The Human Cost of Excessive Alcohol Consumption

. September 23, 2014

According to a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol consumption is a factor in one out of every 10 deaths of working-age adults. Examining data from 2006 to 2010, researchers found that alcohol caused an average of 87,798 deaths per year, resulting in 2,560,290 years of potential life lost.

The study defined excessive alcohol consumption as:

  1. binge drinking, or at least five drinks at one time for men and at least four for women;
  2. heavy weekly consumption, or at least 15 drinks for men and at least eight for women; and
  3. any drinking by pregnant women.
Compared to other states, Connecticut ranked fifth-lowest in alcohol-attributable deaths, with 22.1 deaths per 100,000 people. New Jersey ranked first with 19.1 such deaths per 100,000. The national average was 27.9 deaths per 100,000 people, of which 71% were male.

The Washington Post has more about the study.

Receive an Unfamiliar Debt Notice? It Could Be a Scam

. September 22, 2014

A letter arrives notifying you that you need to a pay a debt. There’s the seal of a government agency and it’s signed by a judge. It has your name and address. It looks official.

But hold on: you don’t remember taking out this loan and the name of the government agency doesn’t sound quite right. It could be a scam!

The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers that if they receive a debt notice that doesn’t seem right to look it up on the web.  In this instance, search online for the agency’s and judge’s name. They also advise caution if anyone insists on wiring money to pay a debt.

Feds Seek Proposals for SNAP Pilot Projects

. September 21, 2014

As reported in a recent Governing article, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking state proposals for three-year pilot programs that would associate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) eligibility with a recipient’s employment status.

The federal farm bill Congress passed in February included $200 million for (1) up to ten state pilot programs that tied food stamp eligibility to employment and (2) an independent evaluator to test the pilots’ effectiveness.

The article notes that to be eligible for one of the grants, a state’s pilot program must:

  1. take place in urban and rural areas;
  2. target people with limited work experience or skills;
  3. appear easy to replicate in other jurisdictions; and
  4. test various strategies, such as job training and assistance, and child care subsidies. 

According to the article, “[t]he farm bill specifically calls for testing both mandatory and voluntary employment and training programs.”

States must submit their applications by November 14, 2014.

Inheriting Digital Assets

. September 19, 2014

Starting January 1, 2015, Delaware residents may pass on their emails, social networking accounts, digital photos, and other digital assets to their heirs.  According to an ABC News article, they may do so under Delaware’s Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act (HB 345), which makes Delaware the first state to pass such a comprehensive law addressing the inheritance of digital assets.

The act was backed by the Uniform Law Commission, a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “provides states with nonpartisan, well conceived, and well drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.” The article quotes a commission official who stated that inheritance laws regarding digital assets need updating because: 
  • digital assets are replacing tangible assets,
  • documents are being stored in electronic files rather than file cabinets, and
  • photographs are uploaded to websites rather than printed on paper.
The act updates Delaware’s inheritance laws by (1) creating a procedure for requesting and gaining access to a decedent’s digital assets and, (2) if Delaware law governs the will, allowing an executor access to such assets regardless of where the decedent lived or where the digital account provider is located.

Under the act, “digital assets” include data, text, emails, documents, audio, video,  images, sounds, social media content, social networking content, codes, computer source codes, computer programs, software, software licenses, or databases, including the usernames and passwords, created, generated, sent, communicated, shared, received, or stored by electronic means on a digital device.  

Connecticut’s law addressing a decedent’s digital assets applies only to email accounts (CGS § 45a-334a).

Homes with Smoke-Free Policies Nearly Double Since 1993

Across the country, 83% of households reported as having smoke-free policies in 2010-2011, up from 43% in 1992-1993. This is according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), analyzing data from a U.S. Census survey.  The report considered a home to be smoke-free if all adult survey respondents “reported that no one was allowed to smoke (cigarettes) anywhere inside the home at any time.”

The report found that 91.4% of households without adult smokers were smoke-free in 2010-2011 (up from 56.7% in 1992-1993). In households with at least one adult smoker, the prevalence of smoke-free rules increased from 9.6% to 46.1% across this same period.

The share of smoke-free homes in Connecticut was 84.6% in 2010-2011, slightly above the national average.

The CDC report, citing a report from the Surgeon General, states that exposure to secondhand smoke from cigarettes leads to an estimated 41,000 deaths annually among nonsmoking adults.

