MIPRC receives federal grant

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission won a two-year, Interstate Rail Compacts (IRC) grant of up to $300,000 from the Federal Railroad Administration.

This is the first funding being made available under the new IRC grant program, which was created in the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law”).

The FRA announced the opportunity for the first round of funding, for federal fiscal years 2022 and 2023, in May 2023.

A team of MIPRC officers, commissioners and partners prepared the commission’s application, which was submitted in July. Grant recipients are required to provide a 50 percent match.

The grant will enable MIPRC to expand its staff, update and modernize its electronic and published communications channels and materials, broaden its outreach to myriad stakeholders, and strengthen its ability to apply and compete for future federal planning grants.

The grant will also help MIPRC evolve into the enhanced regional governance authority envisioned by the FRA-led Midwest Regional Rail Plan of 2021, which set forth a strategic 40-year vision for the Midwest’s passenger rail network.

Current MIPRC member states are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio are eligible to rejoin the compact; South Dakota also is eligible to join.

CSG Midwest provides secretariat services to MIPRC.

Learn more about MIPRC at miprc.org.

The post MIPRC receives federal grant appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Wind, Solar and Siting: A Look at Recent Laws and Legislative Trends in the Midwest

“Wind, Solar and Siting: A Look at Recent Laws and Legislative Trends in the Midwest ” ~ PDF

Introduction: Varying visions on siting authority

Across the Midwest, interest in new solar and wind projects is undoubtedly on the rise as the region and the country shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

Less certain: Who should have the authority to approve or deny proposals to build new wind and solar facilities? State regulators? Local governments? Some combination of the two?

Ultimately, the decision on who gets that authority rests with state legislatures, and an analysis of laws in the 11-state Midwest shows a mix of approaches being used. In states such as Indiana, Iowa and Kansas, the fate of proposed  renewable projects rests entirely or mostly with local governments; conversely, state-level regulators in states such as Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin take on much or all of the siting authority over larger projects.

Proposals to shift the balance of power between state and local governments have been introduced in state capitols across the Midwest in recent years. This legislative activity has included the enactment of new laws in states such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

The post Wind, Solar and Siting: A Look at Recent Laws and Legislative Trends in the Midwest appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Midwest’s legislatures explore paths to property tax relief

The property tax, Joan Youngman says, “will never have a quiet life.”

On the one hand, people are reminded every day of the critical amenities provided through this local revenue source — schools, roads, police, etc. “Voters are aware of their property values and of the services, and that’s a good thing for [local] accountability and responsible decision making,” says Youngman, a senior fellow and chair of the Department of Valuation and Taxation at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

On the other hand, they also are mindful of the costs.

How much did you pay last year in property taxes? People are much more likely to know that answer compared to sales or income taxes, at least in part because the property tax typically is collected as a lump-sum payment and can total thousands of dollars.

In recent years, Rep. Mike Amyx says, he and other Kansas lawmakers have been hearing loud and clear from constituents about the impacts of rising property taxes.

“The values of properties are going up; people’s incomes have not [kept pace]. And, of course, you have folks on fixed income,” he says. “We’re seeing some fairly big hardships because of that.”

In his State of the State address in January, Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen identified “out-of-control property taxes” as the state’s “most important economic issue.” His goal: sign new laws this session that result in a 40 percent reduction in property taxes. Kansas and Nebraska are not alone. Youngman notes that in just about every state where legislatures are in session, bills have been filed to provide some kind of relief.

Rising vales, rising taxes

U.S. home values reached an average of $342,941 in January 2024, according to the Zillow Home Value Index; that is an increase of 68.3 percent since January 2017. The annual growth in home values was 3.1 percent between January 2023 and January 2024.

The value of agricultural land has been on the rise as well. Last year alone, it went up 7.4 percent. Between 2009 and 2023, the value of farmland nearly doubled, from $2,090 per acre, on average, to $4,080, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This kind of jump in property valuations often results in higher tax bills, putting more pressure on lawmakers to intervene.

Most states in the Midwest fall somewhere in the middle of U.S. states on measures of property tax burdens and reliance (see maps), but there are exceptions.

Indiana, for instance, ranks in the bottom one-fifth of states.

Statutory changes made there a decade-and-a-half ago allowed for a “tax swap” that reduced reliance on the property tax. The General Assembly raised the sales tax rate from 6 percent to 7 percent and had the state assume full funding responsibility for the costs associated with day-to-day student instruction in K-12 schools. Around the same time, a legislative-initiated, voter-approved constitutional amendment established new property tax caps. For instance, the tax paid by an Indiana homeowner cannot exceed 1 percent of the property’s gross assessed value.

On the flip side, Nebraska is one of the Midwestern states (along with Illinois) with a higher-than-average reliance on the property tax.

Numerous legislative proposals this year would change that and add new revenue sources in exchange for the 40 percent reduction in property taxes envisioned by Gov. Pillen. For example:

  • Raise Nebraska’s sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent.
  • Broaden the sales tax base by imposing a tax on more services (for example, dry cleaning, digital advertising, accounting, storage and moving, and business legal services), on candy and soda, on lottery tickets and games of skill, and on certain agricultural-equipment parts.
  • Raise the cigarette tax by $2 a pack (from 64 cents to $2.64).

