The Impact of New Energy Technologies

. April 18, 2014

The February edition of State Legislatures describes how “disruptive technologies” from micro-grids to solar panels and energy storage are transforming the electric system. These technologies may fundamentally alter how policymakers, utilities, and energy businesses approach all aspects of the energy industry, from producing and delivering energy to how government regulates it.  For example, the article argues that the traditional model of the centrally managed and controlled utility, whose profits are largely based on how much energy it sells, may need to be altered to address the growth of the new energy-efficient technologies.

The article describes recent advances in these technologies, which include photovoltaics, combined heat and power (cogeneration) systems, energy storage, and micro-grids. It also describes the impact of plentiful natural gas supplies, including how they are reducing the competitiveness of coal, nuclear power, and renewable energy, and other generating sources.

The article notes that the utility regulatory structure in most states gives utilities little or no incentive to embrace energy efficiency and technologies, such as combined heat and power systems that reduce their sales. This outcome puts the utilities’ goals at odds with those of many policy makers, businesses and consumers. At the same time, declines in utility sales impair their ability to recover their substantial infrastructure costs. The article describes initiatives in several states to decouple the fiscal health of utilities from their sales. It also describes the debate taking place in several states on the appropriate policy response to distributed energy technologies such as solar photovoltaics.

Hot Report: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

. April 17, 2014

OLR Report 2014-R-0123 answers the questions: What is PTSD? What are the symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment for PTSD?

The definition of PTSD has been revised several times over the years. But the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), which provides standard criteria for the classification and diagnosis of mental disorders by mental health professionals in the United States, classifies it under trauma- and stress-related disorders in its most recent edition, DSM-5, 2013.

PTSD stems from exposure to a traumatic event, such as combat, violent crime, torture, sexual violence, or a natural or man-made disaster, that caused or threatened to cause death or serious injury. It can affect those who (1) personally experience or witness the event; (2) learn that the event happened to a close relative or friend; or (3) experience repeated or extreme exposure to unpleasant or gruesome details of the traumatic event, such as first responders collecting human remains in the aftermath of a disaster (DSM-5, 2013 p. 271).

The typical symptoms associated with PTSD vary, but they include (1) recurring recollections of the traumatic event (“flashbacks”); (2) intense psychological or physiological reaction to cues symbolizing aspects of the event; (3) persistent display of negative emotions (such as fear, anger, guilt, or shame); (4) persistent inability to experience positive emotions (such as happiness, satisfaction, or love); (5) markedly diminished interest in participating in significant activities; (6) angry, reckless, and self-destructive behavior; and (7) avoidance of thoughts or situations reminiscent of the trauma. The symptoms may start soon after the triggering event or may be delayed for months or years after exposure to the event (delayed expression). To be characterized as PTSD, the symptoms must last for more than one month and cause significant impairment in a person’s ability to function. And they cannot be attributable to the physiological effects of a medical condition or substance, such as alcohol. (Separate diagnostic criteria included in DSM for children under age six are not discussed in this report.)

Not everyone who experiences trauma suffers from PTSD. Some research suggests that temperament and genetic makeup have some bearing on the chances of developing PTSD, and it is more likely to affect people with certain predisposing conditions such as depression. But it has also been diagnosed in people with no predisposing conditions. And it can affect people of any age. Research indicates that PTSD rates are higher among veterans and others whose work increases the risk of traumatic exposure (such as police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.) Highest rates (ranging from one-third to more than one-half of those exposed) are found among survivors of rape, military combat, and captivity and ethnically or politically motivated internment and genocide. Higher PTSD rates have also been reported among U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians than Caucasians, and lower rates among Asian Americans, after adjusting for traumatic exposure and demographic variables (DSM-5, p. 276). Events most commonly associated with PTSD in women are rape and sexual violence. In men, the event is combat exposure.

According to the literature, the main types of treatment for PTSD are psychotherapy (counseling), medication, or a combination of both.

The diagnosis of PTSD has its critics. One 2007 study, for example, describes it as a “faddish postulate” that “has redefined and overextended the reach of a long-recognized natural human reaction of fear, anxiety, and conditioned emotional reactions to shocks and traumas.” The study authors conclude that “the concept of PTSD has moved the mental health field away from, rather than towards, a better understanding of the natural psychological responses to trauma” (McHugh, P.R. and Treisman G., “PTSD: a problematic diagnostic category,” Journal of Anxiety Disorders 21(2): 211-22). The authors of a 2008 study concluded that the disorder’s “core assumptions and hypothesized mechanisms lack compelling or consistent empirical support” (Rosen G. M. and Lilienfeld S. O., “Posttraumatic stress disorder: An empirical evaluation of core assumptions,” Clinical Psychology Review 28:837-68).
For more information, read the full report.

