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5 notable trends and developments from year in Midwest's legislatures: New laws on mental health and drug treatment; a key ruling on redistricting; legal sports betting; and more money for roads

 

1. New policies, investment seek to improve children's access to mental health services

In recent years, legislatures in the Midwest have been putting more resources into programs that give young people better access to mental health services — in school or other settings. That continued in 2019.
In Iowa, with this year’s passage of HF 690, legislators established the state’s first-ever mental health system devoted to children. A 17-member board of state experts is overseeing this new region-based system. A mental health services coordinator in each of the 14 regions will ensure young people have access to crisis services, inpatient treatment, outpatient therapy and a 24-hour hotline. Iowa legislators also put more state dollars this year into home and community-based mental health care for children and for school-based services.
This year in Ohio, a $675 million Student Wellness and Success Fund was created as part of the state’s new biennial budget. With state grant dollars from the fund, schools will be able to expand the availability of mental health counseling as well as provide staff with training on trauma-informed care. The new state dollars also can go to other types of school-based wraparound services — for example, mentoring, after-school and child-nutrition programs.
Wisconsin legislators, meanwhile, doubled funding for their state’s School-Based Mental Health Services Grants Program, to a total of $6.5 million per year. State dollars go to screening and intervention services, training on trauma-informed care, and school partnerships with treatment providers. In Minnesota, which has provided school-linked mental health grants for more than 10 years, legislators added a requirement this year (HF 1) that the state Department of Education provide schools with a model curriculum on mental health for grades four through 12, including instruction on suicide and self-harm prevention.
Other state actions this year included:

 

2. States seek answers to rise in drug addiction, deaths from overdoses

In 2017, more than 15,000 people in the 11-state Midwest died from a drug overdose; that’s nearly triple the total from 2005, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, since 2011, drug overdose deaths have been the leading cause of injury death in the United States; they now far exceed deaths from suicide, car crashes and firearms.
Most of the nation’s 70,000 fatal drug overdoses in 2017 were caused by the use of opioids. According to the CDC, the increased availability and use of illegally manufactured fentanyl (a synthetic opioid) has driven much of this increase. But the use of legally prescribed drugs for pain relief also has played a role in the rise of opioid addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, 75 percent reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug.
Myriad strategies already have been implemented by states: expanding treatment options (through the use of specialty drug courts, for example); establishing state-run databases that monitor patient and prescriber behavior; setting limits on prescriptions for painkillers; and allowing pharmacists to provide naloxone (the opioid-overdose reversal drug) to individuals at risk of an overdose.
In Minnesota this year, legislators created a $20 million Opioid Stewardship Fund (HF 400), with money for it coming from a new state fee on opioid manufacturers and distributors. A newly established advisory council will decide which local treatment and recovery programs to fund, and will also implement a statewide plan to curb opioid addiction and overdoses.
In other Midwestern states, concerns center on the rise of methamphetamine use and abuse. In South Dakota, for example, more than 3,000 people were arrested for meth offenses and 13 people died from use of the drug in 2018. The use of meth also is a factor in half of the violent crimes committed in the state. This past session, the Legislature appropriated state dollars for meth addiction and awareness campaigns, invested more money in treatment, and added more state troopers to stop the illegal drug trade. South Dakota legislators also formed an interim committee to study the problem and develop strategies for legislative action in 2020.
Here are some other notable actions taken this year in the Midwest to curb drug abuse:

 

