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State Governments & Legislatures


Not business as usual: COVID-19 protocols are in place in all of Midwest’s legislatures for 2021 sessions, but rules vary widely from chamber to chamber

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2021 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For a second calendar year, the nation’s “laboratories of democracy” are having to experiment with new ways of conducting legislative business amid the outbreak of a deadly infectious disease. The early results for 2021: a varied set of COVID-19-related rules and protocols in place for the start of session in the Midwest’s 21 state legislative chambers; proposed new laws on how legislatures can meet during future outbreaks; and the implementation of technologies to ensure public access to the legislative process. More »


Minnesota gets top ranking in nation for work on cybersecurity, technology modernization

by Jon Davis ~ January 2021 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Minnesota is a national leader among state governments on cybersecurity preparedness and IT modernization, the result of a mix of legislative actions and investments as well as leadership from the executive branch, according to a December 2020 report from the Internet Association, a group composed of global internet companies. The state has a cybersecurity budget of $5 million, experiences a smaller-than-average number of ransomware attacks, and is guided by a centralized chief information security office. Minnesota also is one of three U.S. states with a “cloud first statute,” which the Internet Association describes as a commitment to leveraging commercial technologies to save taxpayer money and modernize the delivery of services.
Minnesota was one of three states given a rating of “very good” in the study. Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota and Ohio were placed in the middle “good” tier; with Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin in the lower “getting started” tier.


Three's a crowd, the saying goes, except when it's a legislative caucus

by Jon Davis ~ January 2021 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Not much had changed across the Midwestern legislative landscape when the dust from November’s general election settled. No chamber changed political hands, but as the size of some majorities grew, the size of corresponding minorities suddenly stood out like a sore thumb. Or, as South Dakota Sen. Red Dawn Foster says, like a “sore pinky.” More »


U.S. population growth slowed in past decade; trend was even more pronounced in Midwest

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2021 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In a decade of historically low population growth nationwide, most states in the Midwest had even smaller increases, with one experiencing a net decline in residents between 2010 and 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in late 2020. Only North Dakota and South Dakota outpaced the U.S. growth rate; a third state in the upper Midwest, Minnesota, has had a population increase on par with the rest of the United States. Conversely, the latest estimates show Illinois as one of six U.S. states losing people between 2010 and 2020. More »


The Midwest and the Electoral College: State laws shape the process; population trends have region’s vote share falling

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
On Dec. 14, 2020, presidential electors in the 50 states and District of Columbia met in different places across the country (usually state capitol buildings, as required under most state laws), marking the start of the final phase of the race for president. Here is an overview of the U.S. Electoral College, the impact of state laws on the process, and trends in vote allocation for the Midwest. More »



A unique case, and dispute, over filling legislative vacancies ends with North Dakota Supreme Court decision

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Vacancies in state legislatures occur on a regular basis. A member dies or resigns. A member is elected or appointed to a new position. States in the Midwest handle the filling of these vacancies in different ways, with some requiring special elections, and others handing this authority to the governor, political parties or a party caucus in the state legislature. But what happens if the vacancy occurs before the person ever takes office, or is even elected? Do the same state laws on legislative vacancy still apply? More »


A historically high number of women lawmakers will be part of U.S. state legislatures in 2021

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For the first time in U.S. history, more than 30 percent of the nation’s legislators are women. As a result of the November 2020 elections, the number of female legislators increased in 31 U.S. states, including seven states in the Midwest (see map), according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. More »


Question of the Month: Are legislatures, via constitutional or statutory language, required to meet in the seat of state government?

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2020 ~ Question of the Month »
A requirement on where legislatures “shall meet” is a common element of state constitutions. This year, that language demanded an unusual amount of attention among state legislative leaders, as they grappled with ways to protect the health of members while still conducting the business of their state during a pandemic. More »


Capital Closeup: Confirming state agency heads is (usually) a straightforward process

by Jon Davis ~ September 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Like the U.S. Constitution, most state constitutions give the governor authority to appoint agency directors with the advice and consent of the legislative branch’s upper chamber. Unlike presidential appointments, however, gubernatorial ones rarely create controversies or ignite political storms, with legislators deferring to the governors on who will help run the executive branch, says Christopher Mooney, a professor of state politics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Recent disputes in politically divided Minnesota and Wisconsin have proven to be exceptions to that rule. More »



