April 29, 2016

The 20 Fastest Growing Jobs in America

A recent Forbes article discusses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics identifying projections for the 20 fastest-growing jobs in the United States between 2014 and 2024. Wind turbine service technician topped the list with a projected growth rate of 108%. Occupational therapy assistant, physical therapist assistant, physical therapist aide, and home health aide rounded out the top five with projected growth rates between 38% and 43%. 

While these jobs are estimated to experience the most growth, they don't necessarily pay well and many do not require a four-year college degree. Forbes points out that:
  1. The six jobs with the most projected growth do not require a four-year college degree.
  2. Four jobs on the list have a median wage under $30,000.
  3. Eight jobs on the list pay less than the national median wage of $54,000.
However, optometrist, physician assistant, and nurse practitioner also made the list, each having a median salary over $95,000.

Thirteen of the jobs are in the health care industry, likely due in part to the growing percentage of seniors in the population. Five jobs are related to physical and occupational therapy. 

April 28, 2016

FDA Proposes Limit on Arsenic in Infant Rice Cereal

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed a limit on the amount of inorganic arsenic permissible in infant rice cereal. Additionally, the agency recommended that (1) parents vary the starter cereals they provide their toddlers and (2) pregnant women eat a variety of grains. As noted in the New York Times, “as rice plants grow, the grain tends to absorb more arsenic than other crops.”

The FDA’s proposed limit of 100 parts per billion for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal mirrors the limit currently in place in Europe on such arsenic in rice.

According to the FDA, the proposed limit is based on a 2016 agency risk assessment, which found that “inorganic arsenic exposure in infants and pregnant women can result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning . . . .” The agency also noted that, of 76 rice cereals sampled from retail stores, only 47% had arsenic levels that complied with the proposed limit.

The FDA will accept public comments for 90 days before finalizing the proposed guidelines.

For more information, see the full FDA risk assessment and the agency’s press release on the proposed rule.

April 27, 2016

Surge in Fentanyl-Related Deaths

According to a recent Governing article, the number of reported deaths linked to fentanyl has increased dramatically. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, in 2014 there were at least 28,000 deaths related to opioid overdoses, of which 5,554 involved fentanyl, a 79% increase from 2013. Additionally, unpublished data for the first half of 2015 indicates an even steeper increase in fentanyl-related deaths.

Fentanyl is a legal pharmaceutical used to treat severe pain. It is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.  Fentanyl is relatively cheap to produce illegally and is often mixed with heroin. Users may be unaware they are taking the drug.

A fentanyl overdose can shut down the lungs within two or three minutes. Therefore, victims are less likely to be rescued than those who overdose on other opioids. As a result of the drug’s potency, overdose victims often need multiple doses of naloxone to be revived and need immediate follow-up treatment.

Drug Enforcement Administration data has shown a twelvefold increase in law enforcement seizures of fentanyl since June 2013.

April 26, 2016

Feelin’ Young but Feelin’ Old

The Genworth Aging Experiment exhibit was on display earlier this month at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. The exhibit allows museum-goers to experience what it feels like to age. Participants can don an electronic suit that mimics many of the common ailments suffered by seniors, including muscle degeneration and limited vision and hearing. The museum then asks participants to complete a variety of everyday tasks to understand how difficult these activities become as individuals age.

Andy Newman, a reporter from the New York Times, recently took the suit for a test-drive. After 10 minutes in the suit, he reports “a remarkable amount of frustration, depression and hopelessness” associated with completing daily activities. After struggling to walk the equivalent of half a block on a treadmill, he called his parents to determine the suit’s accuracy. Could it really be that difficult to go such short distances?
My father, Aaron Newman, happens to be 85. I called him up. I described the treadmill experience and asked if that sounded about right.
“No,” he said. “It’s much worse.”
My mother, Helen Newman, who is only 84, got on the phone. I told her how the suit made me feel like nothing was worth the effort.
“That’s actually how I reacted this morning,” she said. “I got up with all my bones creaking, I staggered to the bathroom, and I said, ‘Ahh, I’ll go back to bed.’”
According to the suit’s creators, the point is to connect participants’ experience wearing the suit with their understanding towards older adults. Or, as Andy Newman puts it, wearing the suit “makes you a little less likely to lose patience and a little more likely to feel empathy with the older people in your life.” You can watch a video of the suit in action at Genworth.com’s exhibit webpage.