Connecticut’s Election Performance Improves According to New Report

Connecticut performed better in the 2012 election than in the 2008 election, according to a new report from The Pew Charitable Trust’s Center on the States.  The report measures the “Election Performance Index” of states, based on 17 measures.

After a 67% rating in 2008, Connecticut improved to 74% in 2012, which made it 10th among all states.  An average rating in 2008 was 64% and in 2012 was 68%. The report cited additions to the election information that the state makes available online as one reason for Connecticut’s rating increase.

The Election Performance Index includes the following measures:

  • data completeness
  • disability- or illness-related voting problems
  • mail ballots rejected
  • mail ballots unreturned
  • military and overseas ballots rejected
  • military and overseas ballots unreturned
  • online registration available
  • post-election audit required
  • provisional ballots cast
  • provisional ballots rejected
  • registration or absentee ballot problems
  • registrations rejected
  • residual vote rate
  • turnout
  • voter registration rate
  • voting information look-up tools
  • voting wait time

DOL Offering Free Employment & Training Workshops

. April 16, 2014

The state Department of Labor recently announced that the Hamden Job Center will be offering a series of free employment and training workshops throughout May.  The offered workshops are:

  • Successful Job Search Strategies (5/6)
  • Military to Civilian Résumé Workshop (5/6)
  • Interviewing Techniques (5/8)
  • LinkedIn for Job Seekers (5/12)
  • Career Exploration (5/13)
  • Résumé Basics (5/14)
  • Internet Job Searches (5/19)
  • Interviewing Techniques (5/20)
  • Résumé Basics (5/21)
  • Networking Club (5/22)
  • Over 40 and Looking for Work (5/28)
  • Advanced Résumé Writing (5/29)
Due to space limitations, the department recommends registering in advance at (203) 859-3200.

Hot Report: Minimum Oyster Harvest Size in Nine East Coast States

. April 15, 2014

OLR Report 2014-R-0120 answers the question: What is the minimum size required for oysters to be legally harvested in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia?

Connecticut law currently requires all oysters harvested in state waters to be at least three inches long. This restriction is not unusual in comparison to the other states surveyed. Generally, harvest size restrictions vary based on the source of the oyster (i.e., aquaculture versus natural beds) and the purpose of the harvest (i.e., marketing for food versus seed oysters for aquaculture). Oysters harvested from a natural bed must be a minimum of three inches in seven of the nine states surveyed. In the two states outside this range, New Jersey requires oysters to be a minimum of two-and-a-half inches and Delaware requires a minimum of two-and-three-quarters inches. For aquaculture, state standards range from no minimum size to two-and-a-half inches.

Generally, oysters produced through aquaculture are either not subject to size restrictions or are obligated to meet a size limit that is a half inch to an inch smaller than the restrictions for natural beds. Many states allow holders of aquaculture permits to harvest undersized oysters, sometimes from the state’s natural beds, for the purpose of seeding farmed oyster beds or selling the undersized oysters to other permittees for seeding their farmed oyster beds.

For more information, read the full report.

Holding Middle School Students Back Can Negatively Affect Peers

Duke University researchers examined records for 79,000 middle school students in 334 North Carolina middle schools. They found that in schools with a high number of students who were held back or old for their grade, there were more suspensions, substance abuse problems, fights, and classroom disruptions.

“If 20 percent of children in seventh grade were older than their peers, for example, the chance that other students would commit an infraction or be suspended increased by 200 percent,” according to an article about the study.

The researchers note, “an unexpected but noteworthy finding is that students who are in the groups least likely to engage in misbehavior are most susceptible to the potential negative peer influence of retained and older peers.”

Study Finds Link between Middle Schooler Sexting and Sexual Activity

. April 14, 2014

A new study in the journal Pediatrics found a link between seventh graders sexting (texting sexually explicit language or photographs) and engaging in sexual activity.

Researchers from Brown University surveyed 420 at-risk seventh graders from 2009 to 2012 about sexting and whether they are sexually active.  The researchers found that 22% had sexted within the prior six months – 17% sending texts and 5% sending photos. This group was much more likely — from four to seven times as likely — to engage in a wide variety of sexual activities, from “making out” to intercourse.

The researchers concluded that even in middle school “attention should be paid to adolescents’ electronic communication because sexting may be a marker for sexual risk behaviors that can have significant consequences, including pregnancy or disease.”

The researchers also suggest making sexting part of the standard sexual education curriculum.