COVID-19 pandemic strained usual interstate resource sharing during emergencies, but also underscored value of cross-border cooperation

by Ilene Grossman ~ August 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
States are accustomed to working together and helping one another through times of crisis or natural disasters. Between 2016 and 2019 alone, via the congressionally authorized Emergency Management Assistance Compact, more than half of the U.S. states requested assistance from others. Every state but one provided help to another state during this time. In all, more than 29,000 personnel were deployed to states in need of help. But the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has brought challenges to states that they have not previously faced. That includes how to facilitate interstate cooperation and support. More »


Capital Closeup: Power of auditing, committees helps check executive branch and ensure adequate legislative oversight

by Tim Anderson ~ June 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In ordinary and extraordinary times, oversight is a critical responsibility of legislatures, which have several institutional tools to ensure adequate checks-and-balances system. More »


Michigan and Ohio gearing up for big changes in how new political maps will be drawn

by Tim Anderson ~ June 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In May, Michigan ended its first phase of a new redistricting process that is the first of its kind in the Midwest (see map). More than 6,000 Michigan voters completed applications to be part of a 13-member citizens commission that will redraw the state’s political maps next year. This transition away from legislatively drawn districts is the result of a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2018. More »


COVID-19 pandemic makes virtual legislating a reality in some Midwestern states; Wisconsin holds virtual session days in April

by Tim Anderson ~ April 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In March, Senate President Roger Roth got the call to prepare for an unprecedented — but not unthinkable — event in the legislative history of Wisconsin. “Whatever you have to do,” he was told by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, “we need to be able to have a contingency plan in the midst of this coronavirus [outbreak].” Roth’s job as presiding officer: Get the state Senate ready for a first-ever virtual meeting of the entire chamber, so that it could pass essential bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping its 33 members and legislative staff safe. More »


States at center of nation’s response to COVID-19 pandemic, and work has just begun

by Jon Davis ~ April 2020 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The scale and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic has turned a spotlight on the role of states in responding to a new public health emergency in a manner quite unlike a tornado, flood or even recent viral concerns such as H1N1 or Ebola. By April, all states and provinces in the CSG Midwest region had declared either states of emergency or public health emergencies. In many, governors or premiers had enacted “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders for the first time in living memory. For state legislatures, the early response centered on working with their governors (oversight, consultation, etc.) and providing emergency funding where it was needed most. More »


All governors have clemency powers, but process varies in Midwest because of distinct rules, constitutional language

by Jon Davis ~ January/February 2020~ Stateline Midwest »
Though it is not uncommon for governors to have broad clemency powers, Kentucky ex-Gov. Matt Bevin ignited a firestorm and put a spotlight on this long-held tool of the executive branch late last year when he granted pardons or commuted the sentences of hundreds of people — all after he narrowly lost re-election. More »


Nebraska Unicameral speaker: Should there be more senators?

by Jon Davis ~ December 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
With the 2020 Census looming, the speaker of Nebraska’s Unicameral legislature is proposing expanding the body from 49 to 55 senators. As in states across the country, Nebraska continues to experience a demographic shift, with urban areas gaining in population compared to rural regions. One consequence of this demographic shift: larger and larger rural legislative districts in the central and western parts of Nebraska. Speaker Jim Scheer told the Omaha World-Herald that the growing geographic size of districts makes it more likely for constituents to lose contact with their state senator.
Nebraska’s Constitution currently allows for between 30 and 50 senators. The Unicameral had 43 senators from its establishment in 1937 until 1963, when the chamber increased its membership to the current 49, the World-Herald reports. Any change in the number of senators above 50 would require a constitutional amendment approved by the state’s voters.
Nebraska has the smallest number of state legislators in the nation. New Hampshire has the most — 424. In the Midwest, the number of legislators ranges from Nebraska’s low of 49 to Minnesota’s high of 201.


Impeachment and the states: A look at the history, provisions in place

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
It’s a word and a power of the legislative branch most commonly associated these days with removing a U.S. president from office. But “impeachment” not only appears in nearly all of the nation’s state constitutions, its inclusion in them — as a check against overreach or abuses of power by state-level executive and judicial branches — predated the writing of the U.S. Constitution. “Ten of the 12 state constitutions at the time already had impeachment language in them,” notes Frank Bowman, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. The reason: The drafters of those state constitutions were well-versed in English history, and aware of how and why Parliament used the threat of removing a monarch’s ministers from office as a way to curb abuses of power. More »


Capital Closeup: Wisconsin Assembly rule change brings veto overrides into focus

by Jon Davis ~ November 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In early October, Wisconsin’s Assembly gave itself the ability to take an unlimited number of votes on overriding a gubernatorial veto of legislation. More »