Earthquake Damage Is Not Standardly Covered

. September 18, 2014

On August 24, 2014, California’s Napa Valley region experienced a 6.0 magnitude earthquake, the strongest quake to hit the San Francisco Bay area in almost 25 years. The earthquake destroyed homes in various neighborhoods, ruptured water and gas lines, and injured at least 120 people, according to the Insurance Information Institute’s (III) latest issues brief.

Standard homeowners or business insurance policies in the United States do not cover damage caused by earthquakes. But insurers typically offer earthquake coverage in the form of a policy endorsement for an additional premium. The III notes that insurers who do not sell earthquake insurance may still be impacted by earthquakes. For example, customers could file claims for losses due to fire caused by a quake, business interruption, and additional living expenses.

The III highlights several statistics about earthquakes, including:

  • The United States has about 20,000 earthquakes per year, and 42 states are at risk for them, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Insured losses from earthquakes were about $45 million in 2013, down from $54 billion in 2011 (the year of the 9.0 earthquake in Japan), according to Swiss Re.
Despite such statistics, however, only seven percent of American homeowners have earthquake insurance, according to a 2014 survey by the III.

Feds Appear to be Moving Slowly on Vehicle Safety Complaints

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the federal agency tasked with monitoring vehicle safety has taken longer than it should to respond to formal requests to investigate possible problems. It reached this conclusion after reviewing 15 petitions filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) since 2010. The review found that NHTSA 12 times missed the statutory four-month deadline for granting or denying a request.

According to the AP, cars owners can ask NHTSA to act by filing a complaint, which is usually based on a single incident or submitting a formal request for an investigation of possible vehicle safety problems.

“Everything is just really slow,” the executive director of the North Carolina Consumers Council, told the AP. “You have to ask, is everything going as efficiently as it can?” The council filed a petition in 2012 asking NHTSA to look into Nissan truck transmission failures.

More recent criticism concerns NHTSA’ handling of General Motors’ delayed recall of cars with defective ignition switches.  NHTSA acknowledged to the AP that it has missed deadlines, but denied that it was dragging its feet, claiming that it needs more than the law allows for examining petitions. “Most [petitions] do not provide sufficient data for NHTSA to evaluate the issues raised without further data collection and analysis,” NHSTA stated.

A New York Times article discusses NHTSA and the GM safety defects.

Double SNAP at the Farmers Market

. September 17, 2014

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits go twice as far at New Haven farmers markets when used to purchase fruits and vegetables. Such SNAP-based incentive programs (SBIP) may be funded and managed by private foundations, nonprofit organizations, or local governments.  

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken a closer look at these types of programs in a report released this year. The report did not seek to evaluate the programs, which are not funded by USDA. Instead, it focused on how SBIPs are administered. Findings include:

  • Most of the organizations funding a SBIP do so as part of a larger mission. A majority of funders allocated 25% or less of their total budget to the SBIP.
  • Implementing a SBIP is a collaborative process and many of the organizations involved play multiple roles.
  • Organizations reported some funding and staffing challenges.
  • SNAP fraud is not considered a major issue in implementing SBIPs.

Hot Report: State Barber Licensure Requirements

OLR Report 2014-R-0214 answers the question: What are barber licensure requirements in Connecticut and other states?

OLR Report 2014-R-0199 also describes Connecticut’s barber and hairdresser licensure requirements.

Connecticut barbers must obtain a biennial license from the Department of Public Health (DPH)(CGS Chapter 387). Generally, initial applicants must have successfully completed (1) eighth grade or passed an equivalency exam and (2) at least 1,000 hours of study in an approved barber school. They must also pass a DPH-prescribed exam and pay a $100 fee.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, all states require barbers to obtain a state license. Alabama was the last state to do so beginning in 2013. Previously, the state had not regulated barbers for over 30 years, except for five of its 67 counties (Baldwin, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Madison, and Mobile), which implemented their own barber licensing systems.

Licensure requirements vary by state, but generally, an individual must (1) be at least age 16 or 17, (2) obtain a high school diploma or equivalent, (3) successfully complete training at a state-approved barber or cosmetology school, (4) pass a practical examination, and (5) pay licensing and examination fees.