April 25, 2016

Job Creation by Startups and Young Companies

OLR Report 2016-R-0003 describes how startups and young companies contribute to job creation.

Research shows that startups are the primary driver of job growth in the U.S. economy and account for nearly all net new jobs in a given year.  Job creation by startups has driven net job growth in nearly every year since 1977. 

Although startups are the primary driver of net job creation in the U.S. economy, young firms contribute disproportionately to net job growth among existing firms.  Firms age one to five account for nearly two-thirds of net job creation.  While the oldest firms account for the largest share of current employment, the youngest companies account for the largest share of net job creation.

The research on new and young firms driving job growth runs counter to the commonly-held belief that small businesses drive job creation.  While early empirical research found a relationship between firm size and job creation, subsequent studies have found significant pitfalls with the studies’ supporting data, such as the lack of information on firm age. Research including data on firm age shows that it is new and young firms, which are generally also small due to their age, that drive job creation.  In fact, small, mature businesses have negative net job creation.

For more information, read the full report here.

April 22, 2016

2015 Achievement Gap Data

OLR Report 2016-R-0026 analyzes recent data on Connecticut's educational achievement gap.  Connecticut primarily measures student performance using the Smarter Balanced Assessment, commonly called SBAC because it was developed by the multi-state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. 

The consortium created SBAC to align with Common Core State Standards, which Connecticut adopted in 2010.  According to the State Department of Education, SBAC scores reflect both the degree to which the new standards are implemented and the degree to which students have learned them. 

The SBAC data shows that Connecticut continues to have significant disparities in test scores between (1) racial groups, (2) high-needs and non-high-needs students, and (3) students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and those not eligible.

For more information, read the full report here.  

April 21, 2016

SNAP Eligibility: Crowdfunding and ABLE Accounts

Earlier this year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a memo to provide states with guidance on how to treat funds in crowdfunding accounts when determining eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Crowdfunding accounts are online platforms through which donors fund specific campaigns for charity, needy individuals, projects, or business ventures (e.g., Kickstarter, GoFundMe). The USDA generally determined that state agencies administering SNAP benefits should count funds in crowdfunding accounts to the extent that households can access such funds. (Some crowdfunding platforms do not allow account holders to access funds until they have reached a specified funding goal.) Read USDA’s memo on crowdfunding here

Earlier this month, the USDA also distributed guidance on treatment of funds in Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts when determining SNAP eligibility. ABLE accounts generally allow eligible individuals and families to save private funds for qualifying expenses related to disability or blindness. Connecticut passed legislation last session that required the state treasurer to establish an ABLE program and administer individual ABLE accounts (PA 15-80). Federal law requires funds in ABLE accounts be disregarded when making eligibility determinations for means-tested federal programs. The USDA determined that funds in ABLE accounts should be disregarded when state agencies determine SNAP eligibility, as SNAP is a means-tested federal program. Read the USDA’s memo on ABLE accounts here.  

April 20, 2016

CDC's PulseNet: Improving Food Safety for 20 Years

A recent Governing article discusses the state of food safety in the United States and specifically, how food safety has improved since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched its PulseNet surveillance system in 1996. 

PulseNet is a network of 83 federal, state, and local public health laboratories that collect samples and DNA from patients struck by foodborne illness and enter the information into a nationwide data repository.  This data helps over 3,000 local, state, and federal agencies identify links between outbreaks occurring in multiple states.  PulseNet was largely created in response to a 1993 E.coli outbreak linked to undercooked hamburgers sold by Jack in the Box restaurants.  Four children died and over 700 people were infected.

According to a study published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, PulseNet annually prevents a quarter million illnesses and saves half a billion dollars in medical costs and lost worker productivity.  The implementation of PulseNet along with other food safety measures implemented by the CDC, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and within the food industry decreased the number of E.coli infections nationwide by approximately 50% from 1997 to 2011.

April 19, 2016

USDA Issues Proposed Rule for Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices

As reported by the Associated Press on Yahoo! Finance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a proposed rule about organic livestock and poultry practices. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service sets and enforces standards for organic production. The proposed rule seeks to strengthen standards for organic livestock and poultry production by clarifying how producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and wellbeing throughout all phases of life. The proposed rule addresses four broad areas of organic livestock and poultry practices: living conditions, animal healthcare, transport, and slaughter. Among other things, the rules would ensure that (1) all livestock, including poultry, have enough space to lie down, turn around, stand up, and fully stretch their limbs; (2) beaks could not be removed and tails could not be cut; and (3) poultry houses have fresh air and ventilation.