Capital Closeup: Merit selection remains in Iowa, but more power given to governor

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »

After years of trying, Iowa lawmakers and others wanting to tweak or completely replace a decades-old system of selecting state Supreme Court judges were able to proclaim legislative victory in 2019. But as of early October, they still needed some wins in court to ensure the change. More »


Capital Closeup: Michigan House has new committee to enhance bill deliberations

by Jon Davis ~ April 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The state with the strictest term-limits law in the Midwest is experimenting this year with a new committee in its lower chamber that provides an additional layer of legislative review. The committee goes by a familiar name — Ways and Means — but is not dealing strictly with taxation and financial matters. More »


Gender gap in legislatures closes in 2019, but far from gone

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
With few exceptions, the Midwest’s legislatures have more women serving in them this year than in 2018. And in six of the region’s states — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio — the numbers are at historic highs. Why the jump? Why is there a gender gap in politics? What kind of effect does more female representation have on policymaking? Those questions have been the subject of much political science research over decades, and the answers are sometimes simple, sometimes complex. Here is what CSG Midwest learned in a interview with Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. More »



At least three Midwest states to lose seats in next reapportionment

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The Midwest is expected to lose three congressional seats and electoral college votes — and maybe more — during the nation’s next reapportionment, the political consulting firm Election Data Services notes in its most recent analysis of population trends.
The firm’s findings are based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates from December. That data show Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota losing one seat each. Ohio also loses one when trends are projected to 2020 — the year when populations are calculated to determine each state’s number of U.S. House seats. These numbers also impact the distribution of federal funds to states and local communities.
Minnesota’s population grew at a faster rate than the nation’s between 2017 and 2018; if this trend continues, its seat number could be unchanged in the next reapportionment. On the flip side, Illinois appears close to losing two seats.
The Midwest and Northeast have been losing congressional seats and electoral college votes for decades. In 1972, for example, this 11-state region held 133 Electoral College votes; that was 49.2 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency. In contrast, in 2016, 108 of the Electoral College votes came from the Midwest (40 percent of the total needed to win).


Michigan now requires ballot measures to have ‘geographic diversity’

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In future Michigan elections, getting initiatives on the ballot will require more than simply gathering enough valid signatures from anywhere in the state. HB 6595, signed into law in late December, requires what its supporters have called “geographic diversity.” No more than 15 percent of the signatures used to determine the validity of an initiative petition can come from a single congressional district. Michigan has 14 congressional districts. This new law applies to voter-initiated constitutional amendments, statutes and veto referenda.
Michigan is one of five Midwestern states with broad “direct democracy” laws in place. The other four are Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota. (Illinois allows voters to change the legislative article only.)
Among these states, Nebraska and Ohio also have “geographic distribution” requirements, according to Ballotpedia. In Nebraska, signatures must be collected from 5 percent of the registered voters in at least two-fifths of the state’s counties. In Ohio, ballot measures must have a certain percentage of signatures in at least half of the counties ­­— for example, for a proposed constitutional amendment, the number of signatures must be equal to at least 5 percent of the votes cast for governor in the county.


Capital CloseupLegislatures v. Attorneys General: Who speaks for the state?

by Jon Davis ~ January 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
How should the powers of a state’s attorney general be weighed against those of a state’s legislative branch? That question arose most recently and prominently at the end of 2018 in Wisconsin, when lawmakers made statutory changes in an extraordinary session which altered that power balance in favor of the Legislature. More »



Record number of women now hold seats in state legislatures

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A record number of women will be serving in the nation’s state legislatures in 2019, due in part to recent election results in Midwestern states such as Michigan and Iowa. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, the proportion of seats in state legislatures held by women will be at least 28.3 percent in 2019. That is up from the 2018 level of 25.4 percent.
In the early 1970s, women accounted for less than 5 percent of U.S. state legislators. That figure climbed to over 20 percent by 1993 and is now nearing 30 percent. “The only question that remains is whether 2018 was a one-off or a new norm,” says Debbie Walsh, the center’s director. Michigan’s increase in the number of female legislators was the largest in the nation; Iowa had the second-largest jump in the Midwest.
This past year, Illinois had the region’s highest proportion of women serving in the legislature (35.0 percent, sixth in the nation). In 2019, four of the Midwest’s governors will be women: Kim Reynolds in Iowa, Laura Kelly in Kansas, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, and Kristi Noem in South Dakota. Reynolds and Noem are the first female governors in the history of their respective states.


