New Illinois law aims to make healthy-food deserts bloom with fresh produce

A new Illinois program to increase the availability of fresh food in the state’s “food deserts” — areas where there is a lack of fresh food vendors — will begin in 2023.

HB 2382, the “Healthy Food Program Development Act,” which became law in June, directs the Department of Human Services to expand access to health food in historically under-utilized business zones (as defined by federal law) using a combination of grants, loans, tax credits or other financial assistance, plus equipment or technical aid, to qualified vendors who agree in writing to sell produce “or other healthy foods” for at least three years.

The department must appoint a “grocery ambassador” to work with such vendors, which may include grocery stores, neighborhood corner stores, farmers’ markets or other “small food retailers.”

Participating vendors will be “strongly encouraged” to accept benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and employ Illinois residents.

While food deserts and food insecurity are problems predating the COVID-19 pandemic, the national health crisis exacerbated the problem, according to an August 2021 Brookings Institution report, “Beyond ‘food deserts’: America needs a new approach to mapping food insecurity.” In 2019, the report said, 10.5 percent of all U.S. households faced food insecurity, and that rate doubled from February to May 2020.

Some states try to fill food deserts through schools. Nebraska’s Farm to School Program Act (LB 396 of 2021), for example, helps local school districts connect with local farmers and ranchers to provide fresh food in schools. It arose from a 2020 interim session study (LR 337 of 2020) which recommended establishing a statewide farm-to-school program and the creation of two full-time positions to coordinate statewide farm-to-school activities. That study was an update of a 2009 interim study (LR 42 of 2009) of the potential for such programs.

The Michigan Department of Education administers the “10 Cents a Meal” program that uses state grants to match what schools spend — up to 10 cents per meal — on Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables and legumes. The state’s fiscal year 2023 budget doubled spending on the program from $4.5 million to $9.3 million.

U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade turns Midwest into a patchwork of abortion rights, access

The U.S. Supreme Court’s late June decision overturning Roe v. Wade triggered an electoral earthquake in Kansas, a new law in Indiana and may have opened myriad future constitutional questions about how states interact with each other.

Kansas voters on Aug. 2 decisively defeated a proposed constitutional amendment which would have specified the state’s constitution does not protect abortion access.

Days later, Indiana enacted a new law (SB 1) tightening such access to very limited circumstances. And Michigan voters might consider a proposal to constitutionally protect access in the Nov. 8 general election.

As of August in the Midwest, abortion access is:

• Illegal, with narrow exceptions in Indiana, North Dakota (whose law banning abortion was stayed by a court injunction), South Dakota, and Wisconsin, where trigger laws or pre-Roe bans took effect with the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Care Organization decision.
• Constitutionally protected via state Supreme Court rulings in Illinois, Kansas and Minnesota; and
• legal and available to varying degrees in Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio.

Every state that has banned or sharply restricted abortion makes an exception for the life of the mother. Indiana and North Dakota also allow abortions in cases of rape or incest; Indiana also allows it for fatal fetal anomalies. In states where abortion remains legal, the procedure is subject to various restrictions and/or mandates (see chart).

For example, Kansas requires counseling on fetal pain, negative psychological effects and potential links to breast cancer. Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio ban abortion services via telemedicine.

And except for Illinois and Minnesota, all Midwestern states where abortion is legal require parental consent or notice for minors seeking the procedure.

Those laws, however, govern what takes place within their states’ borders. No Midwestern legislature has considered criminalizing traveling out of state for abortion services, but Missouri’s did earlier this year. While SB 1202 did not advance, it raised questions about whether such a law could be constitutional.

A draft paper, “The New Abortion Battleground,” scheduled for publication in 2023 in the Columbia Law Review, predicts such legislation and ensuing litigation are probable as states wrestle with the Dobbs decision, and the availability of telemedicine and abortion-inducing medications.

“Given the underdeveloped and contested jurisprudence, the competing fundamental constitutional principles involved, and the complex web of factual scenarios that could possibly arise, the post-Roe judiciary will soon be mired in interjurisdictional complexities that will make the workability of the previous era look simple in comparison,” the paper states.

Constitutional questions

Kansas’s referendum on whether the state constitution protects abortion access rights was the first post-Dobbs election result.

A proposed amendment would have specified that the constitution does not provide a right to abortion, and undone a 2019 ruling by the state Supreme Court that the document does. Voters in the Aug. 2 primary election defeated the proposal 59 percent to 41 percent, leaving abortion legal (though subject to restrictions).

Michigan voters may get the next chance to constitutionally enshrine abortion access. A citizen-initiated amendment, the “Michigan Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative,” would add new language that “every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” that “shall not be infringed upon unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

In late July, organizers said they had turned in 753,759 signatures to the Michigan secretary of state for verification (425,059 valid signatures are required to get an initiative on the ballot). If approved by voters in the Nov. 8 general election, it would take effect 45 days after the election.

Iowa legislators in 2021 passed a proposed amendment declaring the state’s Constitution does not protect abortion access. That came in reaction to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision that abortion is constitutionally protected.

But in June, the court reversed itself to undo that protection, and also reversed a lower court’s decision invalidating a 2020 law requiring a 24-hour waiting period.