Individuals and businesses engaged in the organic meat, egg, poultry, dairy, or animal fiber industries may be affected by the proposed rule, which is currently open for public comment. For more information, see this frequently asked questions document. 

April 18, 2016

Penalties for Causing a Fatality When Texting While Driving

OLR Report 2015-R-0280 provides Connecticut’s and other states’ penalties for causing a fatality when texting while driving.  While there is no specific penalty in Connecticut, we found five states (Alaska, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Utah) that have enacted laws for such a crime.

In Connecticut, the offense of texting while driving is punishable by fines of $150, $300, and $500 for a first, second, or subsequent offense, respectively.  When a driver causes a fatality while texting, a prosecutor may charge the driver with applicable crimes not specifically related to illegal cell phone use, such as negligent homicide with a motor vehicle, misconduct with a motor vehicle, or 2nd degree manslaughter, among others. 

Penalties in the states previously mentioned range from misdemeanors punishable by up to one year imprisonment to felonies with prison sentences of up to 15 years for a first conviction. Misdemeanor fines range from a maximum of $2,500 to a maximum $10,000 and felony fines range from a maximum of $5,000 to a maximum of $250,000.

For specific details on each state’s penalties, click here to read the full report.

April 15, 2016

Personal Health Information Disclosure

OLR Report 2016-R-0050 describes the laws that limit the circumstances in which health care providers may release a patient's personal health information.  Personal health information is protected by both federal and state laws.  The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides the minimum level of protection, while state laws may provide additional protection.

HIPAA's privacy rule establishes national standards to protect patients' medical records and other personal health information (45 C.F.R. §§ 160, 164(A), (E)).  The privacy rule limits the disclosure of patients' personal health information by covered entities without their authorization and gives patients a right to obtain, examine, and copy their medical records and request corrections.

HIPAA's security rule applies the protections of the privacy rule to electronic personal health information and requires that appropriate administrative, physical, and technical safeguards be put into place to maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and security of electronic health information (45 C.F.R. §§ 160, 164(A), (C)).

Several Connecticut laws also address the privacy and disclosure of patients' personal health information.  These include laws that (1) establish a bill of rights that assures confidential treatment of patients' personal and medical records and (2) prohibit the sale of personal health information.  Connecticut law allows the disclosure of personal health information to certain state agencies.  For example, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DHMAS) contractors must disclose personal health information to the commissioner in certain circumstances.

For more information, read the full report here.

April 14, 2016

New Report: Internet Access and Distance Learning in Higher Education

Online college courses are becoming an increasingly popular option for adults wishing to pursue a postsecondary degree, and states have embraced the “distance learning” trend as a way to meet education attainment goals. 

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) explores this topic in its recently released “trends report:” Broadband access and implications for efforts to address equity gaps in postsecondary attainment.  The report notes that more than a quarter of all college students take some classes online, and 13% of such students complete all required coursework online.  ECS points out two obstacles states must overcome to promote this educational avenue: (1) increasing access to adequate Internet broadband speeds and (2) funding the purchase and maintenance of available broadband. 

The report provides an overview of these two challenges and provides key questions for legislators to consider should they seek to expand access to online distance learning courses. 

April 13, 2016

Connecticut’s Local Health Departments

OLR Report 2016-R-0024 provides a brief overview of Connecticut’s local health departments.

Currently, Connecticut has 73 local health departments serving the state’s entire population.  Fifty-three are full-time departments, while the remaining 20 are part-time.  The full-time departments include 33 individual municipal health departments and 20 health district departments (multi-town departments serving from two to 20 towns).  According to the Department of Public Health (DPH), based on the state’s 2013 estimated population, full-time health departments serve approximately 95% of the state’s population, while part-time departments serve the remaining 5%.

By law, a municipality may have a part-time health department if: (1) it did not have a full-time department or was not in a full-time district before January 1, 1998, (2) it has the equivalent of at least one full-time employee, and (3) the DPH commissioner annually approves its public health program plan and budget.