3. U.S. Supreme Court ends lawsuits that challenged partisan gerrymandering

A new round of redistricting is only a few years away, but in 2019, legal battles continued over how the current political maps were drawn by three of the Midwest’s state legislatures. Plaintiffs in separate cases challenged the constitutionality of the redistricting plans established in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. The plaintiffs’ contention: The maps were gerrymandered to favor one political party and dilute the voting power of individuals from the other party.
But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended these federal cases, as well as others like them that sought an end to partisan gerrymandering. “[These] claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” the justices ruled this year in Rucho v. Common Cause, a case based on a legal challenge to Maryland’s and North Carolina’s redistricting plans. “Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties.”
Even with this ruling, though, partisan gerrymandering may be a thing of the past in Michigan and Ohio, where major changes have been made to the states’ redistricting processes.
Michigan is poised to become the first Midwestern state to have an independent commission redraw the state’s political maps. That commission will be made up of 13 registered voters: four affiliated with the Democratic Party, four with the Republican Party, and five with neither political party. Under the voter-approved constitutional amendment, several groups are barred from serving on this commission — partisan elected officials, political candidates and their paid consultants, party leaders and registered lobbyists.
This summer, members of the Michigan Republican Party filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the commission and its eligibility requirements. By barring party leaders, political candidates and others from serving on the commission, plaintiffs in the case argue, the state is violating individuals’ rights to free speech and political association.
The redistricting changes in Ohio are the result of two legislatively referred constitutional amendments approved by voters — one for drawing maps for state General Assembly districts, the other for U.S. congressional districts. Along with rules that strongly encourage bipartisan support of any new redistricting plan, the Ohio Constitution now has language banning maps that favor or disfavor political parties.

 

4. Legal sports betting comes to three states in Midwest

A U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2018 gave states across the country the authority to allow sports betting. By June of this year, three states in the Midwest — Illinois (SB 690), Indiana (HB 1015) and Iowa (SF 617) — had laws on the books that legalize sports wagering at casinos and on mobile devices. In Illinois, sports betting also is now permitted at several other venues: horse tracks; stadiums with a seating capacity of 17,000 people or more; and thousands of gas stations, convenience stores and other lottery retailers.
In September, the first month of legal sports betting in Indiana, the state’s 13 casinos reported a handle of $35.2 million and adjusted gross revenue of $8.6 million. This resulted in $813,000 in tax revenue for the state.
In October, the Michigan House approved a bill (HB 4916) to legalize sports betting at casinos and on mobile devices. The tax rate would be 8.75 percent.
According to the American Gaming Association, sports-wagering bills were introduced this year in five other Midwestern states: Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota.

 

 

5. To fund roads, more states raise gas tax and add fees on electric vehicles

This year, Ohio and Illinois became the Midwest’s latest states to put more money into roads, via a mix of new taxes and fees. With these actions, seven states in the region have now raised their per-gallon tax on gasoline since 2013. The Ohio and Illinois legislatures raised their gasoline excise taxes by 10.5 cents and 18 cents, respectively (see map for list of all current rates in the Midwest); Illinois lawmakers included statutory language that will automatically adjust the tax in future years based on inflation.
This year’s actions in Ohio and Illinois also reflect another trend in U.S. state legislatures: the decision to impose new or higher fees on the owners of electric vehicles. In Ohio, under HB 62, the annual fee will be $200 for electric cars and $100 for hybrids. Under Illinois’ SB 1939, electric-vehicle owners must pay the state $100 “in lieu of the payment of motor fuel taxes.” (This is on top of the $148 fee paid by all car owners in Illinois.)
As of the end of 2017, Illinois led the Midwest, and was among the top 10 states in the nation, in electric-vehicle registrations, at nearly 8,000. That figure pales in comparison to California, where nearly half of the nation’s electric care are registered. Still, more and more states have taken notice of the rise in the number of cars that run without gasoline — sales went up 81 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
Some states such as Minnesota have been exploring the feasibility of mileage-based use fees.
Much more common so far, though, is the imposition of fees on electric vehicles, whose owners don’t pay the gas tax. Along with Illinois and Ohio, Iowa (HF 767), Kansas (HB 2214) and North Dakota (SB 2061) adopted such fees in 2019. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio already had such fees in place.
In contrast to this year’s agreements on transportation funding in Ohio and Illinois, this issue has divided the Michigan Legislature and first-year Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Whitmer has proposed a 45-cent increase in the gas tax; the Legislature has rejected this plan, instead passing a state budget in September that provided a one-time, $375 million boost for roads via the state’s general fund. The governor vetoed this proposal, one of 147 line-item vetoes totaling $947 million.

 

Article written by Tim Anderson, CSG Midwest publications manager.