State and Local Governments Still Recovering From Recession Job Losses

. April 11, 2014

State and local governments across the nation have lost 695,000 jobs since August 2008, according to a new report from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. That’s an overall decrease of 3.5%. By contrast, the private sector is almost back to pre-recession levels, down 0.6% from peak employment in January 2008.

Last year, the Pew States Project presented the figures in a handy infographic that shows employment changes in all the states at a glance. Connecticut is in the group of nine states that have each lost at least 5% of its state and local employees between 2008 and 2012. At the other end of the spectrum is a group of eight states that each added a minimum of 2.5% to its state and local workforce in that same timeframe.

Financial Abuse of the Elderly Growing

. April 10, 2014

Financial abuse of the elderly is a serious and growing problem, accompanied, in some instances, by other forms of elder abuse. A study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute estimated that Americans over age 60 lost about $2.9 billion to financial abuse in 2012--up from $2.6 billion in 2008.  Experts say this is a conservative figure because of serious underreporting. And some contend that the growth in the senior population, social changes, and advances in technology will dramatically increase the opportunities for abuse.

Financial abuse spans a broad spectrum of conduct, from telemarketing scams and insurance and investment fraud to getting a person to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney through deception or undue influence.  Seniors can be prime targets because of their larger net worth and their vulnerabilities. Typically, perpetrators are not strangers, but people who have gained the trust of the elderly person, including caretakers, relatives, neighbors, friends, and acquaintances.

In 2012, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified the need for a national strategy and made recommendations on elder financial abuse.

Childhood Obesity Rate Plunges

According to the New York Times, federal health authorities recently reported a 43% drop in obesity among American two- to five-year-old children in the past decade. The Times noted several possible explanations for the decrease:
  • children consumed fewer sugary beverages than they did a decade ago;
  • more women breast-fed their infants, which can lead to a healthier weight gain range for young children;
  • the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) increased funding for fresh fruits and vegetables and reduced funding for fruit juice, cheese, and eggs; and
  • state, local, and federal policies aimed at combating childhood obesity are beginning to achieve desirable results. 
The obesity rate among youths ages two to 19 as a whole has remained flat since 2003. However, according to Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University, the decline in obesity among the two- to five-year-old cohort is significant since obesity that becomes established at that age is very difficult to combat once a child gets older.
You can read the full report published in the Journal of American Medical Association (subscription required).

Visitors to Connecticut National Park Service Units Bring in More than a Million Dollars

. April 9, 2014

“Connecticut” and “National Park” might not be an oft-made association, but National Park Service units in Connecticut saw more than 21,000 visitors in 2012 who spent more than $1.2 million, which in turn generated 14 jobs.  This is according to a recently released report by the National Park Service. The report claims that this activity yielded a total economic output of $1.4 million.
To give context for these totals, Connecticut’s 21,465 visitors in 2012 places it 49th on the list of states, ahead of Delaware. Topping the list was California, with more than 36 million visitors in 2012, who spent more than $1.5 billion.

Connecticut’s most notable National Park Service unit is Weir Farm National Historic Site in Ridgefield. The site is the location of the home and studio of Julian Alden Weir, a noted American Impressionist painter.

Connecticut is also home to a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which is a National Scenic Trail; a portion of the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valleys, a National Heritage Corridor; and a portion of the Washington-Rochembau National Historic Trail (Washington really did sleep here!).

Hot Report: Accredited Police Departments in Connecticut

. April 8, 2014

OLR Report 2014-R-0115 answers the question: Which and how many Connecticut police departments are accredited, and by what entities? It also describes the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) accreditation program.

As of April 1, 2014, 28 of Connecticut’s 106 police departments are accredited, 12 of which are accredited by both CALEA and the Police Officers Standards and Training Council (POST), Connecticut’s credentialing authority. These 12 are Avon, Coventry, Enfield, Farmington, Glastonbury, Guilford, Norwalk, Simsbury, University of Connecticut, Wethersfield, and the State Police and State Capitol Police. Fourteen departments are accredited by the state only, and two by CALEA only. Twenty-nine other departments have applied for accreditation (see Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 in the report).

CALEA is a private credentialing authority that offers accreditation programs for public safety agencies that volunteer to participate in the process. Its stated purpose is to improve the delivery of law enforcement services by offering a body of standards, developed by law enforcement practitioners, covering a wide range of current law enforcement topics.