Nebraska Sen. Lou Ann Linehan says a series of legislative changes are needed to bring a more balanced approach to government finance. She and others refer to it as the “three-legged stool”: income, sales and property taxes accounting for roughly the same amount of revenue for state and local governments.

The stool is no longer level, Linehan says, with property tax collections in Nebraska now at $5 billion, compared to $3 billion in income taxes and $2 billion in sales taxes.

She adds that additional revenue sources from sales and other taxes should only be part of the solution. Linehan also wants harder, state-level caps that limit annual growth in tax collections by local governments; under her proposed LB 1414, the total amount being collected would mostly have to remain the same from one year to the next. (There are exceptions to account for new construction or to pay off bonds, and allow voters to approve higher amounts.)

This harder cap, Linehan says, will keep property taxes in check even as property values rise. LB 1414 does not apply to school districts, though a measure passed last year (LB 243) curbs districts’ year-over-year increases to 3 percent, with exceptions to account for growth in overall enrollment or the number of higher-need students.

Outside the Legislature, advocates of eliminating all income, property and inheritance taxes in Nebraska are seeking to get their proposal on the November 2024 ballot. Their idea is to fund state and local government through a consumption tax. A petition to end property taxes in North Dakota, via a constitutional amendment, also has been circulating.

Transparency in taxation

In Kansas, any proposed constitutional amendments must first get legislative approval, and Democrats and Republicans have proposed separate property tax-related measures. The Republican plan would limit counties from raising the valuation on any property by more than 4 percent in a single year; the Democratic proposal would reduce the rate at which residential property is assessed, from 11.5 percent to 9 percent. (Rates are set in the Constitution.)

Statutory-level changes also are under consideration this session. One idea is to expand Kansas’ existing homestead exemption, a policy lever common across the country.

According to Youngman, the universality of the homestead exemption (all property owners get relief) often makes it more politically popular than targeted, “circuit breaker” programs, which provide assistance only once property taxes exceed a certain percentage of a homeowner’s income.

Still, if set as a fixed-dollar amount (rather than a percentage of the home’s worth), the homestead exemption can help counter-balance “the inherent regressivity in tax valuations,” says Youngman, noting that “the lower end of the residential class tends to be over-assessed.”

She suggests that state legislatures fund these exemptions, rather than leaving it to local governments to find ways of making up the lost revenue.

Proposals in Kansas would raise the homestead exemption on the statewide property tax to $100,000 of valuation; it already was raised two years ago from $20,000 to $40,000 under HB 2239.

Homestead exemptions, circuit breaker programs, assessment and levy limits, and property tax rate caps are among the ways that states in the Midwest have sought to curb property taxes. But Youngman also says there is value in increasing state-level transparency, while allowing for local control over budgeting decisions that impact local services.

In Kansas, a “truth in taxation” law passed in 2021 (SB 13) now requires local taxing bodies to alert residents and hold public hearings prior to any vote that increases property tax collections.

“It’s an inhibiting step [to increasing taxes] because you no longer can have what you might call a ‘silent tax increase,’ ” says Youngman, noting that property tax collections can rise simply because of rising assessment values. “At the same time, you’re not imposing [limits] from a higher level of government. You’re not requiring a one-size-fits-all approach when areas of the state may have very different needs and resources.”

She also recommends stronger state oversight of locally administered property tax systems to ensure accuracy, fairness and accountability. Options for that oversight could be a legislative committee or a state-level board or official.

 


Paths to property tax relief: An overview of state policy strategies and examples from the 11-state Midwest

  • Provide homestead exemptions that reduce the taxable value of a property owner’s primary residence. The exemption is typically a fixed-dollar amount set in statute. Two years ago, Kansas legislators raised the exemption on the statewide property tax from $20,000 of valuation to $40,000; HB 2239 also included a trigger that automatically increases the exemption to coincide with statewide rises in property values. Various proposals in the 2024 session would raise the exemption to $100,000.
  • Establish assessment limits that cap how much a property’s value (for tax purposes) can increase from year to year. Under the Michigan Constitution, the taxable value of property cannot grow by more than 5 percent or the rate of inflation (whichever is less) until ownership is transferred.
  • Impose a tax rate cap that is tied to the value of the property. Constitutional language in Indiana guarantees that the tax paid by individuals on their primary residence will not exceed 1 percent of the property’s gross assessed value. The cap is 2 percent for residential non-homesteads and 3 percent for other property.
  • Institute levy limits that curb how much revenue can be collected by local governments, with year-over-year growth typically capped at a certain percentage. Iowa legislators established new tiered levy limits last year. Under HF 718, when overall property assessments in a taxing district rise between 3 percent and 6 percent, the levy limit is set at 2 percent. When assessments increase 6 percent or more, levy growth is capped at 3 percent.
  • Increase general aid to local governments. This was among several property tax relief provisions included in Minnesota’s omnibus tax bill from 2023. HF 1938 included an additional $80 million each year in local government aid and county program aid. With this influx of state dollars, lawmakers say, local governments can deliver critical services and avoid property tax increases.
  • Raise state-based taxes. The property tax limits and caps in Indiana and Michigan (see above) were implemented at the same time those states raised sales tax rates. One goal of these “tax swaps” was to reduce a reliance on the property tax to fund K-12 schools.
  • Offer targeted relief when the property tax bill for a homeowner exceeds a certain percentage of income. Minnesota has one of the nation’s furthest-reaching circuit breaker programs: a high maximum refund (compared to many states), with eligibility open to all income-qualifying homeowners and renters. In other states, eligibility may be limited to seniors or the disabled and not include renters.
  • Provide income tax credits to homeowners and other property-tax payers. In Wisconsin, a school levy tax credit is applied to every taxable property. Recent laws in Nebraska made property owners eligible for a refundable income tax credit based on the amount they pay in property taxes to the local school district and community college.
  • Allow for the postponed payment of taxes until the property is sold or the owner dies. Illinois is among the states with this kind of property tax deferral program, and a 2021 law (SB 2244) expanded eligibility for it. Illinois seniors with incomes of up to $65,000 now qualify. The maximum amount that can be deferred every year also was raised to $7,500.
  • Adopt “truth-in-taxation” laws. One example of this approach is Kansas’ SB 13, a law passed in 2021 that requires a local taxing body to alert residents and hold a public hearing prior to any vote that increases the amount of total property tax revenue it collects. This requirement includes sending a notice to each property-tax payer about the proposed increase and the public hearing. A similar law was enacted in Nebraska in 2021 (LB 644).