Some states, such as California, Connecticut, and Kentucky issue a single barber license (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 7301-7414 and KRS Chapter 317). Others, such as Massachusetts and Maryland offer different levels of licensure, including apprentice, barber, and “master barber” licenses (Md. Business Occupations and Professions Code Ann. §§ 4-101 et. seq.). With respect to training requirements, some states, such as Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania allow applicants to complete an apprenticeship under a licensed barber in lieu of completing a course of study at a barber or cosmetology school. California and Louisiana offer two-year, state-administered barber apprenticeship programs.
For more information, read the full report.

Malnourished Seniors Fly Under the Radar

According to a recent NPR article, malnourishment among seniors often goes undetected until they go to the emergency room seeking medical treatment for injuries or other reasons.

The article cites an August 12th Annals of Emergency Medicine (AEM) study, which found 60% of 138 seniors who visited an emergency room in 2013 were either at-risk for or experiencing malnutrition. NPR notes existing studies estimate six percent of seniors living independently are malnourished, with rates increasing up to 85% for those living in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Seniors participating in the AEM study cited several reasons for under-eating, including depression, medical and dental issues, and difficulty buying groceries.

Study authors note the importance of identifying at-risk seniors so that they can be referred to local nutrition programs, such as Meals-on-Wheels or food pantries.

Feeding America, a nonprofit hunger-relief organization, designates seniors as the one of the most “food insecure” populations, as approximately one-third of recurrent food bank clients are age 60 or older.

Student Loan Debt an Issue for Some Seniors

. September 16, 2014

The recent recession prompted many older workers to return to school to retrain for a new career, but a possible consequence is that these older workers will take on student loan debt that lasts into the traditional retirement years. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the amount of student loan debt held by borrowers age 65 and older increased significantly in the past eight years, from $2.8 billion in 2005 to $18.2 billion in 2013.

This figure is a small fraction of aggregate student loan debt for all borrowers, which GAO estimated to be more than $1 trillion in 2013. However, the debt held by borrowers age 65 and older increased at a much faster rate between 2005 and 2013 than did the amount held by all borrowers.

GAO also found that borrowers age 65 and older were much more likely than younger borrowers to default on their student loans. According to GAO, 27% of student loans held by people ages 65-74 were in default, and 54% of such loans held by borrowers age 75 and older were in default. This compares with a 12% default rate for borrowers ages 25-49.

One possible consequence of default is an offset of Social Security payments. GAO found that about 36,000 people age 65 and older had their Social Security benefits offset in 2013 to pay student loan debt, compared with about 6,000 such people in 2002.

Construction Begins on New Veterans Memorial

Source: CTHonorsVets.org
Work began on August 18 on the new $1.2 million veterans memorial located near the Legislative Office Building and state armory. It is expected to be finished by late November.
The memorial will honor both the fallen veterans and the more than 277,000 living veterans in the state.

Although the official groundbreaking ceremony was held in April 2013, the project had various delays.

Protecting Yourself from Rabies

. September 15, 2014

Twice in recent weeks attacks by rabid wildlife made Connecticut’s news headlines: first when a raccoon attacked an 88-year old Hamden woman in her home, and second when a bobcat attacked a Bozrah woman.

The Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Epidemiology and Emerging Infections Program complies statistics on rabies, but testing wild animals for the disease is limited, occurring only when they come in contact with people or domestic animals. According to DPH data, between January 1, 2014 and July 31, 2014, there were 72 confirmed cases of rabid animals in Connecticut. The infected animals included bats, cats, foxes, groundhogs/woodchucks, raccoons, skunks, and one sheep. Raccoon infection occurred most often — 45 out of the 72 total cases.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection cautions people to minimize rabies exposure by: (1) vaccinating pets and livestock; (2) avoiding contact with wild and stray animals; and (3) if exposed to rabies, washing the exposed area and immediately contacting medical personnel.

Hot Report: Comparison of Charter, Magnet, and Innovation Schools

OLR Report 2014-R-0218 compares the state laws and funding for three types of public schools: charter schools, interdistrict magnet schools, and innovation schools. (This updates OLR Report 2011-R-0001.)

Table 1 in the report compares the statutory provisions governing approval, programs, students, special education, and transportation requirements for each type of school. It also shows how each school is funded. The definition for each type follows.