The essential elements of the accreditation process are an extensive review of an agency’s policies, procedures, operations, and equipment; an onsite evaluation of the agency; and a decision by CALEA that the agency meets accreditation standards. The standards cover six major law enforcement areas and address almost every facet of policing and police operations, although not all standards apply to all agencies. Agencies must comply with (1) all applicable mandatory standards, which deal with life, health, and safety issues; legal requirements; and essential police practices; and (2) at least 80% of all the other applicable standards, which deal with important or desirable law enforcement practices and activities.

The accreditation cost, which includes initial accreditation, on-site assessment, and annual continuation fees, depends on factors such as the size of the agency and how long it takes to complete the process. The initial agreement between the agency and CALEA is for 36 months, but an agency may complete the process sooner. If the agency does not complete its self-assessment or schedule its on-site assessment within 36 months, it may seek an annual extension at additional cost. The initial accreditation fees vary from $7,125 for agencies with one to 24 full-time employees (including sworn and nonsworn personnel) to $18,600 for agencies with more than 1,000 employees. On-site assessment fees depend on such factors as the cost of lodging and airfare for the assessors, number of assessors involved, and geographical location of the agency being accredited. Annual payments to maintain accreditation range from $3,470 for the smallest agencies to $5,765 for agencies with 1,000 or more employees (see Appendix 3). CALEA accreditation is valid for three years, at which time the agency must be reassessed to maintain its accreditation.

According to the CALEA website, since the CALEA accreditation was developed in 1984, it “has become the primary method for an agency to voluntarily demonstrate their commitment to excellence in law enforcement.” But many states, including Connecticut, have also developed their own programs. The Connecticut program, which is free, is modeled after the CALEA program, according to the POST executive director. 
For more information, read the full report.

Dangers of Liquid Laundry Packets

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently provided an update on ongoing efforts to protect children from the dangers of single-load laundry packets. These packets contain highly concentrated chemicals and, according to the update, the CPSC has received about 1,230 reports of children being unintentionally injured by them.

Injuries can result from swallowing the packets or getting the chemicals in the eyes or on the skin. The update reports that companies are voluntarily taking steps to minimize the dangers by (1) supporting a voluntary consensus safety standard, (2) making the packets opaque to reduce their appearance as toys or candy, (3) including warning stickers and labels in multiple places on product containers, and (4) researching containers that are more difficult for children to open.
CPSC provides the following tips to keep children safe from these packets:
  1. Read and follow package warnings and instructions;
  2. Store the packets in their original containers and keep the containers closed, dry, and out of a child’s sight and reach; and
  3. Do not take packets apart, leave loose packets around, or let children handle them.

Manufacturers’ New Star Trek Technology

. April 7, 2014

Plucking molecules out of the air and reconfiguring them into Earl Grey tea (hot) or ghargh (You never had ghargh!) was Gene Roddenberry’s way of ensuring an adequate food supply for star ships that boldly went where no one had gone before.

Well, manufacturers have stolen a page from Roddenberry and devised a machine that uses “computer-generated information to add fine, powder-like material layer by layer and fused by heat or laser to form an object without part-specific tooling,” the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) reported last summer. This additive manufacturing technology—also referred to as 3D Printing—appears to have many benefits, including precisely made products with little or no waste.

In the not too distant past, machinists had to set up tools to make specific parts, which took time, energy, and material. By reducing lead-time and tooling costs, additive manufacturing gets the parts to their customers faster, CASE explains. But there’s more: Because the additive manufacturing doesn’t require molds, manufacturers can make parts in different sizes, something that’s “particularly valuable for manufacturing medical devices that can be individualized for each patient.”
If you want to see what additive manufacturing looks like, view this video:

What you’ll see is definitely not your father’s . . . excuse me, grandfather’s tool and die machine. But, like most new technology, additive manufacturing is creating a disturbance in the force, and that’s the subject of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s new book, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (2014), and a future posting. If you can’t want for the posting, read this PBS interview with the authors.

Accident Rates for Senior Drivers Continue to Fall

. April 4, 2014

Seniors drive better than you might expect – and they’ve been doing so for a while, according to a February 2014 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study. Not only did the accident rate for drivers 70 years and older drop, but dropped at a faster rate than the one for drivers age 35 to 54.
The study’s authors reached their conclusion after looking at several vehicle accident indicators: national fatal accident data per 100,000 licensed drivers from 1997 to 2012; national fatal passenger vehicle crash involvements per vehicle miles traveled in 1995-96, 2001-02, and 2008; and police-reported crash data for 1997-2008 from 20 states.