Capital Closeup: The ‘curious tension’ of secretaries of state running elections

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Among the world’s democracies, the use of a single, partisan, elected official to oversee the voting process is an anomaly. But among the U.S. states, it is more the norm: In the Midwest, for example, secretaries of state serve as the chief elections officers in all but Illinois and Wisconsin. Some election cycles come and go without much notice of what author Jocelyn Benson has called the “curious tension” that comes when the head of the state’s elections got to the position as the nominee of a political party. The year 2018 will not be remembered as one of those election cycles, however. More »



Capital Closeup: Three states in Midwest allow for citizen-initiated grand juries

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Today, grand juries are viewed mostly as a tool for prosecutors, a means of gathering evidence and seeking indictments. But they have long had a second important function as well — to control the government and its power to prosecute. Six states, including Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota in the Midwest, have laws on the books that put a twist on this government-checking role: Allow local citizens themselves to form grand juries. The target of these state statutes is not overzealous prosecutors, but inactive ones. More »



Capital Closeup: Midwest's states take different approaches to filling legislative vacancies

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Vacancies, whether the result of a member’s death, an appointment to a new position, or resignation for other reasons, occur on a regular basis in U.S. state legislatures. Less common is for this turnover to get much or any public attention. But in 2018, in search of voting trends ahead of this November’s general election, political observers have sometimes focused on the results of races to fill single state legislative seats. Meanwhile, a dispute in Wisconsin over its law governing legislative vacancies and special elections captured national interest. A closer look at the laws in the Midwest (a mix of statutory and constitutional provisions) reveals a variety of approaches in use for filling vacancies, with some type of appointment process used in seven Midwestern states and special elections required in Wisconsin and three others. More »


Minnesota boosts its hiring of individuals with disabilities

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The number of people with disabilities working for the state of Minnesota has risen considerably over the past four years, reflecting a concerted effort across agencies to improve outreach, recruitment and hiring practices. The latest state figures show that 7 percent of the workforce has a disability of some kind — the goal set by Gov. Mark Dayton in a 2014 executive order. “We need a state workforce that reflects the diverse populations we serve,” Minnesota Management and Buget Commissioner Myron Frans says.
Minnesota established two initiatives to reach its 7 percent goal. The first program, known as “Connect 700,” gives Minnesotans with disabilities opportunities to demonstrate their skills through on-the-job, trial work experiences that last up to 700 hours. The Supported Worker Program, meanwhile, offers people with disabilities integrated employment opportunities with up to 50 full-time positions within various state agencies. These positions can be shared by up to three people with disabilities.
Nationwide, people with a disability are much more likely to be unemployed — an average of 9.2 percent in 2017, compared to 4.2 percent among individuals without a disability.


Illinois changes how it handles complaints of legislative wrongdoing

by Tim Anderson ~ August 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Illinois lawmakers have changed the process for investigating claims of inappropriate behavior in the legislative branch, a move that proponents say will give individuals more confidence to report inappropriate behavior.
HB 138 was signed into law in June. With the statutory change, the Legislative Inspector General can conduct independent investigations into sexual harassment allegations without obtaining consent from the Legislative Ethics Commission — a bipartisan group of Illinois representatives and senators.
Lawmakers established the Office of the Legislative Inspector General 15 years ago, and this year’s changes seek to provide it with greater independence while also improving transparency regarding ethics complaints.
Under HB 138, an independent committee of judges and/or former prosecutors will conduct searches for a new legislative inspector general when a vacancy arises (the legislature retains the authority of appointment). The new law, too, ensures that the position of legislative inspector general is filled in a timely manner, or that his or her investigative duties will be handled by the state’s auditor general. Illinois’ law also authorizes the inspector general to share information about the investigative process with complainants.