  1. A charter school is a public, nonsectarian, nonprofit school established under a charter that operates independently of any local or regional board of education, provided no member or employee of a governing council of a charter school shall have a personal or financial interest in the assets, real or personal, of the school (charters are granted by the State Board of Education (SBE) or by a local board and the SBE) (CGS § 10-66aa).
  2. An interdistrict magnet school is a school designed to promote racial, ethnic, and economic diversity that draws students from more than one school district and offers a special or high quality curriculum and requires students to attend at least half time (magnets are operated by school districts, regional education service centers (RESCs), or other entities) (CGS § 10-264l(a)).
  3. An innovation school is a school that a local or regional school district chooses to operate under an innovation plan developed by district leaders or by an external partner for the purpose of improving school performance or student achievement (CGS § 10-74h(a)).
For more information, read the full report.

Most Undocumented Immigrant Children Temporarily Placed In a Handful of Counties

According to a recent Washington Post article, “[o]f the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrant children apprehended this year, nearly four in five of those temporarily released have been sent to a small share of counties…” The article notes that when children are captured at the border, the government initially cares for them and then releases them to  family members or other sponsors while awaiting  immigration proceedings.

Of the 126 counties nationwide in which more than 50 undocumented immigrant children were placed with sponsors from January through July 2014, three are located in Connecticut. Of these counties, Fairfield County received the most children  (253), followed by New Haven (66), and Hartford (53). Harris County, Texas received the most children overall (2,866.)

The map below from the Washington Post displays counties around the country with more than 50 undocumented children. The Post also created an interactive version of the map.

Source: Washington Post

Prizes for Voting?

. September 12, 2014

According to Governing, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission recently voted to recommend that the City Council consider offering cash prizes (using a lottery system) to boost voter turnout at municipal elections.  Voter turnout at municipal elections is notoriously low across the country and Los Angeles is no exception where it is commonly falls below 20 or 25%.  But the commission’s vote came on the heels of a special school board election in which fewer than 10% of registered voters came out to vote. 

Prior to the Ethics Commission’s recommendation, city political leaders had been looking at ways to increase turnout and considered, among other things, holding municipal elections in even-numbered years with state and federal elections, which consistently draw out more voters.  Noting that a transition to such a system could take several years to implement, the commission suggested a lottery system—starting with a pilot program.  Federal law prohibits people from accepting payment in exchange for voting, but according to the Los Angeles ethics commissioner, that statute would not apply in an election where there are no federal positions on the ballot.

Report: Childhood Traumatic Events Have Long-Lasting Effect

A July report by Child Trends, a nonprofit children’s research group, found that children exposed to potentially traumatic events (i.e., adverse childhood experiences or ACEs) are at increased risk of poor health and illnesses as adults.

The report analyzed survey responses from more than 95,000 adults about children in their households. They found that just under half of all children in the U.S. had experienced at least one ACE, but that their prevalence varies widely among states.

The study found economic hardship to be the most ACE experienced by children in almost all states, followed by parents’ divorce or separation. Other ACEs reported included (1) living with someone who was mentally ill, depressed, or suicidal for more than a couple of weeks or abused substances and (2) exposure to neighborhood violence.

The study found that Connecticut and New Jersey have some of the lowest rates nationally for ACEs, while Oklahoma had some of the highest rates.

Feeling Underemployed?

. September 11, 2014

According to Payscale.com, 43% of respondents to a recent survey consider themselves “underemployed” which, in the survey’s definition, includes (1) feeling underpaid, (2) having a job that doesn’t use the respondent’s education, training, and skills, or (3) working part-time but wanting full-time work.  Being underpaid was the most common reason, with 80% of those who identified as underemployed citing it.  Interestingly, Payscale found that 45% of those who said they were underpaid “were actually paid in line with the market for their current position.” 

Among various occupations, 87% of the surveyed patient services representatives reported feeling underemployed, the most of any occupational category, followed by nannies (78%), and retail sales associates (78%).  Underemployed respondents who felt that they were not using their education or training were most prevalent among data entry operators (38%) and administrative technicians (36%) and general office clerks (36%). Those working part-time who wanted full-time work were most common among orderlies (39%), retail sales associates (36%), and line cooks (35%).

Payscale.com is an online salary and compensation information company that, among other things, surveys and compiles employee job profile and compensation data and provides compensation consulting services to employers.