If legislators pass the amendment again in 2023 or 2024, the proposal will go to Iowa’s voters in ’24.

Supreme courts in Illinois and Minnesota have also ruled that abortion access is protected by their respective state constitutions.

Post-Dobbs legislation

Indiana legislators in an early August special session passed new restrictions on abortion, which Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law.

As reported by the Associated Press, the law bans abortions, with exceptions for cases of rape and incest; to protect the life and physical health of the mother; or if the fetus is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly.

Abortions may be performed only in hospitals or outpatient centers owned by hospitals, meaning all abortion clinics will lose their licenses.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts in mid-August canceled plans to call a special session of the Unicameral Legislature to consider tighter restrictions on abortion after falling three votes short of a filibuster-proof majority.

In contrast, Illinois legislators in 2021 passed the Reproductive Health Act, which became law in December of that year. The law makes abortion access a “fundamental right”; eliminated felony penalties for doctors who perform abortions; and removed waiting periods and a requirement that a married woman get consent from her husband. The law also states a “fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have independent rights.”

Abortion in Canada

In Canada, abortion is legal, but access varies among the provinces, which can regulate or restrict access based on gestational limits and set “bubble” or access boundaries around abortion clinics in which protests are banned (see table)

Abortion was illegal until a 1969 law legalized therapeutic abortions in cases where a panel of doctors agreed it was necessary. That stood until the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that the law violated Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Capital Closeup: In Kansas, legislators are asking voters for power to ‘veto’ agency rules

In November, Kansans will decide whether a second kind of veto should be added to its century-and-a-half-old state Constitution: the power of the Legislature to repeal or suspend rules and regulations from executive branch agencies and officers.

The legislatively referred constitutional amendment has been years in the making in Kansas, says state Rep. Barbara Wasinger, who serves as vice chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations.

Ever since a state Supreme Court ruling from 1984, the Legislature has only been able to review and voice concerns about administrative rules and regulations, through the joint committee that Wasinger now helps lead and has served on since joining the House.

“I remember my first meeting as a committee member, and I got done and said [to the committee chair at the time], ‘Am I getting this right? We listen to everything they’re going to do, but if we don’t agree with it, if we think they’re doing something wrong, we can tell them, but they don’t have to listen to us?’ “ Wasinger recalls asking.

Her surprise at the lack of legislative controls soon turned to concern about the impact of new rules coming from the executive branch — from an additional regulation on hair salons that she says forced some smaller operations in rural Kansas out of business, to big changes to the workers’ compensation system.

Prior to the state Supreme Court ruling from 38 years ago, Kansas had a statute allowing the Legislature to pass a concurrent resolution that revoked or modified administrative rules.

Governors are powerless to act on concurrent resolutions, a fact that has led courts in Kansas and several other states to overturn “legislative vetoes” as unconstitutional on the grounds that they violate separation-of-powers principles, says Northern Illinois University law professor Mark Falkoff.

The best course of action for Kansas legislators, Wasinger says, was to ask voters to change the Constitution.

To get the amendment on the ballot, Wasinger and supporters first needed to secure a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. That occurred earlier this year. Under the language of HCR 5014, the Legislature would have the authority to establish a process for revoking or suspending administrative rules through a majority vote of the members of each legislative chamber.

“This is not about discrediting anyone who works for the government [agencies], and I would say a majority of them want to do a good job for Kansas,” Wasinger says. “This is about accountability.”

The power of a joint committee in Illinois

State legislatures have varying levels of oversight authority of administrative rules and regulations (see map).

Illinois has been cited as having one of the strongest such legislative checks because of the statutory powers granted to the General Assembly’s 12-member Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

Democrats and Republicans are equally represented on the bicameral committee. A three-fifths vote of this committee can block agency rules. Earlier this year, for example, the committee stopped an attempt by the Illinois Department of Public Health to reinstate a mask mandate in schools.

Falkoff, though, believes the powers granted to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules are on constitutionally shaky grounds.

“Illinois is kind of an extreme version of the legislative veto in that it doesn’t even require two houses, or even one full house,” he says. “It’s just this one committee that can do it. When you look at court rulings across the country, with the lone exception of Idaho, any type of legislative veto [of administrative rules] has been deemed unlawful [minus a change in the state constitution].”

Capital Closeup is an ongoing series of articles focusing on institutional issues in state governments and legislatures.

Majority of Midwest states now have ‘permitless carry’ laws in place

Gun owners in Ohio and Indiana no longer need to obtain a permit in order to conceal a firearm on their person. These two legislative changes in the Midwest, adopted in early 2022, continue a national trend toward “permitless” or “constitutional” carry.

Across the country, 25 U.S. states (including six in the Midwest) now have such measures in place.

“Making lawful people jump through these hoops [in order to secure a concealed-carry permit] doesn’t stop the criminals from breaking the law,” says Indiana Rep. Ben Smaltz, a chief sponsor of his state’s permitless-carry legislation (HB 1296).

He adds that a person ultimately is responsible for his or her own safety, citing previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions (for example, Castle Rock v. Gonzales of 2005) which found that law enforcement does not have a constitutional duty to protect individuals from harm.