The post Midwest’s legislatures explore paths to property tax relief appeared first on CSG Midwest.

2024 MLC Chair’s Initiative on Workforce | Governors tout successes, new policies to build talent pipelines in their state

Innovation in workforce policy and development is the focus of the 2024 Midwestern Legislative Chair’s Initiative of Ohio Sen. Bill Reineke (pictured to the right). In support of the initiative, CSG Midwest is producing a series of articles, research briefs and policy sessions for the region’s legislators on this initiative.

Below, we explore the State of the State addresses delivered by Midwestern governors in early 2024 and focus on their ideas for building talent pipelines and addressing workforce shortages. We look at four common policy strategies:

  1. Boost rates of postsecondary attainment
  2. Expand the reach of apprenticeship programs
  3. Address the child care needs of families
  4. Recruit out-of-state workers

(Note: The governors of Minnesota and Ohio had not yet delivered their addresses when this article was written in February 2024.)

Strategy #1: Boost rates of postsecondary attainment

More jobs are requiring some postsecondary education and training beyond high school, a workforce reality noted in several of the governors’ recent speeches and proposals.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to make the first two years of community college tuition-free for every high school graduate. For students, she said, the plan would open new opportunities to pursue better-paying jobs. But Whitmer also noted that the state and its businesses will benefit from a larger pool of postsecondary-trained workers.

“As more supply chains come home and advanced manufacturing businesses expand in Michigan, they will need qualified talent,” she said. The state’s goal is to have 60 percent of working-age adults with a college degree or postsecondary skill certificate by 2030.

Six years ago, Iowa lawmakers set this statewide target: by 2025, 70 percent of the workforce should have education and training beyond high school. To get there, new programs were established and funded under the Future Ready Act (HB 2458 of 2018). For instance, a last-dollar scholarship has been made available to students pursuing degrees or certificates in high-need occupations. In fiscal year 2023, a total of $24 million went to nearly 10,000 Iowans. An associate degree in nursing was the most common occupation being pursued.

In her January 2024 address, Gov. Kim Reynolds reported to legislators that the state had reached its 70 percent goal ahead of schedule.

“Future Ready Iowa was born in this building with an executive order and bipartisan legislation; we set the vision and laid the foundation,” she said. “But elected leaders aren’t the ones who got it done. It was the people of Iowa … who created a new culture, merging the worlds of work and education like never before.”

At the start of Indiana’s 2024 session, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb challenged education and policy leaders to find new ways of making college more accessible. Among his ideas: create more degree options. Under SB 8, every public university would need to offer at least one three-year degree program, as well as study the feasibility of offering associate degrees to students.

Strategy #2: Expand reach of state-supported apprenticeship programs

Another feature of Iowa’s Future Ready initiative has been to invest more in registered apprenticeships — “earn and learn” programs for people to get paid while receiving on-the-job training and skills. Part of Iowa’s strategy has been developing and expanding new apprenticeships in high-demand fields. (The state’s Workforce Development Board identifies the high-demand fields).

One of Reynolds’ policy goals for 2024 is to expand high school students’ access to apprenticeships or other work-based learning opportunities (internships, job shadowing, etc.) in targeted industries.

In her 2024 State of the State address, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem highlighted the impact of recent investments in apprenticeships, including a new three-year, $7.9 million grant program. With that money, apprenticeship sponsors are eligible for up to $15,000 in funding support as well as state technical assistance.

“In just the first two quarters since launching the expanded effort, we’ve more than doubled the amount of new apprenticeships,” Noem said.

Raising awareness about apprenticeships and other worker training programs is the goal of Indiana’s One Stop to Start, a new web resource highlighted by Holcomb during his State of the State address. The “one stop” resource highlights high-growth industries in Indiana and includes a listing of state-supported education and training opportunities. Additionally, individuals can get connected with a career navigator to explore potential options.

Strategy #3: Address the child care needs of families

In Kansas, more than half of the families in search of child care cannot find an open slot, Gov. Laura Kelly said to legislators in January. “[It’s] forcing many parents to quit their jobs, and the shortages are worst in our rural areas.”

Her proposed budget includes $56 million for child care. More than half of this money would be used to build up Kansas’ child care infrastructure — grants to build new facilities or expand existing operations. Local and private dollars match the state-level support.

