Cooking Fires Triple on Thanksgiving Day

. November 24, 2015

In anticipation of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) are cautioning consumers about the threat of home cooking fires, and specifically the dangers associated with deep frying turkeys.

The threat of kitchen fires triples on Thanksgiving Day, according to CPSC. From 2009 to 2011, an average of about 1,300 cooking fires occurred on Thanksgiving, compared to about 400 on an average day. According to USFA, two-thirds of home cooking fires start with the ignition of food or other cooking materials. 

CPSC provides guidance on safely handling and using turkey fryers. It notes that fryers should (1) only be used outside and away from your home, including away from garages or porches; (2) not be overfilled with oil; and (3) be attended at all times.

USFA’s website provides a video of a turkey fryer fire, which shows how quickly the fires can escalate.

2016 Health Insurance Rates Approved

. November 23, 2015

At the end of August, the Connecticut Insurance Department approved health insurance rate changes for the 2016 plan year. Although the changes affect over 300,000 Connecticut residents, the rate approval process can be difficult to understand. The following is a guide that highlights the most important steps in the process.

Around April each year, insurers submit a rate change request to the department, along with any actuarial material necessary to justify the increase or decrease in price. The department reviews this material and may elect to hold a public hearing on the proposed change.

Once submitted, the rate requests become public. Insurers may then adjust their proposed rates in consultation with the department, which conducts its own actuarial review. If the department disagrees with the insurer’s request, it can ask the insurer to recalculate the proposed change based on different data assumptions. This is called a revised rate request.

The department then approves or disapproves the rate change. This final rate may not be the same as the insurer’s revised request.

We’ve compiled each insurer’s original, revised, and approved average rate request into this searchable graph. (Averages are used because insurers file a range for each rate change).

New Report Provides Six Tips for Promoting Entrepreneurship

. November 20, 2015

As new research continues to shed light on the importance of entrepreneurship to innovation and economic growth, many policymakers continue to search for policies to help entrepreneurs induce such innovation and growth. Because the research shows that entrepreneurs tend to thrive in “ecosystems” with the right combination of interpersonal networks and support structures, policymakers are looking for ways to cultivate those systems.

A new report from the Kauffman Foundation suggests how they could do so. “Enabling Entrepreneurial Ecosystems,” offers six general strategies for states looking to foster and sustain entrepreneurial ecosystems.

  1. Favor incumbents less—avoid policies, like restrictive licensing requirements, that indirectly favor existing, dominant companies by creating entry barriers for new ones. 
  2. Listen to entrepreneurs—instead of developing policies in a vacuum, listen to what local entrepreneurs have to say about their challenges and use that insight to develop policies that address those challenges. 
  3. Map the ecosystem—chart the networks and connections that link entrepreneurs and their support organizations and use that information to identify, engage, and support entrepreneurs.
  4. Think big, start small, move fast—implement strategies that “seek domains for early success and rapidly iterate forward from there to build well-grounded programs at scale.”
  5. Avoid artificially segmenting your community and your strategies—recognize that members of an entrepreneurial community play many roles simultaneously (for example, a person may be working on his or her own venture while mentoring a new entrepreneur) and develop strategies that capitalize on the community’s diverse skills.
  6. Prepare to capitalize on crises—recognize that economic disruptions, like layoffs, create entrepreneurial opportunity, and find ways to help entrepreneurial communities make the most of them when they arise. 

Carnegie Mellon’s “LearnSphere” Aims to Become a Trusted Student Data Repository

. November 19, 2015

in Bloom, the Gates Foundation-funded nonprofit organization, hoped to be a repository of student data educational software makers and researchers could use to improve educational technology, but concerns about the privacy of student data led to its shutdown in 2014. Now, Carnegie Mellon University is leading a new project that addresses the same goal without the privacy risks, according to The Hechinger Report.

Like in Bloom, this $5 million, federally funded project known as LearnSphere seeks to become “the biggest open repository of education data in the world,” but aims to do so without using any student names, addresses, zip codes, social security numbers, or race, family income, or special education designations.  Instead of collecting such data, LearnSphere proposes to collect “the data of keyboard clicks.”

Specifically, it will track students’ keystrokes as they use educational software to “answer questions, hit backspace or sit idly daydreaming and uninterested” and store the data in a virtual warehouse researchers can access from any computer. Keystroke data tells researchers how many times a student repeats or practices an exercise before it becomes knowledge.