Capital Closeup: Replacing a speaker in mid-session? Read the rules carefully

by Jon Davis ~ June/July 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When Ohio’s speaker of the House resigned on April 12, his departure kicked off a weeks-long legislative and political logjam: No legislation could advance to the Senate without the speaker’s signature, but until members voted in his replacement (which proved difficult due to differences among members on whom that should be), there was no speaker. Could that situation happen in other Midwestern states when such a vacancy occurs? The answer would depend on language in the legislative rules, and/or an interpretation of them. More »


Capital Closeup: Higher bar for changing Constitution in South Dakota voters’ hands

by Tim Anderson ~ June/July 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »

Later this year, South Dakotans will vote on whether the state should have a higher bar for changing the Constitution. Under the proposal, placed on the ballot this year by the Legislature, constitutional amendments would require approval of 55 percent of the votes cast.
The South Dakota measure is modeled in part on a change made two years ago by Colorado voters. In addition to the 55 percent threshold, Colorado now requires that 2 percent of registered voters in each of the state’s Senate districts sign any petition that proposes a constitutional change. In March, a federal judge ruled that this geographic requirement was unconstitutional (based on the “one person, one vote” principle). Colorado has appealed the decision.
Five Midwestern states allow constitutions to be changed without legislative action. (A sixth Midwestern state, Illinois, provides for voter-initiated changes only to the legislative article of the Constitution). To get on the ballot in South Dakota, Michigan and Ohio, proposed amendments require valid signatures equal to 10 percent of the votes cast for governor in the most recent election. The thresholds in Nebraska and North Dakota are 10 percent of registered voters and 4 percent of the state population, respectively.


In Ohio, new process of redistricting puts focus on bipartisanship

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Ohio voters overwhelmingly gave approval in May to a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that encourages a bipartisan approach to how congressional maps are drawn. Under SJR 5, which takes effect with the next round of redistricting, the state General Assembly will get the first chance at drawing new U.S. House district lines. Any plan must receive a three-fifths “yes” vote in both the Ohio House and Senate, including support from at least half of the members of each of the state’s two largest political parties. The plan also would require gubernatorial approval.
If the General Assembly does not approve a plan, congressional redistricting is turned over to a commission: the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and four legislative representatives from both parties. Any commission-drawn map will require “yes” votes from at least two Republican and two Democratic members. If the commission cannot reach an agreement, the General Assembly regains control of the process. At this stage, a new map can be approved with a simple majority vote, but it would then to have comply with several “anti-gerrymandering requirements” and expire after only two general elections.
Voters in a second Midwestern state, Michigan, may vote in November on a proposal to create a 13-member Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.


Capital Closeup: Pay for South Dakota legislators tied to state’s median income

by Laura Tomaka ~ May 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For the first time in 20 years, South Dakota legislators are in line to receive a pay raise — big news in a state that has had one of the lowest legislative compensation levels in the nation. Starting next year, the salaries for South Dakota’s 105 part-time legislators will be adjusted annually to equal 20 percent of the state’s median household income. That means a jump in annual pay from $6,000 in 2018 to an estimated $10,200 in 2019. More »


What policies are in place in the Midwest to increase the number of state contracts going to minority- and female-owned businesses?

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2018 ~ Question of the Month »
No state in the Midwest requires that a certain percentage of contracts be given to minority- or women-owned businesses. (Outside the region, Connecticut requires that 6.25 percent of the value of state and local government contracts go to companies owned by women, minorities or disabled individuals.) However, at least three states have specific goals set in statute: Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin. More »



Capital Closeup: ‘Gut and go,’ other legislative practices scrutinized in Kansas during 2018 session

by Jon Davis ~ April 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
To advocates of greater transparency in government, the phrase “gut and go” is a legislative nightmare that happens when one chamber takes a bill already passed by the other, strips and replaces the language with an unrelated measure, and then advances it with little or no debate. While practiced in multiple other states (it is sometimes referred to differently — for example, “hoghousing” in South Dakota), “gut and go” has received particular attention in Kansas this year, part of a broader debate occurring in Topeka over transparency in government. More »


'Silicon Prairie'? Midwest states start looking at blockchain's possibilities

by Jon Davis ~ March 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Bitcoin grabs the headlines, but blockchain — the distributed ledger technology underlying cryptocurrencies — is beginning to get some serious attention from Midwestern legislators for its potential to rewire state
governments. More »


Capital Closeup: Unexpected candidate filings in Kansas spark debate over qualifications for governor

by Tim Anderson ~ March 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The race for governor in Kansas got off to an unusual start this election cycle — the announced candidacies of six teenagers, the editor of an alternative weekly newspaper in Oregon, and even a dog. The canine’s run was stopped, but at least as of early this year, nothing in the state’s Constitution or statutes prevented minors and out-of-state residents from seeking the governorship. “If this isn't changed, people in prison could run,” adds Kansas Rep. Blake Carpenter, noting the lack of a requirement that a gubernatorial candidate be a “qualified elector.” More »