Kelly also proposed one-time funding of $5 million for a public-private partnership in a 26-county region of northwest Kansas. Combined with private dollars and the support of local foundations, the state dollars would create a new endowment, a sustainable source of funding to add child care slots in this region’s mostly rural communities. If successful, the approach could be replicated in other parts of Kansas.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen has proposed building a “micro-center” network of child care programs.

This model aims to remove some of the common infrastructure and operational obstacles faced by smaller-sized, family-based child care providers — for example, a lack of space to expand capacity in their homes or a lack of capital to build a stand-alone center.

Here is how it works: Smaller providers get low- or no-cost space to deliver care in a few rooms of an existing facility (a school or business in the community, for example). These smaller providers also then get administrative and technical support from a shared, outside entity.

Nebraska’s LB 1416 would establish a state grant program to pursue the micro-center model.

In Illinois. Gov. J.B. Pritzker told legislators in February that with continuing state investments for an initiative known as “Smart Start,” universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds could be achieved by 2027. Last year’s Illinois budget included $300 million in new funding for child care and early-childhood education. With those additional dollars, the state is

  • providing grants to schools and nonprofit operators to create more child care slots and for private operators to expand operations;
  • investing in programs that raise the wages of workers in this sector and that create new scholarship and apprenticeship programs; and
  • expanding the availability of child care assistance for lower-income families.

“Smart Start is having the desired benefit for working parents and their children,” Pritzker said. “Child care utilization rates are higher than ever before.”

Last year, North Dakota legislators took steps to expand child care capacity, and Gov. Doug Burgum hailed that $66 million investment in his 2024 State of the State address. As part of the enacted legislation (HB 1540), more families became eligible for state-funded child care assistance, providers are being paid at higher rates, and employers are getting incentives to cover part of their workers’ child care expenses.

“What’s happening with that investment, now more than 4,800 working families have received help with child care costs just in the first six months of this biennium; more than 300 child care business have benefited from grants and incentives,” Burgum said. “Think of that, close to 5,000. When we talk about trying to solve our issue with 30,000 jobs open, we put a huge dent in it … because we got 5,000 people that maybe came back into the
workforce.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers told legislators in January that a child care crisis is imminent minus state action; public funding is needed to keep many centers open, he said. Like other Midwestern governors, too, Evers linked the lack of child care availability to a shortage of workers.

“From my vantage point, three things are key to addressing our state’s workforce challenges: First, we must find a long-term solution to our state’s looming child care crisis; second, we must expand paid family leave; and third, we must invest in public education at every level, from early childhood to our technical colleges and universities.”

On that second priority, Evers has proposed a state investment of $240 million to jump-start a program that would ensure 12 weeks of paid family leave for most private-sector employees.

Strategy #4: Recruit new workers to the state

Pillen and Noem said part of their states’ strategies for alleviating workforce shortages should be to attract out-of-state talent.

Pillen has proposed a new tax credit for employers who cover the relocation expenses of people who move to Nebraska for work (LB 1400). The credit is up to $5,000 per employee. The relocating worker must have an annual wage of between $70,000 and $250,000. That worker also would get a one-time income tax break.

“We must recognize that investing in the twenty-first century workforce is different from what we’ve done before,” Pillen said. “No longer can we focus tax breaks on companies that are takers, not givers, and that do not share our values.

In June 2023, South Dakota launched “Freedom Works Here,” a workforce-recruitment campaign with targeted ads for the state’s highest-demand professions — for example, electricians, plumbers, welders, accountants and nurses. This campaign, combined with recent statutory changes that recognize out-of-state professional licenses, has led to more job applicants and a year-over-year increase of 10,000 people in the labor force, Noem said.

“This is indisputably the most impactful workforce campaign in South Dakota’s history,” she added.

Holcomb, meanwhile, unveiled a new “One Stop to Start” initiative. The web-based resource includes information on high-growth industries in Indiana and a listing of state-supported education and training opportunities. Through the initiative, workers can get connected with a career navigator to explore potential options.

The post 2024 MLC Chair’s Initiative on Workforce | Governors tout successes, new policies to build talent pipelines in their state appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Michigan, Minnesota laws ban ‘deep fakes’ in election campaigns

Two states in the Midwest are among the first in the nation to have laws on the books that regulate the use of artificial intelligence in elections. As part of the recently enacted Michigan bills (HB 5141 and HB 5143 and HB 5144 and 5145), signed into law near the tail end of 2023, the use of AI must be acknowledged in any political advertisements that use it.

AI is newly defined in the state’s campaign finance laws as “a machine-based system that can, for a given set of human-defined objectives, make predictions, recommendations or decisions influencing real or virtual environments.”

Michigan now explicitly bars political campaigns’ use of “materially deceptive media” generated by AI. This includes false depictions of candidates (things they didn’t say, actions they didn’t take) that intentionally harm their reputations or electoral chances. The new prohibition on “deep fakes” does not apply, however, if a “clearly visible” disclaimer alerts viewers that the image, audio or video “has been manipulated by technical means and depicts speech or conduct that did not occur.”

Minnesota was the first Midwestern state to criminalize the use of deep-fake technologies to influence elections with the passage of HF 1370. Signed into law in May 2023, this measure also cracks down on individuals who intentionally disseminate a deep fake that realistically (and falsely) depicts another person as naked or engaged in a sexual act.