LeanSphere’s planners aren’t “building a physical warehouse in a single location” to store all the data. Instead, “those who want to share data can upload it to one of the sites that LearnSphere is managing, or they can keep it on their own server and control who gets access to it.”  Ultimately, the goal is to “build a ‘distributed infrastructure,’ which allows researchers to access data on someone else’s computer,” Hechinger stated.

Carnegie Mellon predicts that it will take at least a year for LearnSphere to be ready for launch.
Read the The Hechinger Report article:

2015 Connecticut Insurance Market Brief Released

. November 18, 2015

As reported by the, the 2015 Connecticut Insurance Market Brief is now available. PwC and the Connecticut Insurance and Financial Services (CT IFS) Cluster released the brief, “which focuses on the various disruptive forces that face the insurance sector and how Connecticut insurance companies are leveraging talent, experience and innovation to identify opportunities for growth.”

According to PwC, the report also “provides a summary of events over the past year that continue to shape the Connecticut insurance landscape, emerging trends and executive perspectives, with analysis and findings from CT IFS, PwC, and the Connecticut Economic Resource Center.”

The report shows that insurance continues to be a strong component of the state’s economy and provides the following snapshot of “Insurance in Connecticut by the Numbers:”

  • 1,415 domestic and non-domestic insurance carriers
  • 57,734 carrier and related full-time employees
  • $32.45 billion in direct written premiums
  • 2.7% -- employment as a percent of Connecticut employment
  • 5.3% -- payroll as a percent of Connecticut payroll
  • 5.9% -- the amount the insurance industry contributes to Connecticut’s gross state product

Read the article:

Read the PwC/IFS Report:

An American Indian Banking System

. November 17, 2015

A recent Bloomberg Business article states that CannaNative is trying to link leaders from the 566 sovereign Indian nations with finance professionals and legal marijuana businesses.  CannaNative’s goal, according to the article, is to use expertise gained from managing casinos to create banks or credit unions that would accept deposits from the legal marijuana industry, which generates an estimated $3 billion in revenue each year.  Since the Indian nations are not subject to U.S. Banking laws, an American Indian banking system would be able to tap into the legal marijuana industry, a market that national banks won’t touch, per the article.

“The Indian casinos are basically small little banks,” CannNative’s founder, Anthony Rivera Jr., told Bloomberg Businessweek. “They receive deposits in the form of gaming, and they manage that cash in a way which his highly regulated,” he added. Consequently, CannaNative is following the casino model by hiring managers from marijuana companies to teach tribes how to set up financial institutions for the marijuana industry, the article states.

Tribes may legalize marijuana for medical, agricultural, and recreational use in the same way that individual states do based on an October 2014 Department of Justice memorandum.

The full article is linked below:

Recent Report Identifies 13 Types of Economic Development Organizations Serving Eastern Connecticut

. November 16, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0153 identifies 13 types of economic development organizations serving 63 eastern Connecticut municipalities. It describes the services these organizations provide and suggests how they can make their services more accessible to businesses. The report also summarizes studies and plans assessing the region’s strengths and weaknesses.

The organizations include the statewide nonprofit Connecticut Economic Resource Center, regional councils of government (RCOGs), and local chambers of commerce. The assistance they provide includes analyzing local and regional economic trends (e.g., RCOGs), marketing and promoting local and regional assets (chambers of commerce), and providing technical and financial assistance to businesses (e.g., Small Business Development Centers).

Studies done in 2005 and 2011 stressed the need to diversify the region’s economy by marketing its assets, strengthening regional cooperation, and stimulating and supporting business startups. The OLR report suggests the region’s organizations can coordinate their actions by creating a group of “broker-agents” to help businesses assess their needs, identify the organizations that can address them, and coordinate the delivery of their services.  

For more information read the full report:

Regulating the Use of Electronic Defense Weapons by Police

. November 13, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0187 summarizes the current law governing police officers’ use of electronic defense weapons (EDWs).  

By law, the State Police and local police departments that authorize their officers to use EDWs must document their use and annually, starting January 15, 2016, report the information to the Office of Policy and Management for posting on its website. The law also requires the (1) Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) to develop and promulgate a standardized form and model policy providing guidelines on EDW use, and (2) police departments authorizing use of EDWs to adopt and maintain a written policy meeting or exceeding POST’s model. The specific information and statistics that each report should include are outlined in Public Act 14-149.