Hot Report: Institutionally Related Foundations for New England Public Universities

OLR Report 2014-R-0214 answers the questions: How does the relationship between UConn and the UConn foundation compare with other New England flagship public universities and their foundations? Specifically:
  1. are these foundations exempt from their respective states’ Freedom of Information (FOI) laws,
  2. are they the primary fundraising entities for their respective universities, and
  3. how much money have they raised for their universities over the past five years?
Additionally, how much did in-state tuition and fees increase in the past five years at these universities?
 
To answer these questions, OLR examined the foundations of the six New England flagship public universities:
  1. UConn Foundation,
  2. University of Maine (UMaine) Foundation,
  3. University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst Foundation,
  4. University of New Hampshire (UNH) Foundation,
  5. University of Rhode Island (URI) Foundation, and
  6. University of Vermont (UVM) Foundation.
Connecticut is the only New England state that explicitly exempts public university foundations from state FOI laws. The other New England states’ FOI laws generally do not address university foundations specifically. Most of these foundations serve as their related institution’s primary fundraising arm, with the UConn Foundation having the highest fundraising revenues of these foundations.
 
Concerning tuition, UConn had the (1) third-lowest in-state tuition and fee increase among these universities for the academic years 2008-09 through 2013-14 and (2) highest percentage increase from 2012-13 to 2013-14.
 
For more information, read the full report.

Fighting Financial Crimes Against Seniors

“In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network database contained 123,757 fraud complaints from victims who identified themselves as age 60 or older.”  A PEW Charitable Trusts’ Stateline magazine article cites this as evidence that financial fraud against seniors is a substantial problem. 

Financial crimes against seniors are committed by relatives, caregivers, or strangers and, per the article, the fraudulent activity includes:
  1. misuse of credit cards;
  2. unauthorized ATM transactions; and
  3. deception to open joint accounts, sign away deeds, or give power of attorney.
According to the article, 28 states introduced legislation in 2014 to address this issue. These states have considered measures that focus on enhancing criminal penalties, targeting caregivers, and requiring financial institutions to report suspected fraud. The article highlights the following laws passed in three states over the past two years:
  1. the comprehensive senior protection bill passed in Colorado that requires police officers to be trained to recognize the exploitation of at-risk seniors;
  2. legislation in Maryland that requires money transmitters to train employees to recognize and respond to financial exploitation of seniors (already required for financial institutions); and
  3. a 2013 North Carolina law that gives courts authority to freeze the assets of those charged with the financial exploitation of seniors.
Not all states have used legislation to take action. The article says that in Maine the state has partnered with financial institutions to develop a program that trains employees to recognize suspected fraud and report it to authorities.

Second Circuit Decision on Super PACs

. September 10, 2014

In recent years, courts around the country have generally held that government cannot limit contributions to political action committees that make independent expenditures only (i.e., Super PACs). But in a recent case, (Vermont Right to Life, Inc. v. Sorrell (2014 WL 2958565)), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that contribution limits are permissible if the Super PAC is not functionally distinct from an entity that engages in activities other than independent expenditures (e.g., a “traditional” PAC that makes contributions to candidates).

In the case, Vermont Right to Life (VRLC) challenged, among other things, a Vermont law that limits contributions made to PACs, arguing that it should not apply to a Super PAC that VRLC controls. However, VRLC has both a Super PAC and a traditional PAC, and the Second Circuit, affirming an earlier U.S. District Court decision, found that VRLC’s Super PAC was “enmeshed financially and organizationally” with its traditional PAC. Thus, the Super PAC was subject to the state’s contribution limits.

The court held that VRLC needed to show actual organizational separation between the PAC and the Super PAC; having separate bank accounts and stating in organizational documents that a group was a Super PAC was not enough. The court stated that factors measuring organizational separation could include overlap of staff and resources, degree of financial independence, coordination of activities, and flow of information between the entities.

Nationwide, More People Living in “Poverty Areas”

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report on changes in poverty areas (i.e., census tracts with poverty rates of 20% or more) from 2000-2010. According to the report, the number of people living in poverty areas increased from 18.1% in 2000 to 25.7% in 2010. This increase followed a 1.9% decrease from 1990-2000.

The report also provides state- and region-specific data. From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of people living in poverty areas increased by (1) 3.3% in the Northeast and (2) 4.2% in Connecticut.  During the same period, the percentage of people in poverty living in such areas increased by (1) 3.8% in the Northeast and (2) 6.9% in Connecticut.

