the additional half day, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. But with the passage of HF 630/SF 453, the state will now pick up the costs.