The authors found that middle-aged drivers and elderly drivers both experienced an 18% drop in fatal crashes from 2007 to 2012. However, when looking at the entire period, 1997 to 2012, elderly drivers had a bigger drop in fatal crash involvement per licensed driver than middle-aged drivers (42% vs 30%).  They also found a similar pattern in the data measuring fatal crash involvement per 100,000 miles driven for 1995-2006 and 2008--39% vs 26%--and police-reported data for 1997-2008—39% vs 30%. These trends also mirror those for non-fatal injurious accidents and property-damage only crashes.

The authors cited other studies explaining the factors driving these trends. The factors include safety technology, such as front and side airbags, which seem to benefit  seniors than to middle-aged drivers. Another factor explaining the trend is that senior drivers are more likely to drive SUV, vans, and pick-up trucks, vehicles affording drivers and passengers more protection than cars.

NOAA Predicts El Nino Warming

. April 3, 2014

The Huffington Post reports that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently issued an El Nino prediction for later this year, an outcome that could mean fewer Atlantic hurricanes, rain for California and southern states, and a milder winter for the northern United States.   El Nino happens when tropical Pacific Ocean trade winds die out and ocean temperatures become unusually warm, NOAA reports. In contrast, La Nina occurs when the trade winds blow unusually hard and the ocean temperatures become colder than normal. 

For more information about El Nino and LA Nina, see NOAA’s website.

OLR's Bill Analyses Can Help You Understand a Bill

. April 2, 2014

The Office of Legislative Research has written more than 300 Bill Analyses (and is writing more all the time), which are available to help you understand bills. OLR Bill Analyses are plain language summaries of all bills reported to the House or Senate (except for Appropriations bills, which are summarized by the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA)).

You can find a Bill Analysis on a bill's status page or you can browse the entire collection of Bill Analyses at once on OLR's site, which is sortable by both bill number and committee.

Checking Accounts Fees: Banks versus Credit Unions

Over the past four years, there has been a significant downward shift in the percentage of big banks offering free checking accounts, relative to credit unions, a recent survey found, as reported in the Hartford Business Journal. surveyed the nation’s 10 largest banks and 50 largest credit unions and found that the percentage of major banks offering free checking accounts dropped from 65% in 2010 to 38% today, while the percentage of large credit unions offering free checking dropped from 78% in 2010 to 72% today. The share of credit unions offering free checking does not include those that do so for customers making direct deposits or meeting other specified requirements.

The article also highlights the other differences the survey found between the transaction fees major banks and large credit unions charge their customers.   For example, the average overdraft fee and the typical charge for using out-of-network ATMs are higher for bank customers than credit union customers.

Using Property Tax Incentives to Encourage Urban Farming

. April 1, 2014

California’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act creates an innovative incentive for landowners to develop urban farms.  As Planning magazine reports (“Urban Farming Law Breaks New Ground,” December 2013 (subscription required)), the program allows large cities and counties (those with at least 250,000 residents) to designate zones in which landowners receive a property tax break if they agree to use their land for urban agriculture for at least five years.

Source: National Geographic
The program is designed for landowners of up to three acres parcels that are vacant or blighted.  Landowners that commit to restricting the use of their land for urban farming may qualify to have the property assessed based on its agricultural, rather than market, value.  This could result in significantly lower tax bills.

The article also notes that despite the property tax incentive, some cities may have to remove land use restrictions to make the program work.  San Francisco is a step ahead, having already implemented legislation to make it easier to install urban farms on vacant land and rooftops.

Hot Report: Juvenile Sentencing Laws and Court Decisions after Miller v. Alabama

. March 31, 2014

OLR Report 2014-R-0108 answers the question: Regarding the United States Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, (1) how have other states responded to this ruling, (2) how have other courts responded, and (3) are there any Connecticut cases on this issue?

In Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits courts from automatically imposing life without parole (LWOP) sentences on offenders who committed homicides while they were juveniles (under age 18). The Court did not categorically bar these sentences but stated that a court must “take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison” (132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012)). Miller followed the Court’s 2010 ruling in Graham v. Florida, where it held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from imposing LWOP on juvenile defendants for non-homicide crimes. The Court required “some meaningful opportunity” for release based on a defendant’s demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation since these crimes (130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010)).

At the time of the Miller ruling in 2012, at least 26 states had mandatory LWOP sentencing laws for juveniles. At least 11 states have since amended their juvenile sentencing laws in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that such mandatory sentences are unconstitutional. The new laws generally give judges greater discretion in sentencing juveniles. Some states kept life without parole (LWOP) as a possible sentence for certain offenses, while others eliminated LWOP as a sentencing option. Only some of the laws specify whether or not they apply retroactively to juvenile offenders already sentenced to LWOP. Arkansas, Texas, and Wyoming specify that that their laws apply prospectively only. While California, Delaware, and North Carolina specify that their laws apply retroactively. Pennsylvania’s law applies to convictions after a specified date. The laws of the remaining five states are silent on their retroactivity. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the state’s new law applies prospectively only.