POST adopted its model policy on December 22, 2014.  Among other things, the model policy addresses how EDWs may be worn, how they may be deployed, and medical treatment for subjects on whom EDWs are used.

For additional information, read the full report

Higher Education Institutions’ Reports on Sexual Assault, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence

. November 12, 2015

In 2014, the legislature required higher education institutions in Connecticut, annually beginning October 1, 2015, to submit a report to the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee that includes certain information concerning sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence.

In recent weeks, the committee has posted on its website copies of the institutions’ 2015 submissions as it receives them. Each institution’s report must include, for the immediately preceding calendar year,

  1. a copy of the institution's (a) most recently adopted policies and (b) most recent concise written notification of a victim's rights and options under these policies;
  2. the number and type of prevention, awareness, and risk reduction programs at the institution;
  3. the type of prevention and awareness campaigns at the institution;
  4. the number of incidents reported to the institution; 
  5. the number of confidential or anonymous reports or disclosures;  and
  6. the number of disciplinary cases and the final outcome of these cases, including the outcome of any appeals, to the extent that reporting the outcomes does not conflict with federal law.

Bans on Smoking in Vehicles Carrying Children

. November 11, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0203 describes laws in the seven states that have enacted legislation banning smoking in vehicles with children present. These states include Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Utah, and Vermont; the report also describes Puerto Rico’s law. The age of children covered by these laws varies from under age eight (Vermont) to under age 18 (California and Oregon).  Maximum fines for first-time violations range from $25 (Arkansas) to $250 (Oregon and Puerto Rico). 

According to the advocacy group Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy, legislation banning or otherwise addressing smoking in cars with children was proposed in 12 states in 2015, including Connecticut. In addition, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that eight states and the District of Columbia restrict smoking in vehicles carrying children in the care of childcare facilities. 

Exposure to second-hand smoke "is associated with acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, delayed lung growth, and more severe asthma," a 2012 Pediatrics study noted. "Nonsmoking youth are . . . particularly vulnerable" to second-hand smoke because of their "limited ability to avoid smoke-permitted environments, higher breathing rates, and the developing nature of their respiratory, immune, and nervous systems." 

For more information, read the full report here.

Calculator: Was My Home a Good Investment?

. November 10, 2015

Experts disagree over whether purchasing a house is a good long-term financial investment. While a house might give its owners a sense of pride and stability, it generally does not provide a return comparable to stocks.  If you already purchased a house and are wondering what kind of return you have achieved so far, CNN Money offers an online calculator that compares a home’s appreciation over a user-specified period to the change in value of other homes, stocks, and bonds over the same period. 

Source: CNN Money Calculator

Connecticut Creates Bird Flu Task Force

. November 9, 2015

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) announced the creation of a task force to prepare for the potential occurrence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI or bird flu) in Connecticut. The task force includes DoAg, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, and the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

While no cases of HPAI have been detected in the state as of yet, there are an estimated five million poultry here. Several large and medium-sized commercial egg-producing operations own most of Connecticut’s poultry, according to DoAg. The remaining poultry are in backyard and small commercial flocks.

DoAg urges all poultry owners in Connecticut to register the location of their flocks with the state as a precaution. This voluntary registration provides the state valuable information that it will use for emergency response purposes if HPAI is detected in Connecticut.

New Proposed Rules for Low Income Phone Program

. November 6, 2015

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules for its Lifeline program, which subsidizes mobile and landline phone service for low-income individuals. Currently, the program is available to those who (1) have income below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (in 2015, $21,505.50 per year for a family of two) or (2) receive benefits from any one of several federal programs, including Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Among other things, the new proposed rules sought comment on whether to change eligibility for the program to include fewer federal programs (e.g., SNAP only) or different programs (e.g., programs for veterans).

The new rules also state that the FCC is ultimately seeking to expand the program’s scope to subsidize broadband internet service for low-income individuals. This would be informed by a pilot program the FCC launched in 2012.