Late last year, The Council of State Governments conducted a 50-state analysis of new laws designed to regulate the design, development and use of artificial intelligence. Seventeen U.S. states had adopted 29 bills as of December 2023, including measures to protect individuals’ data privacy, prevent abusive data practices and discrimination, and require disclosure from employers or businesses when AI is being used.

The post Michigan, Minnesota laws ban ‘deep fakes’ in election campaigns appeared first on CSG Midwest.

More states are requiring instruction in financial literacy for graduation; among the challenges is building up a trained teacher workforce

In recent years, most Midwestern states have legislatively revised their respective high school graduation requirements to include mandated instruction in financial literacy.

In 2023 alone, three states (Indiana, SB 35; Minnesota, HF 2497; and Wisconsin, AB 109) enacted laws requiring one semester of financial literacy education starting with the graduating class of 2028.

The Wisconsin measure, signed by the governor in December, marked the culmination of a multi-year journey.

Back in 2017, lawmakers approved AB 280, which tasked local school boards with adopting and incorporating financial literacy curriculum standards in all K-12 grades. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, in turn, developed state standards to guide this coursework.

According to the state’s latest standards, students are expected to understand, for example, the nuances of money management, financial risk assessment, how to save and invest, and how to achieve debt resolution.

Sen. Joan Ballweg, a co-sponsor of both the 2017 and 2023 legislation, says that despite the availability of state standards, many Wisconsin schools were still not offering the instruction to students.

“[In 2023], 34 percent of schools guaranteed students would have one semester of personal finance before graduating, and 59 percent [of students] had the option of taking an elective personal finance education course,” Ballweg says.

That wasn’t nearly good enough for her and other believers in the need to build students’ financial literacy.

“The stand-alone class is going to be able to incorporate more of what financial literacy is,” Ballweg says.

“Everything from talking about investments, talking about amortization schedules, talking about your own budgeting, the ramifications of what it takes to pay for college, [to] buying a vehicle on your own and the insurance that’s going to come with it.”

Chris Caltabiano, chief program officer of the nonprofit Council for Economic Education, says research supports the taking of a designated financial literacy course.

“With a well-prepared, well-trained teacher [it] has positive downstream effects on [students’] financial behaviors and outcomes,” he says.

“Students who have had that dedicated course tend to have higher credit scores; they tend to have lower debt default rates. If they choose to go to college, they tend to make decisions that are more financially advantageous, [such as] making the decision to take out a public loan versus a private loan.”

Ballweg pursued legislation in 2022 (SB 841) requiring a full academic year of financial literacy starting with the class entering high school that fall. After getting feedback that one full year could be overly burdensome for some schools, she returned with AB 109 and its semester-long requirement. The bill also extends the implementation time frame (to the class of 2028).

Questions have been raised in Wisconsin about the actual teaching of the new requirement — both in terms of finding qualified educators in the midst of a national teacher shortage and how to fund professional development training for educators.

More flexibility for schools in Iowa

Concern over finding enough teachers is one of the reasons that Iowa legislators last year modified their laws on financial literacy.

In 2018 and 2019, the Legislature adopted a series of bills making Iowa the first Midwestern state to require instruction in a stand-alone course.

SF 475 of 2018 spells out the type of instruction to be covered in this course: for example, wealth building and college planning, credit and debit, consumer awareness, insurance coverage, and the advantages and disadvantages of buying and renting real estate.

A second measure, SF 2415, allowed this financial literacy course to fulfill part of Iowa’s existing graduation requirements for social studies. A third measure, SF 139 of 2019, called for the new requirement to take effect with the class of 2021.

As the 2023 legislative session began, however, constituent concerns led to the filing and eventual signing of SF 391. This measure allows personal finance literacy content to be delivered though either a dedicated unit of coursework or its integration into other courses.

“This [request for change] actually came from the governor’s office,” says bill author Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, who also sponsored SF 2415 in 2018.

“They were in contact with a lot of the smaller rural schools that were struggling not only to get teachers to teach the individual [financial] literacy courses — along with a lot of other courses — but also just the time … to be able to do it.”

Kraayenbrink stresses he is still a proponent of financial literacy education and that this change simply gives schools more flexibility.

“If [schools] feel like they’re getting good results and they have the instructor there and the class time to do it, then of course our number one ask is for them to continue on,” he says.

Finding outside partners, sustainable funding

Public-private partnerships can help fill instructional needs for schools struggling to find teachers or training opportunities.

“Organizations like [ours] and others are out there providing professional development for educators so that they have the competency and the capability,” Caltabiano says.

Ballweg notes that even before she filed AB 109, Milwaukee Public Schools was getting nearly $500,000 from Next Gen Personal Finance to implement financial literacy instruction.

“It’s not just that [Next Gen is] providing some funding for the schools to put this in their curriculum, but they’re also supporting the educators that are going to be doing the curriculum,” she says.

To some lawmakers, though, the real challenge is securing permanent funding.

“I used to work for a national nonprofit that worked directly with public schools, and I also know what happens when those partners go away,” Wisconsin Rep. Kristina Shelton said in a hearing on AB 109.

Early in the 2023-2025 state budget process, Gov. Tony Evers and the state superintendent of public instruction proposed allotting $5 million for a “Do the Math” initiative.