Midwest is home to four of U.S. News’ 2018 top 10 ‘Best States’

by Jon Davis ~ March 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
U.S. News & World Report magazine issued its “Best States” rankings at the end of February, with good news for the Midwest: Iowa and Minnesota are Nos. 1 and 2, with North Dakota in fourth place and Nebraska in seventh.
Iowa jumped five slots from the 2017 rankings to grab the top position, while Minnesota moved up one slot. North Dakota held steady, and Nebraska joined the top 10.
As for the rest of the region, Wisconsin placed 11th, South Dakota 14th, Kansas 29th, Indiana 33rd, Illinois 35th, Michigan 37th and Ohio 40th. Rankings were based on scores of 77 metrics in eight categories (highest Midwest state in parentheses) — health care (Iowa, No. 3), education (Iowa, No. 5), economy (Iowa, No. 17), opportunity (Minnesota, No. 3), infrastructure (Iowa, No. 1), crime and corrections (Minnesota, No. 11), fiscal stability (North Dakota, No. 2), and quality of life (North Dakota, No. 1).
Data for the rankings came from McKinsey & Co. and its “Leading States Index.”

Capital Closeup: Under proposed amendment, bar for changing South Dakota Constitution would be raised

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Come election time, a South Dakota voter’s ballot can become pretty crowded — filled not just with candidates for office, but a mix of constitutional amendments, initiated measures and referendums to overturn existing state laws. In November 2016 alone, 10 such ballot questions were voted on, including measures on the minimum wage, redistricting, campaign finance and elections. But it’s not just the sheer volume or the content of some of the proposals that concerns lawmakers such as Sen. Jim Bolin. “This is not your neighbor coming up with an idea and trying to get it on the ballot; it’s really become an industry,” according to Bolin. More »


In May, Ohio voters will decide on plan to require bipartisan redistricting

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Ohio already has a plan in place that will change how the state’s legislative lines are drawn after the next U.S. census, and voters will have the chance in May to change the process for congressional districts. SJR 5 was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, culminating months of bipartisan legislative negotiations, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reports.
Under the proposed constitutional amendment, congressional districts would be drawn by either the General Assembly (it gets the first crack) or the Ohio Redistricting Commission — a seven-member panel made up of the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and four legislative representatives from both parties. Any congressional redistricting plan will require “yes” votes from some representatives of both parties. SJR 5 also would establish new state-level redistricting standards for map makers to follow.
In 2015, Ohio voters approved a change requiring bipartisan support of any plan developed by the Redistricting Commission for state legislative districts. (The full General Assembly does not have a role in drawing or voting on these lines.) In other Midwestern states, legislatures themselves draw state and federal districts — though Iowa employs a unique approach in which lawmakers vote, without amendment, on a plan developed by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.


Redistricting, reconsidered: U.S. Supreme Court case, pending ballot initiatives and state legislation could reshape process

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A redrawing of the nation’s political maps is still three years away, but 2018 might someday be remembered as a year that changed how redistricting itself is done. If so, some states in the Midwest will be a big part of that story. More »


Capital Closeup: North Dakota lawsuit puts spotlight on gubernatorial line-item veto

by Jon Davis ~ January 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
North Dakota legislators sued Gov. Doug Burgum in December, alleging he overstepped his line-item veto authority by deleting words or phrases in ways that changed legislative intent. The state’s Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and gave the governor’s office until Jan. 16 to file a response. “This is all about setting a precedent and division of powers,” state House Majority Leader Al Carlson says. “He cannot pass laws. If we allow him to change legislation and change intent, then we’ll have a future problem.” More »



Capital Closeup: Illinois among first states to pass bills in wake of #MeToo movement

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In late October, an open letter detailing “#MeToo” stories in Illinois government became part of the larger national story about sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment. “Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail,” the letter begins. “Misogyny is alive and well in this industry.” It then recounts specific stories of unwanted sexual advances, crude jokes, and inappropriate texts and comments. “Illinois deserves responsible stewards of power. Let’s demand better,” concludes the letter, signed by more than 300 legislators, lobbyists, staffers and policymakers. It didn’t take long for the General Assembly to respond. More »


South Dakota eyes plan to tie legislator pay to household income

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Nearly two decades have passed since the last increase in the salaries of South Dakota’s part-time legislators, and a new plan to raise them would ultimately require voter approval, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports. In November, the Legislature’s Executive Board advanced a resolution that would change the state Constitution so that legislative pay is tied to the median household income in South Dakota.
Approval by the full House and Senate, as well as the state’s voters, is still required. Under the proposal, legislators would earn a yearly salary equal to one-fifth of median household income. That likely would equal about $10,000 a year; a legislator’s current yearly salary is $6,000. According to the South Dakota Legislative Research Council, two other states, Alabama and Massachusetts, tie legislator salaries to median household income.
Last year, Minnesota voters (via a legislatively referred constitutional amendment) created an independent, citizen-run board to set legislative pay. In the Midwest, these salaries are most commonly set by legislatures themselves. But other exceptions include Nebraska, where legislative pay is constitutionally set at $1,000 a month, and Indiana, where a statutory formula ties the pay of legislators to that of trial court judges.