According to Smaltz, views on permitless carry among Indiana law enforcement have been evenly divided over the past five years it’s been proposed. This year, though, some of the most vocal, high-profile opposition to HB 1296 came from police testimonials, including Detective Matt Foote of Fort Wayne.

During an eight-hour committee hearing on the bill, Foote told legislators that the state’s gun-permit requirement has given officers some peace of mind during traffic stops and other interactions with the public. The reason: the information collected via the permitting system is documented in law-enforcement databases, which officers can then access while on duty.

“A valid handgun permit currently is prima-facie evidence that somebody is a proper person [to carry],” Foote said. “If we do not have a database, officers are going to have to conduct their own background investigation.”

Foote stressed to lawmakers that the necessity to conduct such searches could extend the length of traffic stops to as long as 45 minutes.

Hamilton County, Ohio, Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey — an opponent of the state’s new permitless carry law (SB 215) — says prolonged traffic stops jeopardize officer safety.

“How many times have we seen officers either hit or nearly hit in traffic accidents because the officer is standing at the car he or she has stopped?” McGuffey asked.

According to FBI data, between 2017 and 2021, 16 police officers nationally were accidentally killed while performing a traffic stop, with another 34 officers feloniously killed during traffic-related incidents.

As part of Ohio’s new law, a new “duty to inform” provision is in place: when an officer asks a person if he or she is in possession of a firearm, the individual must answer truthfully. The state’s previous statutory language required individuals to “promptly inform” police that they were carrying a concealed handgun.

McGuffey believes putting the onus on law enforcement to ask (instead of on the individual being stopped by police) not only adds to officers’ already complicated duties, but could result in judges dismissing certain cases due to an officer forgetting to pose the question.

But Ohio Sen. Theresa Gavarone, a co-sponsor of SB 215, says the “promptly inform” standard was too ambiguous. Placing the responsibility on law enforcement takes out any legal guesswork, she says, adding that “sometimes people get stressed [during police interactions] and they forget, not through any bad intentions.”

Concealed-carry limits

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, federal and state laws across the country prohibit individuals with felony convictions from possessing firearms. From there, the restrictions can vary from state to state. For instance, Indiana’s ban also covers individuals with violent or gun-related misdemeanors, while Ohio law prevents gun access to people with a serious mental condition or an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Those two states’ existing restrictions remain in place. Previously, though, all individuals had to undergo background checks before being legally authorized (via a state permit) to carry a concealed firearm. Now, securing such a permit is no longer required.

Indiana Sen. Liz Brown is concerned that the change in law will make it easier for domestic abusers and other prohibited permit carriers to escape prosecution for illegally carrying a concealed weapon.

“Now the law says you’re only going to get in trouble for [carrying] knowingly or intentionally,” says Brown, who views HB 1296 as allowing an ignorance-of-the-law defense.

During debate over HB 1296, she recommended keeping the licensing system but creating a provisional permit until completion of the background check. Her amendment did not receive a vote.

According to Smaltz, prosecutors will still have discretion to determine whether someone knowingly carried a gun illegally.

Safety training for permits

Five Midwestern states still require a concealed-carry permit (see table). Typically, in permit-to-carry states, individuals must take part in firearms safety courses. In Nebraska, for instance, permit holders complete a course approved by state police. (Ohio’s requirement, which was eight hours of training, was removed under SB 215; Indiana did not require such training under its permitting system.)

“It’s important, one, that people who are concealed-carrying have the highest safety and training standards,” says Nebraska Sen. Adam Morfeld, who voted against an unsuccessful permitless-carry bill (LB 773) this year.

“Two, I think it’s important that [people] be required to understand all of the laws surrounding concealed carry, because they can end up in some pretty serious trouble.”

For example, even if they don’t need a permit, gun owners often are barred from carrying firearms inside schools and courthouses. Additionally, each state has its own unique gun reciprocity laws.

One commonality, however, among the 11 Midwestern states is their “shall-issue” status, meaning little to no discretion is given to law enforcement to deny a permit to an individual who meets statutory qualifications. The eight U.S. states that provide more discretion are known as “may-issue” — a status that could change with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022).

A combination of data limitations, state-to-state policy differences and research restrictions makes it difficult to determine what casual effects these state-level gun classifications have on public safety. For example, the 2020 RAND Corporation meta-analysis study “The Science of Gun Policy” found shall-issue, concealed-carry policies have an uncertain effect on suicides, homicides, robberies and assaults.

However, the study also found limited research supporting claims that shall-issue, concealed-carry laws may increase violent crime levels, and gun licensing and permitting requirements may decrease suicides.

Rosanna Smart, the study’s lead researcher, cautions inconclusive evidence does not mean an effect doesn’t exist, but that researchers “don’t quite know yet what that effect is likely to be.”

 

Under new law, Illinois landlords can’t discriminate based on tenants’ ‘sources of income’

Illinois this spring became the fourth Midwestern state to enact a ban on housing discrimination based on a tenant’s sources of income — a move advocates of the bill, including its author, say will make more housing options available to those who need them the most.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, seven classes are protected from discrimination: race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability and family status.

U.S. states and localities can add additional protected groups to this list. One option: include source-of-income (SOI) discrimination bans, which prevent landlords from rejecting prospective tenants because of earnings from non-wage income such as Social Security payments or federal housing (“Section 8”) vouchers.