The report notes that the increase in poverty concentration places additional burdens on low-income families: “Problems associated with living in poverty areas, such as, higher crime rates, poor housing conditions, and fewer job opportunities are exacerbated when poor families live clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods.”

Hot Report: UConn Student Code Violations

. September 9, 2014

OLR Report 2014-R-0222 answers the questions: What are the possible sanctions for conduct violating UConn’s Student Code? How many times has UConn imposed each sanction in the last five academic years and for which offenses?

UConn’s Student Code contains standards, rules, and regulations to which all UConn students and organizations must adhere. It contains four primary sanctions:  warning, probation, suspension, and expulsion. UConn may also impose secondary sanctions in conjunction with the primary sanctions, including loss of privileges, removal from student housing, restitution, and participation in educational programming.

Under the code, sanctions may be imposed, individually or in various combinations, against any student found to have violated it. The code, with certain exceptions, generally does not provide any guidelines for sanctions that are tied to specific offenses. According UConn’s Office of Community Standards, which administers the code, any violation may result in a suspension or expulsion, depending on the case’s factors and individual circumstances.

Tables 3 and 4 in th report list the number of times that UConn imposed each type of primary and secondary sanction, respectively, in the previous five academic years. Tables 5 and 6 provide additional details about suspensions and expulsions, respectively, including the offenses that led to these sanctions. The data, which are from reports by UConn’s Office of Community Standards, do not list the offenses that resulted in other types of sanctions (e.g., warnings or probation).
For more information, read the full report.

Older Pedestrians Are At Higher Risk for Fatal Accidents

Older pedestrians are more likely to be killed in a vehicular accident than younger pedestrians according to a new study from Tri-Star Transportation Campaign (TSTC), a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to reducing car dependency in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The study shows that while those 60 and older make up 19% of the state’s population, they were 35% of the state’s victims of fatal accidents. The difference is even greater when looking at people 75 and older: they are 7% of the state’s population but 17% of the pedestrian fatalities.

Between 2003 and 2012, the statewide pedestrian fatality rate for those (1) aged 60 and older was 1.84 per 100,000 people and (2)  younger than 60 was 0.79 per 100,000 people.

Nationally, the 60-and-older rate is 2.23 per 100,000 and the younger-than-60 rate is 1.40 per 100,000.

State Legislatures Jump Into Common Core Arena

. September 8, 2014

The National Council for State Legislatures has teamed up with Education Week to track legislative activity related to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  They found that in the past year and a half, 22 legislatures have introduced a total of 50 bills seeking to change the way educational standards are developed, reviewed, and adopted.  Many of the bills died in committee, but others advanced through one or both chambers.  Ten states have enacted laws that restrict state board adoption of curriculum standards.

In the majority of states (over 40, including Connecticut), elected or appointed state boards of education have sole authority over academic standards.  In other states, it lies with the state superintendent or education commissioner, or is shared among a variety of entities (e.g., state board, commissioner, department of education, legislature).

The recently introduced bills sought broader legislative input into standards decisions, transfers of state boards’ power over standards to legislatures or panels with legislative input, and new processes for adopting academic standards, among other things.  Education Week has a detailed breakdown of laws passed and bills pending in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

Supreme Court Term in Review

The Legal Information Institute (LII) at Cornell Law School recently completed its review of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013-2014 term, highlighting the term’s most important and controversial cases. The review notes that 45 of 70 cases were decided 9-0. Eleven were decided 5-4.

The review discusses several First Amendment cases; three Fourth Amendment cases; and several other cases concerning topics such as affirmative action, the separation of powers, and copyright law.
Two other sources for analysis of the term’s significant cases are panel discussions moderated by organizations generally perceived to be on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum: (1) the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (a progressive organization) and (2) the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank). 

Connecticut Experiences Decrease in Spending on Prisoner Health Care

. September 5, 2014

Connecticut decreased per-inmate spending on prisoner health care by 4% from 2007 to 2011, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trust and the MacArthur Foundation. The drop, from $5,430 to $5,211 (in inflation-adjusted 2011 dollars), came during a period when state per-inmate health care spending increased by a median of 10% nationally.