For more information, read the full report here.

April 12, 2016

Raw Milk Sales

A recent article from the National Conference of State Legislatures explains laws regarding the sale of raw milk.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "raw milk" is milk from cows, goats, sheep, or other animals that has not been pasteurized.  The CDC estimates that less than 1% of milk sold to consumers in the United States is raw milk and warns that consuming it can be dangerous, even resulting in death.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s  (FDA) Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) provides standards for states to use as guidance regarding the production, processing, packaging, and sale of Grade A milk and milk products and does not permit the sale of raw milk or products made from raw milk (e.g., yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream). 

Thirty-one states, including Connecticut, allow consumers to purchase raw milk directly.  Some states allow it to be sold in retail stores while others only allow it to be sold at farmers' markets or on the farm.  Because the FDA does not regulate raw milk, it cannot be sold across state lines or internationally. 

In Connecticut, raw milk sales are legal on the farm and in retail stores.  The state requires that farmers obtain producer permits and raw milk retailer permits from the State Agriculture Commissioner and a milk dealer license from the public health board of the town or city where the farm is located.

April 11, 2016

Penalties for Driving Without Insurance

OLR Report 2016-R-0037 provides the penalties for driving a vehicle without auto insurance in Connecticut.

Under state law, anyone who owns a private passenger or commercial motor vehicle requiring registration must obtain and continuously maintain insurance. Violators face penalties based on the charge and type of vehicle registration.  Charges include operating a vehicle without insurance, failing to maintain insurance, and failing to carry proof of insurance. 

For a private passenger who fails to maintain insurance, a term of imprisonment of up to three months may be imposed.  A commercial vehicle registrant who knowingly operates a motor vehicle illegally faces a five year prison term.  Fines range from $50 to up to $5,000.  Other fees may also be applicable, such as a $175 restoration fee to have a license restored. 

The law requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the vehicle owner’s registration and driver’s license for one month for a first conviction and six months for subsequent convictions.  A license may not be restored until the owner shows proof of insurance for each vehicle owned and pays the required fee.

For additional information, read the full report.

April 8, 2016

OLR Report Compares Connecticut and Vermont Land Preservation Property Tax Programs

Municipal property tax assessors assess most property based on its fair market value, which can fluctuate with the real estate market. If the law allows, assessors may assess other property based on how it is currently used, regardless of its potential fair market value. Assessments based solely on property’s current use are often lower than assessments based on a property’s fair market value, a difference that could result in lower property taxes. States authorize current use assessments to encourage property owners to conserve certain types of land by shielding it from market forces that could increase the assessment and consequently the taxes.

OLR Report 2016-R-0021 compares Connecticut’s and Vermont’s programs for assessing agricultural, forest, and open space land at its current use value. Connecticut’s 490 Program allows farm, forest, open space, and maritime heritage land (i.e., classified land) to be assessed at its current use value, which municipal assessors determined based on a schedule the Office of Policy and Management prepares in consultation with the Department of Agriculture.  Owners of classified land that change its use or sell within 10 years after it was classified must pay a conveyance tax penalty.

Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal (UVA) program allows certain agricultural, forest, and conservation land and farm buildings to be assessed at the current use value.  A state Current Use Advisory Board annually establishes the land values that municipal assessors must apply. Property owners must file a 10-year management plan for forest or conservation land and annual activity reports.  The state imposes a fee on the owner if he or she develops the land.   The state annually pays each municipality a stipend to offset the property tax revenue lost due to the UVA program.

Click here to read the full report.     

April 7, 2016

Early, Absentee, and Mail-In Voting

While voting at an assigned polling place on Election Day may be the most common way to cast a ballot, it is not the only way.  As a recent National Conference of State Legislatures article explains, the other methods are early, absentee, and mail-in voting.

In the 37 states (not including Connecticut) and the District of Columbia that allow early voting, voters can visit an election official's office or, in some states, a satellite location, such as a grocery store or library, and cast a vote without providing an excuse as to why they cannot vote on Election Day.  Voting begins as early as 45 days before the election or as late as the Friday before the election, depending on the state.     