Iowa is the only state that has responded with an executive action. Since the Miller decision, Iowa’s governor commuted the sentences of 38 individuals who were serving mandatory LWOP for crimes they committed as juveniles. But, the state supreme court has since ruled that a commuted sentence that is the functional equivalent of a life sentence without parole is unconstitutional under Miller.

Three state supreme courts (Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Wyoming) have ruled that aspects of their state juvenile sentencing statutes are unconstitutional under Miller. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that by its clear and plain terms a state statute that imposes a mandatory LWOP sentence for juveniles violates the Eight Amendment. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that a statutory sentencing scheme that allows a life sentence with opportunity for conditional release at age 65 years is equivalent to mandatory LWOP and prohibited by Miller. Similarly, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that a sentencing statute that provides opportunity for parole only after commutation to a term-of-years sentence is unconstitutional under Miller.

There is disagreement among the courts as to whether the Miller decision should apply retroactively to juvenile offenders already serving LWOP sentences. Five of the 11 U. S. Courts of Appeals (First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Eighth Circuits) have not ruled on whether Miller is retroactive but have granted motions to file petitions in federal district courts on the grounds that there was sufficient argument made (i.e., a prima facie showing) by the petitioners that Miller is retroactive. The Fifth and Eleventh Circuits ruled that Miller is not retroactive, while the Ninth Circuit ruled that Miller applies retroactively. Federal district courts in Michigan and New York also ruled that Miller should be given retroactive effect. Seven state Supreme Courts have considered the applicability of the Miller decision. The Iowa, Massachusetts, and Mississippi Supreme Courts have ruled that the Miller decision is retroactive, while Supreme Courts in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsyvania ruled that it is not. Two Florida district courts of appeals have ruled that the Miller decision is not retroactive, while two Illinois appellate courts have concluded that Miller is retroactive. (This issue is on appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.)

In Connecticut, State of Connecticut v. Ackeem Riley (SC 19109) is the only case currently before the Connecticut Supreme Court that pertains to the constitutional requirements of Miller.
For more information, read the full report.

Being a Donor Improves Chances of Access to Lawmakers According to New Study

A new study from researchers at Yale University and the University of California-Berkeley confirmed what many already assumed: being a campaign donor improves chances of meeting with lawmakers.

Researchers conducted an experiment where they emailed a letter to 191 Congressional offices asking for a meeting regarding banning a chemical. They identified the writer either as a “campaign donor” or a “local constituent.” The researchers randomly assigned whether a Congressperson received a letter from a campaign donor or a constituent. (The researchers say they found volunteers who were actual campaign donors.)

Those identified as campaign donors were more likely to meet with senior staff or the Congressperson while the local constituents were more likely to meet with junior staff.
The reason for the different treatment remains unknown at this point to the researchers.

Why Higher Ed Sexual Assault Policies Are Not “One-Size-Fits-All”

. March 28, 2014

Many colleges and universities have been taking a second look at their sexual assault response policies, and with good reason.  The United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has been inundated with complaints under Title IX and the Clery Act, two federal laws designed to protect the rights of students who are victims of sexual assault on campus. Newsweek reports that, as of January 29, 2014, OCR had a caseload containing:

  • 39 pending Title IX investigations involving allegations of sexual violence at higher education institutions,
  • 23 complaints related to the Clery Act in 2013 alone, and
  • eight imposed fines totaling $1.45 million.
Newsweek has also revealed that many higher education institutions may be resorting to a questionable practice from which their own students are prohibited: plagiarism.  In an effort to replicate the “best practices” of other institutions, many schools are copying others’ sexual assault policies verbatim.  Attorneys who advise colleges and universities point out that these policies must be more than just “legally sufficient;” they must be tailored to each school’s culture and needs.

An alumnus assault victim of the University of Akron, Ohio recently reported the school to OCR after suspecting policy plagiarism, among other federal violations.  She found that substantial portions of the university’s policies were copied verbatim from Miami University of Ohio.  As a result, Akron’s policy offered some options that were not available on its campus.  For instance, Akron’s policy referred to an “Office of Equity and Opportunity” that did not exist on its campus or website.  It also referenced “Appendix B” for information on victim support and resources, but no such appendix was attached to Akron’s policy document. 