Under this program, which was not included in the final budget, the state would have provided resources to local school districts “to start or improve financial literacy curriculum” and “to develop a regional support network that includes professional development for educators and a model curriculum/scope and sequence for districts to implement.”

The post More states are requiring instruction in financial literacy for graduation; among the challenges is building up a trained teacher workforce appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Midwest projected to lose four congressional seats as population continues to move South

Population trends have returned to pre-pandemic norms, the U.S. Census Bureau says, but most of the growth is concentrated in a single region: the South. That region added more than 1.4 million residents and accounted for 87 percent of the nation’s total growth in 2023.

Over the course of this single year, southern states added 706,266 people due to patterns of domestic migration alone. Every other region was a net loser due to this movement of people within the United States: a loss of 85,729 in the Midwest (Missouri included), 323,300 in the East, and 297,327 in the West.

If these trends continue throughout the decade, “shifts in political power after the 2030 census could be among the most profound in the nation’s history,” the Brennan Center for Justice noted in a late 2023 study. It projects a loss of four U.S. House seats for the 11-state Midwest after the next congressional reapportionment: two in Illinois and one each in Michigan and Minnesota. The South would gain a total of 11 seats.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nine of the 11 states in the Midwest experienced population growth in 2023, with the lone exceptions being Illinois (decline of 0.3%) and Michigan (no statistically significant change). South Dakota and North Dakota had the region’s fastest rate of population growth; Indiana added the largest number of people among the 11 Midwestern states (nearly 30,000).

Nationwide, the annual rate of growth was 0.5 percent, a figure higher than recent years but still historically low. In 2021 and 2022, annual rates of growth dipped to 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, due to a rise in the number of deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as decreases in immigration.

The number of live births continues to decline in the United States. A separate U.S. Census Bureau study estimates that starting in 2038, the number of U.S. deaths will begin to outpace births on a yearly basis due to an aging population and reduced fertility. This “natural decrease” will then continue throughout the rest of the century, with international immigration becoming the largest contributor to U.S. population growth.

The post Midwest projected to lose four congressional seats as population continues to move South appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Next-generation nuclear? States explore potential of small modular reactors being added to future electricity mix

Recent legislation and regulatory changes are clearing a path to develop a new generation of “small modular” nuclear reactors that advocates say could play a role in Midwestern states’ efforts to decarbonize their electric-power sectors.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a category that includes many different designs and technologies, all with one thing in common — individual reactors are designed to generate 300 megawatts or less and can connect to other modules to boost overall output.

Nuclear power already produces 45.5 percent of the country’s carbon-free energy, says Christine Csizmadia, senior director of state governmental affairs and advocacy for the Nuclear Energy Institute.Map showing the status of Midwestern state moratoria on new nuclear plant construction as of January 2024

No SMRs are currently operational, though the first ones are scheduled to be built and online by early next decade in Texas and Wyoming.

Across the Canada-U.S. border, Saskatchewan’s electric utility, SaskPower, signed an agreement with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy in January 2024 to advance plans for possible SMR development in the province.

A few months earlier, too, the Canadian federal government committed up to $74 million to the province to help pay for pre-engineering work, technical and environmental studies, and community engagement.

A final decision on whether to proceed with SMR construction in Saskatchewan is expected in 2029.

According to Csizmadia, compared to typical, larger reactors, SMRs are more economical and can be scaled to local needs. They also are less costly to build, take less time to complete, have fewer risks and provide more flexibility on siting, proponents say.

Given that many states — including Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — have stated goals or statutory requirements for 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2040 or 2050, Csizmadia says lifting any moratoria on new nuclear plant construction is the most important policy step states can take today.

“How are we going to meet those goals without something that operates 24-7 and is completely carbon free?” she says.Table listing the percentage of electricity generation, and the number of operating reactors, in Midwestern states from nuclear power in 2022

To date, Midwestern state actions range from lifting or modifying moratoria to studying the potential impacts on energy production, the economy and environment.

Some lawmakers also have proposed new SMR-related tax credits in hope of encouraging development.

Here is an overview of recent developments in the Midwest.

Details on new Illinois law

At one time, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin had moratoria on new nuclear plants. Now, only Minnesota has a blanket ban in the Midwest, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wisconsin lifted its moratorium in 2016 (AB 384), and at the end of 2023, Illinois partially ended its ban when legislators overwhelmingly approved HB 2473.

The new law allows for SMRs of up to 300 megawatts starting in January 2026. By that date, the state’s Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security must develop a regulatory framework for SMRs. The law also authorizes the governor to commission a study on issues such as:

• existing SMR technology and the future of research and markets for these advanced reactors;
• a risk analysis of these reactors;
• federal permitting and rules;
• the storage and disposal of waste from SMR facilities.

Illinois already gets 54 percent of its electricity from large nuclear plants, says Illinois Sen. Sue Rezin, the Senate sponsor of HF 2473.

SMRs are a good alternative, she adds, because they can be built on the site of old coal or gas plants that already have power lines connecting them to the grid; there’s no need to build new power lines to a new site.

“It’s incredibly important for us to have them online so we can achieve our carbon goals [100 percent carbon-free] by 2045,” she says.

The new law is a revised version of a Rezin-sponsored bill that Gov J.B. Pritzker vetoed in August 2023. At the time of his veto, the governor had cited an “overly broad” definition of advanced reactors as well as the lack of a regulatory framework.