The Illinois law adds SOI language to the existing Human Rights Act. It takes effect next year.

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 20 states already had such discrimination bans in place as of earlier this year, including North Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Under North Dakota’s human rights statute, discrimination in housing and other areas (employment, public accommodation, etc.) is prohibited based on a person’s “status with regard … to public assistance.”

Judicial rulings have reduced the scope of Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s SOI laws:

• In Wisconsin, a statute dating back to 1980 protects individuals from SOI discrimination in the housing market. However, ever since a 1995 U.S. appellate court decision in a case involving this statute, Section 8 vouchers have not constituted income in Wisconsin.
• Minnesota’s 1990 law was limited by a 2010 state appellate court ruling (Edwards v. Hopkins Plaza Ltd. Partnership). Because participation in the Section 8 program is voluntary for property owners, the state court ruled, they aren’t required to accept the vouchers as a source of income.

‘Relentless coalition’

The American Bar Association, which supports SOI laws, noted their importance in the November 2019 edition of its magazine Human Rights, citing past research to suggest families with housing choice vouchers have greater success using them where these legal protections are in place.

Denial of housing often serves as a pretext for prohibited forms of discrimination and disproportionately affects renters of color, women and people with disabilities, the authors wrote.

“Source-of-income discrimination contributes to the perpetuation of racially segregated communities and neighborhoods with concentrated poverty,” they said.

“One of the most important goals of SOI laws has been to open up higher-opportunity and lower-poverty neighborhoods to families with [housing choice vouchers].”

That was a big reason why Rep. La Shawn Ford sponsored this year’s SOI law in Illinois (HB 2775).

“For years, this was something that Illinois has been trying to pass. It’s high time that we join the other states [with SOI] laws,” he says.

The difference this year, Ford adds, was a large, “relentless” coalition of housing advocates.

“One, we were able to educate and convince people that it’s wrong to discriminate against someone based on source of income,” Ford says. “And two, we were able to show that source-of-income discrimination has been banned in other states with no backlash to property owners.”

Opposition to SOI laws

Not all property owners are happy with SOI laws, however.

The National Multifamily Housing Council, an apartment industry advocacy group, says these measures have the effect of turning a voluntary program (Section 8 vouchers) into a mandatory one.

“Congress specifically made participation voluntary because of the regulatory burdens associated with it,” according to a 2019 position paper from the group. “While often well-intentioned, such mandates are self-defeating because they greatly diminish private-market investment and reduce the supply of affordable housing.”

The council instead suggests policymakers can have a bigger impact by addressing land costs, zoning (and density) policies, red tape and property tax rates — all of which it posits are bigger drivers of housing affordability than consideration of renters’ incomes.

Among the council’s policy recommendations to help increase the supply of affordable rental housing:

• invest broadly in transit and utility infrastructure, which will attract more housing development;
• make public land more readily available for multi-family housing development, which reduces the cost of such housing;
• streamline the review process for required studies and allow more housing types to be built “by right” (allowable without requiring a zoning variance).
• allow development bonuses (for more units, for example) where applicable for density, design flexibility and reduced parking.

More housing options

Bob Palmer, policy director for the advocacy group Housing Action Illinois, was part of La Ford’s “relentless” coalition. He says the primary goal of Illinois’ new SOI law is preventative, to not have landlords discriminate in the first place. It won’t bar property owners from evaluating prospective tenants on legal criteria and references, he adds.

“We know from talking to fair housing organizations and directly impacted people that people are denied if they have non-wage income,” Palmer says.

“We don’t think it will happen immediately, but over time, it should expand the choice of housing,” he says.

La Ford says the new law already is prompting discussions among landlord and renters’ advocate groups as to how to implement it.

“It’s going to have an impact even before it takes effect,” he says

SOI bills also were introduced in Indiana (HB 1397) and Kansas (HB 2065) in 2022, but did not advance.

Redistricting roundup for the 11-state Midwest

Illinois: Census delay, deadline caused drawing of two separate maps

The once-a-decade redistricting task in Illinois was unique this time around in at least one respect. When it came to new state legislative districts, the General Assembly developed and passed, and the governor signed into law, two plans in a single year.

This extra step was due to a delay in the release of official U.S. Census data, along with language in the Illinois Constitution stipulating that the General Assembly complete state legislative districting by June 30 in the year following the census.

If this deadline had been missed, a bipartisan, eight-member commission would have taken over the process. The General Assembly’s first map, passed in May 2021, was based on population estimates. Later that year, a three-member federal panel of judges ruled that the legislative districts were unconstitutionally malapportioned.

But even before this October 2021 decision, legislators had passed a second map based on official census data (released in August of that year). This map also faced a legal challenge, on the grounds that it diluted the votes of minority groups and should have included more legislative districts with majority Latino or Black voters.

However, the constitutionality of the General Assembly’s second state legislative map was upheld in late 2021.

“The voluminous evidence submitted by the parties overwhelmingly establishes that the Illinois mapmakers were motivated principally by partisan political considerations [not race],” the three-member panel of federal judges concluded. Partisan gerrymandering falls beyond the purview of federal courts, the judges noted.