The report points to the following factors that cause an increase in per-inmate spending:

  • "The distance of prisons from hospitals and other providers.
  • The prevalence of infectious and chronic diseases, mental illness, and substance use disorder among inmates.
  • An aging inmate population.”
Connecticut has the lowest percentage of prisoners age 55 and older — 4%. The average for the 42 states where the data was available was 7.1%.

Total spending on prison health care has decreased, too, by 10%.  Connecticut’s prison population has decreased by 6%.

Kids Eating More Fruit, Still Saying “No” to Veggies

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the amount of whole fruit children age 2-18 consume increased by 67% from 2003 to 2010. (“Whole fruit” includes fruit that is fresh, frozen, canned, or dried; it does not include juice.) Even with this surge in popularity, six out of 10 children did not eat enough fruit from 2007 to 2010. Perhaps not surprisingly, vegetables were even less popular; nine out of 10 children did not eat enough vegetables during that time period.

Source: USDA, www.ChooseMyPlate.gov
Of the vegetables children ate from 2009 to 2010, about 1/3
were white potatoes, and nearly 2/3 (63%) of those potatoes were fried (e.g., French fries) or potato chips.

To increase children’s fruit and vegetable intake, the CDC recommends that parents:

1. eat fruit and vegetables with their children;
2. involve them in shopping, growing, and preparing fruits and vegetables; and
3. learn what counts as a cup of fruit and vegetables (e.g., eight large strawberries or 12 baby carrots).

Could Our Power Plants Flood?

. September 4, 2014

The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) maintains an informative tool called the U.S. Energy Mapping System. The maps show the location of energy infrastructure across the country. Users can activate and disable various layers of the maps to show the locations of power plants, refineries, pipelines, and more.

Recently, the EIA has added data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to create the “Flood Vulnerability Assessment Map”. This map shows where energy infrastructure is at risk of flooding.

Source: EIA
The image above is a screenshot of the map zoomed to an area south of Bridgeport. The map shows a coal power plant () and a natural gas power plant (), as well as three petroleum product terminals (). The light blue shading in these areas indicates a flood hazard zone, specifically a one-percent annual chance flood hazard. This means that the area is subject to flooding during a flood that has a one-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year (also known as a 100-year flood).

Hot Report: Required Data in the Public School Information System

OLR Report 2014-R-0220 describes the types of data that must be included in the Public School Information System (PSIS) and includes the appropriate statutory references.

PSIS contains data related to each K-12 student and teacher in Connecticut public schools. State law requires the State Department of Education (SDE) to develop and implement PSIS to (1) establish a standardized electronic data collection and reporting protocol to comply with state and federal reporting requirements, (2) improve the exchange of information from school-to-school and district-to-district, and (3) maintain the confidentiality of individual student and teacher data (CGS § 10-10a(b)).
 
SDE’s Data Collection Guide requires districts to submit two types of data to PSIS:
  1. data specifically included in the PSIS enabling statute and
  2. data not specifically included in the PSIS enabling statute that is (a) specifically listed elsewhere in statute or (b) unspecified and associated with certain education programs or provisions created in statute.
For more information, read the full report.

Finding a College Roommate Is Starting To Resemble Online Dating

The Boston Globe reports that many colleges and universities have begun to allow incoming freshmen to choose their own roommate, and students have turned to social media to get a sneak preview of prospective “mates.”  Some administrators are nervous about the unintended consequences of this practice.  They wonder if students will pair up prior to campus arrival and marginalize others who have a lackluster online presence.

The Association of College and University Housing Officers – International conducted a 2012 poll that revealed 32 out of 45 universities surveyed allow freshmen students to request roommates. 
Apps such as RoomSync and websites like RoomSurf.com allow freshmen to post profiles containing pictures and descriptions of their interests and living habits.

Some universities, such as New York University and Harvard, have chosen the traditional policy of matching incoming first-years to encourage them to connect with others from different backgrounds.  UMass has a different practice, allowing students to either be matched by the school or select their own roommate, which more than 40% choose to do.

Many rising freshmen don’t see a problem with prescreening prospective roommates online and instead find it to be advantageous.  One incoming Tufts University freshman values the honesty that accompanies online match-ups, remarking, “With online dating, you can get away with pretending to love puppies because after you meet the person you don’t have to go on a second date.  But with a roommate, you’re going to be living with them for the entire first year.”