The comment period for the rules has expired, but the full text is available here

Connecticut Bottle Redemption System

. November 5, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0211 summarizes how Connecticut's bottle redemption system operates.  The bottle redemption system operates as a cycle involving transactions between distributors, retailers, and consumers.  It operates as follows:

  1. a retailer pays a beverage container distributor five-cents for each beverage container that the distributor delivers;
  2. a consumer pays the retailer five-cents for each beer, soft drink, or water container that he or she purchases from the retailer;
  3. the retailer or a redemption center pays the consumer five-cents for each container the consumer returns;
  4. the distributor reimburses the retailer or redemption center five-cents for each beer, soft drink, and water container returned, plus a handling fee of one-and-a-half cents for each beer container and two-cents for each soft drink or water container; and
  5. the distributor pays the State of Connecticut the five-cents for each unclaimed deposit.
In each fiscal year from 2012 to 2014, the state received over $27 million from unclaimed deposits.

For more information, read the full report here.

Younger Students, Women Drawn to Online Learning

. November 4, 2015

WNPR and US News & World Report recently spotlighted an annual report about online higher education enrollment.  “Online College Students” by Aslanian Market Research and the Learning House, surveyed 1,500 students enrolled in online courses for the spring 2015 semester. 

The survey’s findings revealed a growing interest from younger students, as well as a continued strong enrollment rate among women compared with men:

  • 34% of undergraduate online students were under age 25, up from 25% in 2012;
  • 19% of graduate online students were under age 25, up from 13% in 2012; and
  • female students far outnumbered males, accounting for 70% of undergraduate and 72% of graduate students.
The articles explore possible reasons why women outnumber men in online course enrollment.   One explanation is that more women are pursuing higher education in general than men.  The US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found in a May 2015 report that women outnumbered men in both undergraduate and undergraduate studies (not limited to online studies), making up 56% and 59% of such students, respectively.

State and Municipal Regulation of Nail Salons

. November 3, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0183 provides the current governmental oversight existing for nail salons in Connecticut. 

Connecticut does not license nail salons or nail technicians.  An individual without a hairdresser or cosmetology license may perform the manicuring of nails for cosmetic purposes, which includes the trimming, filing, and painting of healthy toenails.  

State law requires local health departments or districts to inspect all nail salons within their jurisdiction annually, and also restricts the hours that minors, elderly persons, or persons with physical disabilities may work.

While the state does not license nail salons, certain municipalities and health districts do. Included in the report are brief summaries of the requirements for some of them. 

All nail salons must register with the state Department of Revenue Services (DRS) for sales tax purposes. If the salon has an employee, it must register with DRS and the Internal Revenue Service for payroll tax withholding purposes and the Department of Labor for employment insurance tax purposes.

For more information, including the history of nail technician licensing in the state and current statistical data, read the full report

Younger Players Find Slot Machines Boring

. November 2, 2015

Millennials are just not into playing slot machines and this poses a revenue problem for casinos and states, according to an article in Stateline Magazine. According to the article, casinos nationwide “are suffering from a generation gap, especially as young people seek more exotic electronic games like the ones they can play on smartphones from anywhere.” The author cites a study by the Rockefeller Institute, which reviewed 16 states and found that tax revenue increased by just 0.1 percent in FY 15 compared to the previous year when adjusted for inflation. Excluding Maryland, which reported a 17.1% growth largely resulting from the opening of a new casino in Baltimore, tax revenue declined 1.2% in the remaining 15 states. The declining revenue is prompting the casino industry and states to seek new ways to attract younger gamblers, “including mimicking the types of games millennials play on the Internet, such as online poker and fantasy sports.” Read more here

Regulations to Follow when Bat-Proofing Your Home

. October 30, 2015

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is required to update the lists of species classified as endangered, threatened, or of special concern at least every five years.  DEEP is also charged with administering regulations to monitor and control these species.  The most recent regulation, effective August 7, 2015, increased the number of bats classified as endangered, among others. 

Bats play a vital role in the functioning of our environment by controlling the insect population and pollinating plants and spreading their seeds.  In fact, many plant species rely on bats to pollinate their flowers and successfully produce fruits such as mangos, bananas, and guavas. 

One of the regulations implemented to control their preservation is a prohibition on the removal of their nests while they are roosting during the months of June and July.  Consequently, if a bat settles to roost in your attic, vent, or under roofing, do not disturb or remove it.  Bat habitats may only be altered annually after August 15.  DEEP offers suggestions for exclusion and bat proofing and they also provide a list of licensed nuisance wildlife control operators if you would rather hire a specialist.