This alumnus sees the policy as “misleading but partially plagiarized,” showing “that institutions are more interested in appearing to comply with the law than actually following it and helping their students.”  Experts agree: “It’s one thing to share best practices and another to just run them through the copy machine.”

Hot Report: Summary of Federal Railroad Administration Safety Assessment of Metro North

. March 27, 2014

OLR Report 2014-R-0104 summarizes the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent assessment of Metro North Railroad’s safety.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) launched an in-depth investigation of Metro North Railroad on December 16, 2013 in response to several “high profile accidents” in a span of seven months. The most serious accident occurred on December 1, 2013, when a train en route to Grand Central Station derailed near Spuyten Duyvil station in New York, killing four passengers and injuring more than 70. The other accidents included the death of a Metro North maintenance of way worker in West Haven on May 28, 2013, and two other derailments, including one on the New Haven Line that injured more than 50 people.
The FRA report, released on March 14, 2014, found three overarching safety concerns:
  • An overemphasis on on-time performance,
  • An ineffective safety department and poor safety culture, and
  • An ineffective training program
“Metro North has placed a strong emphasis on on-time performance,” the report said. “This emphasis…combined with the increased volume of train activity, appears to have led managers and supervisors to allow inspections, maintenance, and employee training to lapse. This, in turn, led to a deficient safety culture, which manifested itself in increased risk and reduced safety on Metro North.”

“This is a severe assessment, and it is intended as an urgent call to action to Metro North’s leadership,” the report said. “Metro North must never compromise safety in the interests of the reliability of its train schedule or the efficiency in its railroad operations. Senior leadership must put safety front and center, and communicate and implement that priority throughout the organization. This action must be taken immediately.”

FRA enumerated a number of corrective measures for Metro North to take. It directed the railroad to submit to it, by May 17, 2014, plans to improve both its safety department’s mission and effectiveness and its training program. The FRA will meet monthly with Metro North to review and evaluate its progress.

This report summarizes the FRA report’s three overarching concerns, its specific findings, and the specific actions it directs Metro North to take. Attachment #1, taken from the report, lists FRA’s safety concerns and directed actions.
For more information, read the full report.

Causes of Wrongful Convictions

A 2013 study by the National Institute of Justice has identified 10 statistically significant case factors that lead to wrongful convictions. The 10 factors identified by the authors are:  
  1. a younger defendant,
  2. a criminal history,
  3. a weak prosecution case,
  4. prosecutorial misconduct (such as when a prosecutor withholds evidence),
  5. lying by a non-eyewitness,
  6. eyewitness misidentification,
  7. misinterpreted forensic evidence at trial,
  8. a weak defense,
  9. a defendant’s use of a family witness at trial, and
  10. a punitive state culture.

DCF Campaigns to Prevent Sleep-Related Infant Deaths

. March 26, 2014

Alarmed by the number of sleep-related infant deaths in its system in the past three years, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has begun a campaign to alert families to the dangers of unsafe sleeping conditions.

According to the Hartford Courant, 15 infants in families in which DCF had a previous or open case died while sleeping since January 1, 2011, more than died from any other single cause.

DCF announced that its case workers will inspect children’s sleeping conditions during visits to foster or family homes, and not leave a home until any problems are fixed. DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said the number of sleeping-related deaths called for a public education campaign for parents similar to that for car seats, smoke detectors, and not drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Hot Report: Memoranda of Understanding and School Resource Officers

. March 25, 2014

OLR Report 2014-R-0103 answers the question: Of the Connecticut public school districts that have school resource officers (SROs), how many have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or agreement (MOA) with the local police department that employs the SRO?

Since SROs are employees of local police departments, OLR surveyed 21 departments that listed SROs on their websites.  We also reviewed testimony to the Judiciary Committee on SB 54 (An Act Concerning Collaboration between Boards of Education and Law Enforcement Personnel) that indicated two other departments have SROs.

The survey responses and testimony from 14 of these departments reveal that as of the date of this report:
  1. eight have a signed MOU with the school district,
  2. three are in the process of drafting an MOU, and
  3. three have no MOU or draft in progress.
For more information, read the full report.

Crimes Against Individuals With Disabilities

According to a recent federal report, the 2012 age-adjusted rate of violent crimes against people with disabilities was almost three times higher than the rate for people without disabilities.  The victimization rate for people with disabilities was higher than the rest of the population for both genders and for all racial groups measured.

The report, by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that over 1.3 million nonfatal violent crimes were committed in 2012 against victims with disabilities (age 12 or older).  Slightly more than half of such crimes were committed against people with multiple disability types. The highest victimization rates were among people with cognitive disabilities.

The full report has more detailed information on victimization statistics based on age, gender, race, disability type, and type of crime. 