Midwest states studying future of nuclear power

Indiana lawmakers passed SMR-related bills in both 2022 and 2023.

The first measure, SB 271 from 2022, defines small modular reactors as “clean energy projects” and makes them eligible for financial incentives. That law also required utility regulators to adopt new rules governing SMR projects. The second measure, SB 176 of 2023, raised the power rating definition for SMRs from 350 MW to 470 MW.Map showing the sites and status of nuclear reactors in Midwestern states as of January 2024

In Michigan and Ohio, recent new laws and legislative appropriations have those states taking a closer look at the potential next generation of nuclear energy. Whether SMRs are part of that future remains to be seen.

Ohio’s budget (HB 33) creates a new Nuclear Development Authority. This nine-member, governor-appointed authority is charged with improving nuclear research and development in Ohio, and making the state a “leader in the development and construction of new-type advanced nuclear-research reactors.”

In 2022, Michigan legislators directed the state’s Public Service Commission to hire an outside consultant to study the state’s nuclear energy generation and potential, including SMRs. (HB 6019 included $250,000 for that study.)

A December 2023 draft report says nuclear energy is necessary to meet Michigan’s new goal of 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2040.

A final report is due to the Legislature in April.

Michigan Rep. Pauline Wendzel is proposing another policy option to advance SMRs: tax incentives. Under her bill, HB 4753, the state would provide a corporate tax credit equal to 15 percent of the costs related to SMR research, development or design.

“This has to be the future,” says Wendzel, who has two traditional nuclear power plants in her district. “Michigan has the highest number of engineers per capita, and we’re always looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve and attract that talent here. This just seemed to fit that perfectly.”

SMR measures also have been proposed this biennium in at least two other Midwestern states:

• Minnesota’s HF 3002/SF 3120 calls for a study of various aspects of SMRs. For example, what impact could they have on the state’s power grid, environment and economy? What laws or rules would need to be changed to allow for SMR construction and operation?
• Two Nebraska measures (LR 21 and LR 178) call for studies examining the feasibility of SMR projects.

The post Next-generation nuclear? States explore potential of small modular reactors being added to future electricity mix appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Telehealth, post-pandemic: States face decisions on what to reimburse through Medicaid, as well as what to require of private insurers

Nebraska Sen. Tom Brewer represents a legislative district in the north central part of the state that stretches 300 miles long and 200 miles wide.

“There are only four locations with a hospital,” he says.

Miles and miles also separate a patient from the nearest provider in all kinds of health care areas and specialties; it’s a geographic and health care reality that his district shares with other rural areas in the Midwest.

The problem is not new, and telehealth has long been identified as a way to help close gaps in health care access. However, it had failed to gain widespread use until the COVID-19 public health emergency, which necessitated a rapid implementation and related policy changes (either temporary or permanent).

Since then, Brewer and other lawmakers have been looking at ways to sustain and expand telehealth for rural and urban constituencies alike.

What is telehealth?

Mei Kwong, executive director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, says it should not be thought of as a “service in and of itself; rather, it is a mode of health care delivery.” Within the broad definition of telehealth, too, there are distinct applications or modalities, such as the use of live video, “store and forward” or remote monitoring (see table for definitions).

FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization that tracks privately billed health insurance claims, reports that in January 2020, only 0.24 percent of all privately itemized claims included a telehealth component. By 2021, that figure had spiked to 7 percent.

As of November 2023, the rate of claims including a telehealth component was 3.5 percent in the Midwest and 5.1 percent nationally.

‘Didn’t sit right with me’

One factor impacting access to and the use of telehealth-based care: payment parity. In Nebraska, Sen. Brewer began hearing from constituents who were paying more for telehealth visits than in-person visits. That is because insurers were not required to reimburse providers at the same rates for virtual visits as in-person visits. Patients were left paying the difference.

“That didn’t sit right with me,” Brewer says. People wanted access to telehealth-based care, he adds, and health care professionals were willing to provide it.

Brewer introduced a payment-parity law in 2023, and LB 296 ultimately passed the Legislature with unanimous approval.

Under this new Nebraska law, the reimbursement rate for any telehealth service must be the same as for a comparable in-person health care service. LB 296 applies to any licensed provider who also offers “in-person services at a physical location in Nebraska or is employed by or holds medical staff privileges at a licensed facility” in the state.

As of late 2023, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska were among the 24 U.S. states with payment-parity laws, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy.

In testimony last year to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Dr. Chad Ellimoottil, the medical director of virtual care at the University of Michigan, identified payment parity as a key component to sustaining the availability of telehealth services, post-pandemic.

The American Medical Association has said, too, that if compensation rates are lower for telehealth services, physicians may choose to stop offering them.

Another important state policy decision involves Medicaid coverage of telehealth.

In the Midwest, all states provide Medicaid reimbursement for certain modes of telehealth, but not necessarily all of them. For example, the Center for Connected Health Policy says that as of fall 2023, Medicaid programs in Kansas and Nebraska were paying for live-video services, but not store and forward (see table).

Efficacy of telehealth

For policymakers, the continuation of state-based Medicaid reimbursement for telehealth or the adoption of payment parity will depend in part on assurances that telehealth works.