The General Assembly had no similar constitutional deadline for drawing new U.S. congressional districts. It approved this map in October, having to account for the loss of one seat due to reapportionment.

Indiana: More ‘communities of interest’ kept together

Indiana ran into a deadline problem of its own with the delayed release of census numbers. Its redistricting statute calls for congressional districts to be approved prior to adjournment of the General Assembly’s first session following the census. If the task is not done by this time, redistricting duties are turned over to a five-member legislative commission.

The General Assembly was ready to adjourn in April 2021, but did not have the necessary redistricting data in hand. So lawmakers held off official adjournment until the fall, when they could return to the Capitol to approve new maps.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate say the new maps reflect their goal of keeping more “communities of interest” together — for example, 32 counties are now wholly contained within one state House district (up from 26 under the previous map); 65 are contained in one state Senate district (up from 49); and 84 of the state’s 92 counties are in a single congressional district.

As in Illinois, Indiana’s plan was criticized for unduly favoring the party in charge of the redistricting process (Democrats in Illinois, Republicans in Indiana). 

The partisan breakdown of Indiana’s delegation in the U.S. House is not expected to change with the new maps, however — seven Republicans, two Democrats, according to FiveThirtyEight. 

Iowa: Nonpartisan staff draws maps; legislature OKs with no changes

Iowa is one of three Midwestern states, along with Michigan and Ohio, that bans partisan gerrymandering. Since 1980, too, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has steered the redistricting process, drawing new state legislative and congressional lines and presenting these maps to the full Legislature for an up-or-down vote.

If the LSA’s first plan is rejected, the agency prepares a second one for a legislative vote, again with no amendments allowed. Legislators can only make tweaks after the first two plans have been voted down and a third plan has been submitted.

Would Iowa’s approach hold during this round of redistricting, in a state where one party controls the legislature and governor’s office (Republican) and during a period of increased partisanship

Yes.

During a special session in October 2021, legislators rejected a first LSA plan, citing concerns about the compactness of districts and population deviation. But later that same month, legislators gave near-unanimous approval to the second plan. Since Iowa first adopted a nonpartisan approach to redistricting, one of the LSA’s maps has always been approved without legislative amendment.

Kansas: Bipartisan support on one set of maps, override of veto on the other

A decade ago, the Kansas Legislature, though fully controlled by a single party (Republican), was not able to agree on new state legislative or congressional maps. As a result, a three-member panel of federal judges drew the political lines.

This time around, legislators reached enough consensus on both plans — getting the approval of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on the new state maps and overriding her veto of the congressional map. In March, the Kansas House gave overwhelming approval to the state legislative maps, “a show of bipartisan unity” marked by “an ocean of backslapping, plaudits and more than one standing ovation,” The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. (One of the most controversial parts of the state maps turned out to be the new lines for State Board of Education, a move that caused some Democrats to oppose the final version.)

The Republican-led Legislature’s plan for Kansas’ four U.S. House seats was more controversial. Kelly criticized the new congressional lines for diluting the voting strength of minority communities and separating communities of interest — for example, carving Wyandotte County (part of the Kansas City area) into two congressional districts and placing parts of the city of Lawrence in a rural district.

The Kansas House and Senate quickly overrode her February 2022 veto, setting up a legal challenge based on claims of extreme partisan gerrymandering and racial discrimination. The Kansas Supreme Court, however, rejected these assertions. Race was not the predominant factor in drawing the districts, the justices concluded, and nothing in Kansas’ Constitution or statutes prevents partisan considerations in the redistricting process.

Michigan: Maps drawn for first time by independent commission

Michigan is the only state in the Midwest (and one of nine in the United States) that has put the redistricting process fully in the hands of an independent commission whose members cannot be legislators or other public officials.

Under Michigan’s Constitution, the result of a voter-approved ballot initiative from 2018, lobbyists, party officials, legislative staff and campaign workers also are barred from serving on the commission.

The commissioners — four affiliated with the Democratic Party, four with the Republican Party, and five with no major-party affiliation — completed the state’s new political maps in December 2021. Researchers at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project concluded that Michigan’s new redistricting process produced maps that were “fair” to both parties — a grade of “A” on partisan fairness for the state House and U.S. House maps, and a “B” for the state Senate map. (Project researchers noted a “slight advantage” for Democrats with the state House and Senate maps, and no advantage for either party with the new congressional lines.)

Still, legal challenges followed. The League of Women Voters of Michigan — citing the state’s new constitutional requirement that no political party get a “disproportionate advantage” — claimed the new maps favored the Republican Party.

The Michigan Supreme Court dismissed the case, however, noting that partisan fairness also must be weighed against other criteria, such as keeping “communities of interest” together in a single district.

Separately, two racial-discrimination lawsuits were filed in state and federal courts. The Michigan Supreme Court upheld the new maps in a February 2022 decision. Plaintiffs in that case had argued that because the new redistricting plans reduced the number of majority-minority districts (as compared to the old maps), the result would be an unlawful dilution of minority votes. Similar claims are at the center of the case before a U.S. District Court in Michigan (no ruling had been made as of June).

Minnesota: Panel of state judges draws maps again due to legislative stalemate

Minnesota has the only “split legislature” in the Midwest, with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans the Senate. This power-sharing arrangement made a legislative stalemate over redistricting almost inevitable, in a state where the drawing of new lines by the state judicial branch has become commonplace.