Tiny Windmills

. March 24, 2014

Research associate Smitha Rao and Professor J.-C. Chiao from the University of Texas at Arlington have designed and built a windmill so small that ten of them could fit on a grain of rice.

This type of technology is known as micro-electrical-mechanical systems, or MEMS. The researchers envision using the micro-windmills to charge cellphone batteries. The micro-windmills would be embedded on the outside of a cellphone. The user would wave the cellphone and that movement of air would turn the blades of the micro-windmills, generating energy that would charge the phone battery.

The micro-windmills are made of a metal alloy that allows them to be flexible and strong. “The problem most MEMS designers have is that materials are too brittle,” Rao said. “With the nickel alloy, we don’t have that same issue. They’re very, very durable.”

The researchers envision many possibilities for the micro-windmills, including providing energy for residential homes. The micro-windmills could be embedded into flat panels that harvest energy for various uses, including lighting, security, or wireless communication.

Hot Report: Dental Assistants

. March 21, 2014

OLR Report 2014-R-0084 summarizes Connecticut law on dental assistants, and provides examples of dental assistant training requirements in other states.

Connecticut law does not require dental assistants to be licensed. To take dental x-rays, dental assistants must pass an exam. Connecticut law does not otherwise set requirements for dental assistants’ education or training. The law prohibits dental assistants from performing various procedures, and requires dentists to supervise assistants performing delegated dental procedures.
The Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB) is the national certification board for dental assistants. According to DANB, the majority of states, like Connecticut, set certain requirements for dental assistants to be allowed to take x-rays; this often includes passing a DANB examination. Unlike Connecticut, many states provide for different levels of dental assistants, allowing assistants with additional training or education to perform more tasks than those without such experience.
For more information, read the full report.

Alzheimer’s Task Force Report

The Task Force on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia released its final report earlier this year. The task force was established last year (Special Act 13-11) to study Alzheimer’s and dementia related care within the state and produce recommendations to improve services. According to the report, an estimated 70,000 individuals in Connecticut who are age 65 or older suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. The report warns that the number is expected to increase dramatically in the next two decades, and providing an adequate level of care will pose a significant challenge for the state.

Among other points, the report recommends:
  • Conducting a public awareness campaign to better connect patients and caregivers to all available resources.
  • Promoting Medicare annual wellness visits which include a cognitive assessment for early detection and diagnosis.
  • Developing training programs for employees of financial institutions to reduce the risk of financial exploitation of the cognitively impaired.
  • Increasing funding and support for informal and family caregivers.
  • Encouraging family, medical, and estate planning for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia, to ensure that the wishes of the individual are carried out, minimize family disputes, and reduce the burden on the court system.
  • Studying the financial impact of developing Dementia Care Centers at Connecticut hospitals.
  • Requiring dementia-specific training for nursing home staff, home health aides, and other caregivers; public safety responders; and emergency room staff.
For more information on Connecticut resources for those with Alzheimer’s or related diseases, see the Connecticut Statewide Respite Care Program and the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The Connecticut Commission on Aging provides updates on legislative activity relating to the elderly and Alzheimer’s care.

Driverless Cars: A Way to Prevent Accidents, Reduce Congestion, and Save the Government Money

. March 20, 2014

A recent Atlantic Cities article noted that driverless cars have the potential to fix a lot of transportation woes and save the government a lot of money. Inefficiencies in the transportation system (e.g., poor road and bridge conditions, congestion) are worth over $100 billion, according to economist Clifford Winston.  Winston suggests that governments have a number of options to improve these conditions, such as road pricing, better pavement design, and improved traffic control systems. But he argues that governments have a bias toward maintaining the status quo which private companies do not, and these companies’ work on driverless car technology could have a significant economic benefit and save the government a lot of money in the future.

Driverless cars can travel closer together, thereby reducing congestion. GPS systems can direct heavy vehicles to suitable routes and help reduce wear on roads. Car crashes could be virtually eliminated because of vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The Eno Center for Transportation estimates the annual economic benefit of driverless cars could be $211 billion a year—and that’s if only half of the current fleet goes driverless. This calculation includes lives saved, cost savings from reduced crashes, and congestion benefits, among other things.

Because of the strides already being made, Winston suggests that government allow driverless technology to develop but address anticipated liability issues. But the private sector cannot make driverless cars a future success alone. The author of the Atlantic Cities article, Eric Jaffe, notes that driverless cars will make issues of road conditions and transportation funding more apparent. To truly reap the benefits of driverless cars, he argues government funding and investment in roads is also necessary.