Every state has some form of absentee voting, which allows voters to mail-in a paper ballot prior to Election Day.  Twenty states, including Connecticut, require voters to provide an excuse for why they cannot vote on Election Day, while 27 states do not require one.  Connecticut voters can find a list of acceptable excuses on the Secretary of the State's website

Oregon, Washington, and Colorado conduct elections by mail, while 19 other states allow it in certain elections.  Each registered voter is mailed a ballot prior to Election Day and must either return it by mail or drop it off at a designated location.

April 6, 2016

Should States Tax Feminine Hygiene Products?

According to a recent Governing article, five states (Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) say no and others may soon join them.  The article highlights a push among states to lift the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, a move that also sparked a broader conversation about women’s health issues. 

Media coverage last year sought to make people more aware of the issue, the article claims. As an example, it cited Cosmopolitan’s online drive petition to exempt tampons from the sales tax. The magazine claimed that women spend more than $70 a year on these products. The petition stated that, “these items are a necessity—not an option, not a luxury item—and should be treated as such.”   

While some state legislators want to lift the sales tax from hygiene products, others want to make them more affordable, especially to low-income women. California state Representative Cristina Garcia told Governing, “If you’re living dollar-to-dollar, budgeting $7 to $10 a month for these products can be tough.” One way to make the products more affordable to these women is to allow them to buy the products with food stamps. That option though requires changing federal law, which specifies the things people can buy with food stamps.

A quick search of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ database found that nearly a dozen states, including Connecticut, are looking at bills this year to exempt feminine hygiene products from taxation.

Click here to read the full article.   

April 5, 2016

Southern New England River Herring Decline in 2015

Between 2012 and 2014, Connecticut restored more than 150 miles of freshwater habitat for both species of river herring (blueback herring and alewives) after overfishing at sea and lack of river herring access to spawn areas caused their depletion. So last year, when there was a substantial decline of river herring, fisheries officials became concerned. 

The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that conservation groups and Connecticut and Rhode Island officials saw significant drops in herring runs in the rivers and streams they monitor. A Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection fisheries biologist noted that one premier run was “off by at least 100,000.”

Because river quality and weather did not deviate significantly from prior years, some fisheries officials believe the marine environment may be contributing to the decline.  Buckeye Brook Coalition vice president Paul Earnshaw suspects the river herring “bycatch,” the incidental capture of non-targeted species by offshore fishing is a large part of the problem.   

Even though the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) places annual Atlantic herring fishery limits,  the lack of monitoring and oversight makes the “bycatch caps” ineffective, Pew reports.  NEFMC reassesses the annual catch limits every three years. It approved the new limits, effective for 2016 to 2018, in September 2015.  Additional information can be found on their website.    

April 4, 2016

Statewide Quality of Life Survey

Earlier this year, DataHaven, a nonprofit organization dedicated to collecting, interpreting, and sharing public data, released its 2015 Community Wellbeing Survey. As part of the survey, they interviewed 16,219 randomly selected adults total with representation from every Connecticut town. The survey’s 84 questions covered topics ranging from personal finances, health insurance and access, and physical safety, and the response data is sorted by age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and income. Selected findings are below; the complete survey is available here.

Figure 1: Self-Reported Financial State
(In response to the question: “How well would you say you are managing financially these days?”)

Source: Community Wellbeing Survey, Question #45

Figure 2: Length of Time Savings Would Last if Income were Lost
(In response to the question: “If you lost all your current sources of household income, including your paycheck, public assistance, or other forms of income, about how long do you think you could continue to live as you live today?”)

Source: Community Wellbeing Survey, Question #47

Figure 3: Food Insecurity
(In response to the question: “Have there been times in the last 12 months when you have not had enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”)

Source: Community Wellbeing Survey, Question #64

April 1, 2016

Shoreland Protection Laws

OLR Report 2016-R-0013 broadly summarizes shoreland protection laws in New England states.  Shoreland protection laws are statutory mechanisms to protect, on a statewide basis, the land near lakes, ponds, and rivers from pollution and other environmental challenges.  Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont each have a shoreland protection law that generally restricts certain activities (e.g., construction or clearing) within these areas through a permitting process.  The laws vary in scope and in how they are administered.

Maine's Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act requires municipalities to adopt shoreland zoning ordinances to regulate land use activity within (1) 250 feet of great ponds, rivers, or wetlands and (2) 75 feet of streams. 

New Hampshire's Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act restricts development and land use activity within 250 feet of large streams and designated rivers; tidal waters; and certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments.