As in recent cycles, the state Supreme Court appointed a panel of judges to oversee the process. The panel reviewed four separate proposed maps (including those submitted by the two major political parties) before adopting congressional and state legislative redistricting plans in February.

“We are not positioned to draw entirely new legislative districts, as the Legislature could choose to do,” the five-judge panel wrote, explaining the “restrained manner” in which it drew the new lines.

“Rather, we start with the existing districts, changing them as necessary to remedy the constitutional defect [caused by population shifts over the past 10 years] by applying politically neutral redistricting principles.”

As of June, close to 20 percent of the members of the Minnesota Legislature (39 state senators and representatives) had announced plans to retire at the end of the biennium. One reason for this high number: the redrawn political maps threw incumbents into new districts and/or into races against one another.

Nebraska: Changes reflect big shifts in population — rural to urban

Leading up to the most recent round of redistricting in Nebraska, a coalition of nonprofit groups announced plans to pursue a constitutional amendment creating an independent, non-politician commission similar to Michigan’s.

However, COVID-19-related restrictions ended the groups’ signature drive and ensured the Legislature would hold on to its redistricting responsibilities for at least one more cycle. Lawmakers reached agreement on the new maps during a special session held in September 2021. In part, the new plans had to account for a continuing shift in population from Nebraska’s rural areas to urban centers such as Lincoln and Omaha.

For instance, the state’s three most populous counties (Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster) are now home to 56 percent of all Nebraska residents; that compares to 31 percent in 1950, according to the University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research.

Under the new maps, one of Nebraska’s largely rural state legislative districts was dissolved into neighboring ones, while a district was added in Sarpy County (part of the Omaha area). According to an analysis by two Nebraska-based mathematics professors, the new map for state legislative districts was malapportioned to favor rural areas, though within the state’s allowable population deviation of +/- 5 percent.

North Dakota: New maps tweak use of multi-member districts

North Dakota is one of two Midwestern states (along with South Dakota) with a single, statewide U.S. House district.

The redistricting process, then, focuses on drawing new legislative maps, and one outcome from this cycle was an alteration of North Dakota’s use of multi-member districts. Typically, two at-large state representatives serve a single legislative district (with one senator representing the entire district).

But this time around, lawmakers approved a plan to create four single-member districts in two areas of the state with Native American reservations. They did so by creating sub-House districts in two separate legislative districts. Such a split helps prevent the votes of minority citizens from being diluted in a larger, multi-member district; in North Dakota, this change increases the chances of individuals from the Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain reservations being elected to office.

A lawsuit filed earlier this year challenges the creation of these subdistricts as unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. In May, a three-judge federal panel declined the request for a preliminary injunction. “We conclude the plaintiffs are not likely to prevail,” the panel concluded.

In a second lawsuit, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe say North Dakota’s new map unconstitutionally dilutes the strength of Native American voters.

Ohio: New era of redistricting marked by tumult and court battles

Ohio entered a new era of redistricting this cycle as the result of voter-approved constitutional amendments from 2015 and 2018. Both of these measures were designed, in part, to prevent partisan gerrymandering and encourage the drawing of maps that garner bipartisan support.

Still, Ohio’s redistricting process has proven to be contentious. Under the 2015 law, a seven-member commission — the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and four legislative representatives from both parties — draws the lines for state legislative districts.

The incentive for approval of a bipartisan plan is this: A commission-drawn map with approval from members of both political parties is in place for 10 years; one without such bipartisan support must be replaced after only four years.

Still, the commission never passed a plan with support from its two Democratic members.

After the commission approved its first plan for new General Assembly districts in September 2021, three lawsuits soon followed, with the plaintiffs asserting that the new maps violated the state’s constitutional prohibition on partisan gerrymandering.

The state Supreme Court rejected the commission’s first map, and also invalidated three separate revised plans. All four commission-approved plans, the justices ruled, fell short of the state’s new “partisan fairness” standards.

Minus a court-approved plan, which map would be used for the 2022 election cycle? The answer came from a three-member panel of U.S. District Court judges. It ordered that the commission’s “second revised plan” be used for this year’s election cycle only. (Because of the drawn-out process, Ohio’s primary for state legislative races was moved from May to August.)

Under the state’s 2018 constitutional amendment, the full General Assembly has the opportunity to draw new congressional lines. During the first stage of the process, any Assembly-approved plan must receive a three-fifths “yes” vote in the House and Senate, including support from at least half the members of each major political party. No such plan was passed during this stage.

Next, the Redistricting Commission is given a window of time to approve new congressional lines, but its plan must have bipartisan support. This did not occur either.

During the third stage, the General Assembly can approve a congressional map by a simple majority vote, but the plan then only remains in place for four years (rather than the full decade). A map did clear the General Assembly along partisan lines, but it was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court for being “infused with undue partisan bias.” The Redistricting Commission then passed a new congressional map, which was used for the May primary that included races for Ohio’s 15 U.S. House districts. That map also is being challenged in state court on a partisan-gerrymandering claim.