Generally, bats do not enter the common areas of a dwelling.  If one happens to come through an open window or door, DEEP advises closing off the area and leaving the window or door open to permit their exit. DEEP offers additional information and bat proofing tips on its website.  

More Seniors Are Forming “Aging in Place” Communities

. October 29, 2015

“Aging in place” initiatives help seniors to remain in their own homes as they age, allowing them to delay or avoid entering long-term care facilities. In some communities, elderly residents themselves are forming “aging in place” or “virtual retirement” communities by establishing nonprofit membership organizations that negotiate and obtain shared services and programs for their members.

Members pay an annual fee to access a range of home-based services, such as transportation, home maintenance and repair, and meals. Some services are included in the membership fee and others are provided by a network of pre-screened providers at a discounted rate.

A recent Citylab article discusses the increase in these communities, noting that they exist in over 40 states. The article highlights Beacon Hill Village in Massachusetts, which was established in 2002 and is generally considered the blueprint for establishing an aging in place community. Beacon Hill Village currently has 350 members that pay $675 per year (or $975 for a couple) to access seven staff members that help them obtain services. Residents with income below the median income can obtain discounted membership rates of $125 per individual and $175 per couple.  

According to the article, Village to Village Network, a national organization that helps create new aging in place communities, expects the number of communities to double in the next two years.

For more information on these communities, see OLR report 2008-R-0322.

OLR Launches Twitter Feed

. October 28, 2015

Dear readers,

We have launched an OLR Twitter feed (@CT_OLR) to give you faster and more convenient access to our work products.  Going forward our office will tweet:

  • select reports, such as getting up to speed guides and backgrounder reports
  • a daily announcement of new bill analyses (once publicly available)
  • information about public OLR presentations (when, where, and links to presentations)
  • annual publications, such as the Public Act Summary Book, Major Public Acts Report, Acts Affecting Reports, and Major Issues Report

During session, we will tweet 1-4 times per day (mostly batched BA announcements and new reports) to help you stay on top of your most critical issues.  During the interim, we will tweet a few times a week about key OLR publications and research on a variety of topics.  By following us, you will get these tweets in your news feed.

Signing up for OLR tweets is easy.  Just click here, sign into (or create) your Twitter account, and ‘click’ follow on the OLR feed (you can also search for us, @CT_OLR, on the main Twitter page).

Forecasting Revenue in Volatile Times

In an earlier blog, we described the challenges businesses face when a new product, service, or competitor enters the market and changes the rules of the game. To help you imagine the challenge, we asked you consider the absurd scenario of athletic teams formed to compete in unknown sporting events. Well, we want to shift to a different topic and, in doing so, ask you to consider another absurd scenario. What would it be like to play basketball (or volleyball for that matter) on a floating dock? What would it be like to dribble and shoot when the floor keeps bopping up and down with the waves?

Well forecasting state revenue collections is a little like executing a jump shot on a floating dock, and a March 2015 PEW Charitable Trusts report explains why (Managing Volatile Tax Collections in State Revenue Forecasts).
Build-Raft.jpg (450×276)
For starters, the problem isn’t with the forecaster. Just as the floating dock makes it harder for the shooter to time his or her shot, volatile tax revenues make it hard for forecasters to accurately estimate annual revenue totals, making it harder for state officials to prepare realistic budgets.

The revenues are volatile because they are generated by different kinds of economic transactions, like earning a wage, buying a car, making goods, or delivering services. The revenue these taxes generate rises and falls with the frequency and value of these transactions, which are sensitive to ups and downs of the national and, in many states, global economy. 

For example, it was relatively easy to predict sales tax revenues “because purchases of such things as food and toiletries typically hold steady regardless of the economy’s performance.” But during the last recession, consumers cut spending even on these items. Even more significantly, consumers continued to spend at relatively low levels even after the recession ended. Particularly vulnerable are states that mainly tax car, boats, and other big-ticket items.

States could stabilize their revenue flows by drastically changing their tax structures, but that’s not likely to happen, according to the study, because the changes “come with trade-offs between competing tax policy priorities and significant costs.” But they could do more to manage volatile revenue.