Capital Closeup: Constitutional face-off pits Minnesota Legislature vs. governor

by Ilene Grossman ~ October 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A disagreement in Minnesota over tax and budget issues this spring led to a surprising action — a line-item veto by Gov. Mark Dayton of the $130 million appropriation for the House and Senate. More »


In Illinois, many state legislators resigning or not seeking re-election

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »

As of early October, 31 legislators in the 177-member Illinois General Assembly had either resigned since January or announced plans not to seek re-election. That total (24 in the House, seven in the Senate) is much higher than it has been in past years, notes the political site Capitol Fax, which says a “toxic Statehouse atmosphere” and “political exhaustion” are likely prompting legislators to leave.
Before passage of a new budget in July (which required legislators to override a veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner), Illinois had gone 736 days without a budget. Its ongoing fiscal challenges include an underfunded pension system and a backlog of unpaid bills.
Entering this year, Illinois had the lowest legislative turnover in the Midwest — only 11 percent of members were new to their positions in 2017. In contrast, new-member rates were as high as 42 percent in South Dakota, 36 percent in Kansas and 35 percent in Nebraska. Those percentages include incumbent legislators who switched chambers, a common occurrence in the term-limited South Dakota Legislature. Along with South Dakota, three other Midwestern states have legislative term limits: Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio.


Capital Closeup: Iowa’s new lieutenant governor is in office, but outside line of succession

by Jon Davis ~ September 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When is a lieutenant governor not the lieutenant governor? In Iowa, it seems the answer is: when the lieutenant governor becomes governor, and in turn appoints a new lieutenant governor. The question arose earlier this year after then-Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was chosen to be U.S. ambassador to China. More »


Capitol Closeup: Who can introduce bills? Legislators, mostly...

by Jon Davis ~ April 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
It’s an axiom, especially to those of us reared on “Schoolhouse Rock”: Bills originate in the legislative branch. That’s certainly the case throughout the Midwest — anyone can suggest a bill, but only legislators can introduce them for consideration. Except in North Dakota. More »


Minnesota recognized for advances in evidence-based policymaking

by Tim Anderson ~ March 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In a national assessment released earlier this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts and MacArthur Foundation, Minnesota is one of five U.S. states singled out as a leader in the use of evidence-based policymaking. More »


Law on public-sector collective bargaining overhauled in Iowa

by Tim Anderson ~ March 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »

Big changes in public-sector collective bargaining are coming to Iowa under one of the first bills signed into law during the 2017 session. According to The Des Moines Register, HF 291 got passed along mostly partisan lines and brought labor-union representatives from across Iowa to the Capitol to protest the rewrite of a 43-year-old state law.
Under HF 291, only base wages will be mandatory in negotiations between most public sector employers and workers. In addition, if the contracts for most public-employee bargaining units go to arbitration, the annual wage increase cannot exceed one of the following (whichever is less): 3 percent or a percentage equal to inflationary changes. The state also now prohibits negotiations in areas such as insurance, evaluation procedures, and the subcontracting of public services.
The law, however, exempts public safety workers from many of these provisions — for example, the limits on what can be collectively bargained and on wage increases from arbitration. In a lawsuit filed against HF 291, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees contends that creating two classes of public employees (public safety vs. non-public safety) and treating them differently violates the Iowa Constitution.