South Dakota: Small in numbers, but Democrats play role in final map

In South Dakota, Republicans hold close to 90 percent of the state’s legislative seats — the most lopsided partisan advantage in the Midwest. But seven Democratic “yes” votes in the House ultimately played a key role in getting a redistricting plan approved and to the desk of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.

According to the (Sioux Falls) Argus Leader, the House and Senate developed competing plans during this redistricting cycle, and disagreements emerged among moderate and conservative Republicans as they worked to draw new lines that reflected a large shift in population over the past decade from rural areas to Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

The Legislature met in special session in November 2021 to approve a new map. House and Senate leaders sought to reach a compromise between their competing plans, but many House Republicans ultimately voted against the Senate-approved map. “For a faction of conservatives in the Legislature, the bulk being members of the House, the [Senate] map is seen as an attempt to undermine the ability of far-right conservatives from winning elections in parts of South Dakota like Brown County, the Sioux Falls area and Rapid City,” the Argus Leader reported.

The Senate’s version passed 37-31 in the House, thanks to the seven votes of Democrats. Noem signed the redistricting bill only weeks ahead of a constitutional deadline of Dec. 1, when the responsibility of drawing new lines would have been turned over to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

Wisconsin: Process led by state supreme court; nation’s top court also weighs in

Along with Minnesota, Wisconsin was the other Midwestern state where a standoff over new political maps was expected. Republicans control the Assembly and Senate, but unlike in Kansas, they did not have enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers rejected both sets of maps in November 2021. In the ensuing months, the supreme courts of both Wisconsin and the United States got involved. Justices of the state Supreme Court decided not to craft their own maps, but to instead choose from plans brought forward by the governor, legislature and others.

The court used the following criteria to guide its selections: sets of maps that make minimal changes to the existing lines while making the necessary adjustments to account for population changes and state and federal redistricting standards.

In March, in a 4-3 decision, the court selected Evers’ two plans. However, later that same month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Wisconsin justices had erred in accepting the governor’s state legislative map. His map had added a majority-minority district. According to the ruling, there was not sufficient evidence (using the judicial standard of “strict scrutiny”) to justify race-based districting as being necessary to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court then reconsidered the competing proposals, and in April, it chose the plan of the Republican-led Legislature. The end result: Congressional lines drawn by Evers, and new state Assembly and Senate lines designed by the Legislature.

2022 BILLD Class Announced

A bipartisan group of state legislators from the Midwest has been selected to take part in a one-of-a-kind leadership program — the Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development (BILLD).

The program will be held Aug. 27-31, in Madison, Wis., marking the 27th year in which CSG Midwest’s Midwestern Legislative Conference has offered leadership training to its members: legislators from 11 states in this region as well as from the MLC’s four Canadian provincial members and affiliates.

BILLD is designed for legislators in their first four years of service.  Selections were made in May by the BILLD Steering Committee, a bipartisan group of legislators from all 11 Midwestern states.

Here is the list of legislators chosen to receive a 2022 BILLD Fellowship.

ILLINOISNORTH DAKOTA

Rep. Dagmara AvelarRep. LaurieBeth Hager

Rep. Maurice WestRep. David Richter

Rep. Patrick WindhorstRep. Paul J. Thomas

INDIANAOHIO

Rep. David AbbottRep. Dontavius L. Jarrells

Rep. Carolyn Bascomb JacksonRep. Susan Annette Manchester

Rep. Jake TeshkaRep. Andrea White

IOWASOUTH DAKOTA

Rep. Lindsay B. JamesRep. Becky Drury

Sen. Michael Todd KlimeshSen. Erin Tobin

Rep. Henry StoneSen. David K. Wheeler

KANSASWISCONSIN

Sen. Michael A. FaggRep. Samba Baldeh

Rep. Christina HaswoodSen. Julian Bradley

Rep. Nick J. HoheiselRep. Jodi Emerson

Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin

ALBERTA

MICHIGANMLA Nathan Neudorf

Rep. Abraham M. Aiyash

Rep. Andrew W. BeelerMANITOBA

Rep. Amos O’NealMLA Josh Guenter

MINNESOTAONTARIO

Rep. Esther AgbajeMPP Mike Harris

Rep. Gregory Lee Boe

Rep. Kristin RobbinsSASKATCHEWAN

MLA Jim Lamaigre

NEBRASKAMLA Tim McLeod

Sen. Eliot BostarMLA Erika Ritchie

Sen. John J. Cavanaugh

In Saskatchewan, a province-led effort leads to a change in Canada’s Constitution

On most matters, a fairly high bar is set to change Canada’s Constitution: approval by the House of Commons and the Senate, followed by votes in favor of the amendment by at least two-thirds of the provincial legislatures. Combined, these legislatures must represent at least 50 percent of the country’s population. But there is a simpler path for constitutional provisions that apply only to a single province.

One such provision dated back more than a century, when language was included in The Saskatchewan Act of 1905 (part of the federal Constitution) limiting the province’s power to tax the Canadian Pacific Railway, in recognition of the investment that the company had made in building the trans-Canadian rail line. The Saskatchewan Act had never been changed, until May of this year.