 

12 notable actions by Midwest’s legislatures in 2019

In Illinois, minimum wage will gradually rise to $15 an hour by 2025
With passage of SB 1, Illinois lawmakers put their state on a path to have the highest minimum wage in the Midwest: $15 an hour by 2025. Small businesses will be eligible for a tax credit to compensate them for a portion of the higher wages they must pay. SB 1 gradually raises the state’s minimum wage between 2020 and 2024.
Indiana cracks down on fertility fraud with passage of HB 174
Indiana legislators passed first-of-its-kind legislation in the Midwest that makes fertility fraud a felony and allows the victims of this kind of deception to file civil lawsuits. SB 174 stems from a case in which an Indianapolis fertility specialist used his own sperm to impregnate more than 50 women without their consent.
New Iowa law on ag-facility trespassing challenged by animal-rights group
In Iowa, the new crime of agriculture-facility trespassing makes it illegal to use deceptive means to gain access to a farm operation with the intent of causing “physical or economic harm.” The Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SF 519, sometimes referred to as an “ag gag” law.
Long-running legal fight over school funding ends in Kansas
Kansas legislators took the final step to end a long-running constitutional dispute over how, and how much, the state spends on its schools. The Legislature added $90 million for schools (to account for inflation); that is on top of last year’s $575 million boost to increase per-pupil funding over a five-year period. In June, the state Supreme Court ruled the plan constitutional.
Michigan legislators reach long-sought deal to cut car insurance costs
After many years of trying, Michigan legislators reached agreement on a plan to reduce the state’s highest-in-the-nation car insurance rates. SB 1 removes a requirement that drivers purchase a plan that covers a lifetime of uncapped medical benefits for catastrophic injuries. The new law also bans insurers from using ZIP codes and other non-driving factors when setting rates.
Minnesota emerges as national leader in fight against chronic wasting disease
To prevent the further spread of chronic wasting disease, the Minnesota Legislature put more state dollars (SF 1) toward surveillance, development of a new diagnostic test, and an adopt-a-dumpster program to properly dispose of deer carcasses. Lawmakers also strengthened the state’s inspections and enforcement of deer farms.
Cash reserves tapped in Nebraska to ease prison overcrowding
Nebraska lawmakers agreed to use $54.7 million in cash reserves to help address the ongoing problem of prison overcrowding. That money will be used to add 384 beds to a correctional facility in Lincoln. But will this new unit be adequately staffed? Nebraska continues to struggle with the recruitment and retention of prison staff.
Scholarships, loan repayments target North Dakota’s workforce shortage
In an effort to address a persistent workforce shortage, North Dakota is using a mix of state and private-sector dollars to provide targeted scholarships and loan repayments. Under HB 1171, signed into law in April, an individual student or worker will be eligible to receive up to $17,000. He or she must be employed or pursuing credentials in a high-demand profession.
Ohio’s new budget includes new fund for clean-water projects
Over the next two years, Ohio will spend up to $172 million on projects to improve water quality. Decisions on how to use money in this new H2O Fund (part of the state budget bill, HB 166) will be made by state-agency advisory boards. Among Ohio’s water-quality challenges: nutrient pollution, Lake Erie algal blooms, threats of lead contamination and failing septic tanks.
Workers in Saskatchewan get more family-leave time under 2019 law
Saskatchewan is providing workers in the province with more job-protected family leave: up to 19 weeks for maternity leave (highest in Canada); an additional 59 weeks of parental leave for the birth parent or primary caregiver; up to 63 weeks of paternity leave for a parent who did not take maternity leave; and up to 17 weeks to care for a critically ill adult. Bill 53 took effect in May.
South Dakota enhances oversight of universities to ensure intellectual diversity
South Dakota legislators set new expectations for public universities and how they protect free expression and intellectual diversity. HB 1087 also includes greater legislative oversight: The Board of Regents must submit an annual report detailing actions taken by each school and describing events “that impeded intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.”
Wisconsin targets removal of lead from homes of low-income families
Over the next biennium, Wisconsin will use a mix of state and federal dollars to fund lead abatement in the homes of low-income children and pregnant women. Among the services to be provided: the removal of lead-based paint and the replacement of fixtures such as faucets. The state is getting federal assistance via the Children’s Health Insurance Program.