Capital Closeup: When citizen-initiated laws, legislatures collide — Who gets the final say?

by Jon Davis ~ February 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Many states offer citizens a direct opportunity to create laws or constitutional amendments via the ballot box. Those that do also allow legislators to amend or even overturn those initiatives, a process generally known as “legislative intervention.” The most recent example of that occurred in early in 2017 in South Dakota, where lawmakers overturned “Initiated Measure 22.” More »


The 2016 presidential race raised interest in the Electoral College, and the role of states in the process

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Capital Closeup: Wisconsin gerrymandering lawsuit could redraw legislative maps

by Jon Davis ~ January 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Do legislatures provide sign-language interpreter services, including services needed by legislators in their work with constituents?

by Jon Davis ~ November 2016 ~ Question of the Month »
Most Midwestern legislatures provide sign-language interpreter services and/or closed captioning in order for the deaf and hearing-impaired to follow and take part in legislative activities such as committee hearings, floor debates and State of the State addresses. To comply with state law and/or the federal American with Disabilities Act — Title II of which forbids discrimination by any public entity — many legislatures also provide these services for meetings between individual legislators and constituents, provided these services are requested in advance. More »


Capital Closeup: In Iowa, use of ‘funnel deadlines’ helps keep legislative process moving

by Ilene Grossman ~ November 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


What policies do Midwestern states have regarding the carrying of concealed firearms into capitols by the public and legislators?

by Ilene Grossman ~ August 2016 ~ Question of the Month »
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

by Jon Davis ~ August 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Jon Davis ~ June/July 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Capital Closeup: How South Dakota pioneered the idea of a ‘People’s Legislature’

by Mike McCabe ~ February 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Ilene Grossman ~ November 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Laura Tomaka ~ September 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Laura Kliewer ~ July/August 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.


Capital Closeup: Legislative immunity is an age-old, but misunderstood, protection for lawmakers

by Kate Tormey ~ January 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »



Capital Closeup: Across the Midwest, legislators rely on the work of nonpartisan staff, but the structure and oversight of these agencies vary

by Ilene Grossman ~ November 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Capital Closeup: In Midwest, states split on whether legislating should be part- or full-time

by Laura Tomaka ~ July/August 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


First in the Midwest: "Most copied legal innovation in nation's history" began in Illinois

by Mike McCabe ~ May 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Drop in public-sector jobs continues in parts of the Midwest

by Tim Anderson ~ April 2014 ~ Stateline 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 Tim Anderson ~ April 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Mike McCabe ~ March 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Capital Closeup: Indiana legislature’s paperless initiative aims to increase efficiency

by Kate Tormey ~ January 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Change in Kansas law now allows legislators to carry guns in Capitol

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Kate Tormey ~ December 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Mike McCabe ~ December 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 facade, 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 »


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

by Mike McCabe ~ October 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Laura Tomaka ~ September 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


Capital Closeup: Practices, laws on legislative adjournment and session length vary across
the Midwest

by Laura Kliewer ~ July/August 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


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

by Mike McCabe ~ June 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


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

by Mike McCabe ~ April 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ March 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Mike McCabe ~ February 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »



Capital Closeup: Median age of Midwestern state legislators is slightly below national average; lawmakers span seven decades in age

by Kate Tormey ~ January 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.


Only in the Midwest: In Kansas, requirement that census data be adjusted makes for unique redistricting process — and results

by Mike McCabe ~ November 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When the 2012 session of the Kansas Legislature adjourned last May, lawmakers left one important piece of business unfinished. More »



Capital Closeup: 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

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Mike McCabe ~ September 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »



Capital Closeup: Gains made by women in state legislatures have largely stalled over past decade

by Laura Kliewer ~ July/August 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Mike McCabe ~ June 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »




Capital Closeup: Recent disputes focus public attention on state laws determining effective date of bills

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Mike McCabe ~ April 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »



Only in the Midwest: Indiana’s second-in-command afforded powers second to none compared to region’s other lieutenant governors

by Mike McCabe ~ February 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »

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?

by Kate Tormey ~ February 2012 ~ Question of the Month »
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 »



Capital Closeup: Selecting committee chairs: Process is largely controlled by leadership, but Nebraska is one notable exception

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »




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

by Mike McCabe ~ November 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 judicial elections in nation

by Tim Anderson ~ November 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »


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

by Laura A. Tomaka ~ October 2011 ~ PDF of Stateline Midwest article »
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 »



Only in the Midwest: A look at the broad budgetary powers given to the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance

by Mike McCabe ~ September 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.
Among the 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 »


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 »


Only in the Midwest: Distinctive legislative rules in North Dakota — including allowing all bills to receive votes on the floor — reflect commitment to openness

by Mike McCabe ~ May 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ April 2011 ~ PDF of Stateline Midwest article »
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 »


Another type of budget debate: Annual vs. biennial budget cycles — Which is most advantageous to legislatures?

by Ilene Grossman ~ April 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Mike McCabe ~ February 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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?

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2011 ~ Question of the Month »
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 »


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 »