In late 2021, the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan unanimously adopted a resolution requesting a repeal of the tax-exemption language. Canada’s House of Commons and Senate approved the province-led amendment earlier this year, followed in May by royal assent from the Governor General. Saskatchewan Justice Minister and Attorney General Gordon Wyant says the province-led constitutional change “will ensure that all Saskatchewan taxpayers, both citizens and businesses alike, continue to be fairly treated.”

Housing shortages in rural areas are stifling growth, causing states to adopt new targeted incentives

In the small, north-central Kansas town of Stockton, more than 100 jobs are open.

The number of available places for prospective workers and their families to live?

Two, Kansas Sen. Rob Olson says.

“And we have [other] cities that are busing in 200 people to work because there is no available housing,” he adds.

Many rural areas have been disproportionately impacted by a widespread lack of affordable housing. Factors include a housing stock that is aging and in decline, higher new-construction costs compared to urban and suburban areas, and appraisal values that oftentimes fall below the price of building a new home or fixing an existing one.

“When you have a small community that doesn’t have the proper housing, and you have businesses that want to grow or expand or move there, that’s a missed opportunity,” Olson says.

Through a mix of new income tax credits, loan guarantees and state grants, Olson and other Kansas legislators took sweeping actions this legislative session to jump-start rural housing development.

Kansas invests in New tax credits, Loan guarantee

With this year’s passage of HB 2237, Kansas will begin funding an income tax credit program for developers who invest in the construction of affordable housing in smaller-populated counties:

up to $35,000 in tax credits for each new housing unit in counties with fewer than 8,000 people;
up to $32,000 for each new housing unit in counties with 8,000 to 25,000 people;
up to $30,000 for each new housing unit in counties with between 25,001 and 75,000 people.

This approach, which Olson likens to his previous legislative work on angel-investor tax credits to spur business development, got bipartisan support in the Republican-led Legislature and the backing of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Various stakeholders (real estate agents, bankers, mobile-home groups, the Farm Bureau, etc.) also got behind the proposal.

“We need to get more funding in the rural parts of the state,” says Olson, who, as chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, played a lead role in this year’s legislative efforts.

Under the same new law, a total of $2 million in loan guarantees will go to projects that build new homes or rehabilitate existing ones in Kansas’ smallest counties (fewer than 10,000 residents). The guarantee, capped at $100,000 per home, is an attempt to address the problem of construction costs sometimes coming in higher than the appraised value of homes.

A second new law in Kansas, SB 267, directs more dollars to a program that assists local communities looking to spur the construction of moderate-income, workforce housing — whether that be multi-family rental units or single-family homes.

Prior to this year, Olson says, Kansas was providing $2 million in assistance.

“We were barely scratching the surface [of needs],” Olson says. “This year, we added $20 million, putting in enough money to fund it for about three to four years.”

The program targets help for communities of fewer than 60,000 residents; the new dollars come from the state’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds. Separately, SB 267 also designated $20 million in general-fund dollars to establish a Rural House Development Revolving Loan Program. Loans or grants will go to rural communities for infrastructure projects related to moderate- and low-income housing development.

“It’s going to take four or five years to really start to see the change, but it’s going to be there,” Olson says. “You’ll see growth and expansion.”

Olson himself represents Olathe, a suburb of Kansas City that is among the top five largest cities in the state. But he believes a boost in rural activity will help the entire state.

“The larger communities are doing everything that we can, but we are not using the full potential of the rural parts of our state,” he says. “We have opportunities for growth.”

Nebraska extends state-local housing partnership

Lawmakers in neighboring Nebraska also prioritized rural housing this session, approving a measure (LB 1069) that extends and expands an existing state program.

As in Kansas, previous efforts in Nebraska have showed signs of success, but not on a scale large enough to stem a housing crisis.

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agricultural Economics, the state’s majority of non-metropolitan housing stock is more than 50 years old.

And more recent economic trends have made it more difficult to add housing stock, says Sen. Matt Williams, the sponsor of LB 1069. “We have seen increased building costs, supply-chain delays, and fewer contractors — [all] amplifying the problem,” he says.

Further, Williams says, Nebraska’s lack of workforce housing is intensifying the state’s ongoing workforce shortage.

As originally enacted in 2017, the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act created a $7 million grant fund, which resulted in a $110 million investment in rural workforce housing and more than 800 housing units.

Two years ago, the state appropriated another $10 million in general funds for a second round of grants.

The program was set to expire at the end of this year. LB 1069 extends the program for the next five years with an additional $40 million in state funds. With this money, the state awards grants to nonprofit development organizations for the construction of workforce housing in counties with fewer than 100,000 people. These grants aim to mitigate the financial risk associated with the high cost of building in rural areas.

Under the 2022 law, the state is increasing the maximum allowable costs for grant-eligible projects — up to $325,000 for an owner-occupied housing unit (from $275,000) and up to $250,000 for rental housing units (from $200,000).

Additionally, lawmakers removed a cap on the amount that a nonprofit organization can receive; instead of $2 million, the limit will be determined by the state Department of Economic Development. Lastly, the local match to receive state funds was relaxed, from 100 percent to 50 percent.

For Williams, one of the program’s most promising aspects is that it’s built to last — because of  the type of funding mechanism typically being used at the local level to meet the state’s matching requirements.

“Most are using a revolving-fund arrangement so the local programs keep growing,” he explains. “It’s the gift that keeps giving.”