Vermont's Shoreland Protection Act is limited to land surrounding certain lakes and ponds.  The act regulates development activity within 250 feet of these water bodies.

These shoreland laws work in conjunction with other laws that regulate activity near waterbodies, such as state wetland laws.  In Vermont, for example, certain wetlands have a required 100-foot or 50-foot buffer area.  Consequently, there may be shoreland areas that are also wetlands, potentially requiring both wetlands and shoreland permits.

For more information, read the full report here.

March 31, 2016

Municipal Home Rehabilitation Programs

OLR Report 2016-R-0036 briefly describes municipal home repair and rehabilitation programs available to Connecticut homeowners.

There are several different kinds of municipally administered home repair and rehabilitation programs available to homeowners.  The report provides examples of programs supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants and those supported with municipal funding.  HUD supported programs are the most common type found in Connecticut.  Eligibility criteria typically follow the HUD income guidelines for low- and moderate-income households.
Many of Connecticut’s municipalities administer homeowner rehabilitation programs utilizing funding available through the HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. CDBG funding is divided between “entitlement” and “non-entitlement” communities.  Entitlement communities (i.e., cities with a population of at least 50,000) receive funding directly from HUD.  Non-entitlement communities (i.e., municipalities with a population of less than 50,000) must compete to receive CDBG money through the state’s Small Cities program. The Small Cities grants are administered by the Department of Housing and the municipality. The municipalities (1) vet applications from residents for a portion of the funding allotted to the municipality and (2) may designate some funding for a project of the municipality’s choosing.

For more information, read the full report here.

March 30, 2016

Commercial Cyber-Security Insurance

OLR Report 2016-R-0008 explains commercial cyber-security insurance, which typically covers a business' losses from a cyber-attack or loss of digital records containing personally identifiable information.  It includes coverage for legal fees and court judgments, business interruption, cyber-extortion, and data loss, among other risks.

A report from Allianz estimates the cyber-security market could reach $20 billion in annual premiums by 2025, and the cyber-security insurance industry is predicted to triple in size to $7.5 billion by 2020, according to a 2015 PricewaterhouseCoopers report.  Nonetheless, the federal Department of Homeland Security's National Protection and Programs Directorate suggests the private cyber-security insurance market faces significant obstacles to growth, including the lack of actuarial data and the unpredictability of the cyber-sector.

According to the Insurance Department, cyber-security insurance appears to be purchased primarily by large businesses.  Small businesses are less likely to purchase cyber insurance or have preventive measures in place.  As a result, they may be increasingly targeted for cyber-attacks and are less likely than large businesses to survive such an attack.  A study by the National Cyber Security Alliance found that 60% of small businesses close within six months following a cyber-attack.

For more information, read the full report here.   

March 29, 2016

Pilot Project to Sell "Ugly" Foods Starting Soon

Supermarkets in the United States often reject produce that does not meet certain appearance standards. This includes produce that is generally thought of as being too big, too small, or misshapen or discolored.

According to a recent USA Today article, food retailer Whole Foods Market will begin a pilot project later this spring offering “ugly” produce for sale in certain California stores. Whole Foods already uses this produce in its prepared foods, but it intends to put the produce on display and sell it with other fruits and vegetables.

The goal is to reduce food going to waste, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates to occur to approximately one-third of the total food supply. According to the article, supermarkets in Europe and Australia already successfully sell “imperfect” produce.

In addition to Whole Foods’ pilot project, several companies and nonprofits in the U.S. are seeking to reduce food waste by making this produce available at prices below supermarket prices. One, located outside of Boston, has experienced enough success to consider expansion to other areas – evidence that it’s the taste (and perhaps the cost) that matters, not the appearance.

March 28, 2016

Housing for Adults with Criminal Records

OLR Report 2016-R-0023 updates OLR Report 2006-R-0062 by (1) summarizing laws concerning ex-offenders’ and supervised offenders’ access to rental housing, (2) identifying current state initiatives to increase the availability of rental housing to ex-offenders, and (3) identifying legislative options for increasing such housing.

Generally, state and federal law allows public (i.e., housing authority) and private landlords discretion to reject applicants with a criminal record.  In some cases, however, federal law requires federal housing authorities to reject applicants with certain criminal histories (e.g. methamphetamine production).  Importantly, under federal and state statutes and case law, landlords cannot use applicants’ criminal records as a pretext for rejecting them for an illegal reason, such as on the basis of their race or religion.