“Despite the extraordinary amount of research produced over a short amount of time, gaps in knowledge remain,” noted authors of a November 2023 study.

That study, “Telehealth Outcomes and Impact on Care Delivery,” was done for the nonprofit, philanthropic California Health Care Foundation.

While acknowledging the many unknowns, the authors do point to promising outcomes in certain specialties where telehealth has been closely studied.

For example, a “preponderance of the evidence” shows that live-video services are just as effective as in-person care in treating mental health conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Additionally, hybrid care, a mix of telehealth and in-person services, appears to be just as effective as in-person care alone for patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or in need of reproductive health or behavioral health services.

Researchers noted, too, that live video and in-person visits resulted in the same amount of utilization of other health care services after an initial treatment in areas such as urology, infectious disease, diabetes and postsurgical services.

With states largely making telehealth expansion permanent for Medicaid, Kwong says, it may place pressure on the federal government to do the same for Medicare. Several telehealth expansions in this program are set to expire by year’s end. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in three rural adults is enrolled in Medicare.

The broadband connection

When the pandemic hit, Brewer says, his rural communities in Nebraska were ready for the shift to telehealth. His district had made good use of federal grants, as well as other public and private investments, to bring fiber optic cables and high-speed connectivity to its many small towns, farms and ranches.

In areas of the country or individual residences that still lack broadband, audio-only telehealth services remain an option.

Every state in the Midwest has modified its respective Medicaid plans to allow for the reimbursement of audio-only telehealth. Whether those changes are temporary or permanent, however, varies from state to state.

 

The post Telehealth, post-pandemic: States face decisions on what to reimburse through Medicaid, as well as what to require of private insurers appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Redistricting roundup for the 11-state Midwest: A February 2024 update

CSG Midwest tracks the redistricting process and related developments in each of the 11 states of the Midwestern Legislative Conference.

During the most recent redistricting cycle, it was most common for new congressional and state legislative district boundaries to be drawn and approved by the full state legislature, and then signed into law by the governor. This was the process used in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas (override of a gubernatorial in one instance), Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

However, there also was some notable variation this time around:

  • Michigan’s first-ever use of an independent, non-politician redistricting commission;
  • a drawing of the new maps by a panel of state judges in Minnesota;
  • the use of a seven-member redistricting commission (made up of elected officials) in Ohio; and
  • the significant role of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

CSG Midwest first provided a regional roundup of redistricting in the summer of 2022. It most recently updated this page in February 2024 to include the impact of court rulings and/or legislative actions in Michigan, North Dakota and Wisconsin. 

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 2022, 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.

This new process is the result of a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2018. As part of this amendment, lobbyists, party officials, legislative staff and campaign workers 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.

In late 2023, a U.S. District Court ruled that elections could not be held in 13 Detroit-area state House and Senate districts without a fix to the lines drawn and approved by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Those districts were drawn predominantly on the basis of race, the court ruled, and the commission did not show that such racial gerrymandering was needed to meet a “compelling interest” such as compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to intervene in the case. As a result, new maps needed to be approved and in place in time for the 2024 primary and general elections.

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

At the time of the most recent drawing of the nation’s political maps, Minnesota had the only “split state 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.”

By June 2022, 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 state 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 in 2022 challenged 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 contended that North Dakota’s new map unconstitutionally dilutes the strength of Native American voters. A U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the tribes in late 2023 and ordered that their preferred map be used instead. The decision only affects a few districts, but will give Native Americans a better opportunity to elect a second “representative of their choice.” The original map unlawfully packed Native American voters into a single subdistrict, the court ruled.

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 for General Assembly districts 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 2022 election cycle only. (Because of the drawn-out process, Ohio’s primary for state legislative races was moved from May to August.)

The commission adopted another General Assembly map in September 2023, and the state Supreme Court ruled that it can remain in place for the rest of the decade. “Bipartisan support for the September 2023 plan means that it is effective for the 2024-through-2030 election cycles,” the justices said.

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 during the 2022 election cycle that included races for Ohio’s 15 U.S. House districts.

The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the drawing of new congressional maps for the 2024 election cycle. However, the groups challenging these maps subsequently moved to dismiss their lawsuits. Attention now turns to this question: Will Ohio voters overhaul the redistricting process? A ballot initiative is in the works to hand over map-making duties to an independent, citizen-led commission (similar to the model now used in Michigan). Supporters of this proposed constitutional change want it on the November 2024 ballot.

South Dakota: Though small in numbers, Democrats play key role in final map

In South Dakota, Republicans during the 2021-2022 biennium held 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.

But in late 2023, the state’s highest court rejected the state legislative map, on the grounds that it violated a constitutional provision requiring each Assembly and Senate district to be a “contiguous territory.” Because of many instances in which different parts of a single district are not physically connected, the court said, a new legislative map for the entire state is needed.

In the wake of this December 2023 decision, several groups submitted proposed maps to the court for consideration. Justices laid out several criteria that would guide their decision on which map to use; one is to avoid the use of any plan “designed to advantage one political party over another.”

Then came a another twist in February: The Republican-led Legislature approved a plan previously submitted to the court by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. This move was made to prevent the state Supreme Court from selecting a proposal that might be more politically advantageous to Democrats, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Evers signed the bill (SB 488).

 

The post Redistricting roundup for the 11-state Midwest: A February 2024 update appeared first on CSG Midwest.