Most of Connecticut’s initiatives to increase housing options for individuals with criminal records focus on supervised offenders and individuals exiting the correction system without supervision.
The report identified one state initiative that addresses the housing needs of ex-offenders: the Connecticut Collaborative on Re-entry’s (CCR) supportive housing program.  CCR is a partnership between several state agencies and community providers that focuses on individuals who cycle between prison and homeless shelters by making supportive housing available to ex-offenders and supervised offenders.

The report describes two measures that the legislature could consider to increase housing for ex-offenders.  Specifically, it could pass legislation explicitly prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of a criminal record.  It could also expand the role of the state’s certificates of employability by requiring landlords to use them in applicant screening.

For more information, read the full report here.

March 25, 2016

Connecticut's Income Tax Checkoff Program

OLR Report 2016-R-0034 explains Connecticut's income tax checkoff program.  It provides the (1) legislative history and rationale for the accounts eligible to receive income tax contributions and (2) amount of money they have received under the program.

Under the checkoff program, taxpayers can voluntarily contribute any portion of their state income tax refund to seven designated state accounts.  The accounts, administered by various state agencies, fund a range of charitable, environmental protection, research, and education programs including grants to military families, organ donors and recipients, and AIDS and breast cancer researchers.  In total, taxpayers have contributed over $6 million under the income tax checkoff program from 1993 through 2014.

Connecticut's checkoff program accounts are:

  • Organ Transplant Account (created in 1993)
  • Endangered Species, Natural Area Preserves, and Watchable Wildlife Account (1993)
  • AIDS Research Education Account (1993)
  • Breast Cancer Research and Education Account (1997)
  • Safety Net Services Account (1997)
  • Military Relief Fund (2005)
  • CHET (Connecticut Higher Education Trust) Baby Scholars Fund (2014)

For more information, read the full report here.

March 24, 2016

Trapped in the Suburbs

As is regularly reported by the media, many older adults are downsizing and moving from suburban to urban dwellings, where they will be able to age in place.  However, some boomers are discovering that making such a move may not be financially feasible, even for the relatively affluent.  Suburban home values have not necessarily kept pace with urban markets, especially in the New York City region.  A recent New York Times article explores the options available to these empty-nesters “who want to trade...unused rooms...as well as the steep suburban property taxes, for the city’s excitement and convenience.” 


March 23, 2016

Connecticut Microgrids

OLR Report 2016-R-0068 provides an overview of microgrids, acts affecting microgrids, and microgrid grant and loan programs.

A “microgrid” generally refers to a small-scale electric distribution network that links several users to one or more nearby distributed energy resources.  It can be operated in conjunction with or independently from a larger electrical grid.  Microgrids use energy from local connected sources, which can include renewable sources, fuel cells, batteries, or fossil fuels.

Public acts regarding microgrids have been passed in the last several years largely in response to the widespread power outages caused by storms in 2011.  To encourage the development of microgrids, legislation authorized pilot programs and provided funding by way of grants and loan programs to public and private entities.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was charged with establishing the programs and has spearheaded efforts to enlist critical facilities and promote its benefits. The goal is to provide critical facilities with reliable energy during times of electricity grid outages.   

Click here to read the full report.    

March 22, 2016

What do consumers expect from the economy in the future?

A new interactive website from the New York Federal Reserve tracks how consumer expectations are changing over time.  The site, updated monthly based on survey data, covers three broad categories: inflation, the labor market, and household finances.  You can find information on what consumers expect in the future for topics such as: 

  1. home prices,
  2. household income and spending,
  3. job finding and separations,
  4. credit availability, and
  5. debt delinquency.
 Check out the website for a wealth of information.

March 21, 2016

Justice of the Peace Selection and Duties

OLR Report 2016-R-0004 describes the process by which justices of the peace are selected and their duties.

In Connecticut, the process for selecting a justice of the peace is prescribed by statute (CGS §§ 9-183a, et. seq.).  By law, two-thirds are selected by major political parties and the remaining third of the positions are reserved for electors who are not members of the major parties.

The duties of a justice of the peace are also prescribed by statute.  These include administering oaths, acknowledging certain legal documents, and issuing tax warrants.

For more information, read the full report here.