Vote-by-Mail Elections Popping Up

. July 23, 2014

In 2013, Colorado became the third state to switch to statewide vote-by-mail elections.  Oregon and Washington are the other two, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) elections newsletter, The Canvass. In vote-by-mail, or all-mail, elections, states automatically mail a ballot to every registered voter and do not operate traditional in-person polling places.

Though Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are the only states that allow for vote-by-mail elections statewide, at least 22 others allow them in certain jurisdictions or under certain circumstances.  For example, in Idaho, a district can use vote-by-mail if it has 125 or fewer registered voters. Hawaii allows for vote-by-mail in local and special elections.

The article concludes by identifying and explaining three main issues state legislators should think about in contemplating vote-by-mail elections: (1) costs, (2) turnout, and (3) security. It also suggests that further research about vote-by-mail is needed as voters are looking for more convenient ways to participate in elections.  In 2012, it reports that almost one-third of all voters cast their ballot before Election Day (either by absentee or vote-by-mail)—nearly double the rate from the 2000 election.

Tennessee Protects People Who Free Children Trapped in Vehicles from Liability

Bystanders who break into a locked vehicle to rescue children in danger of heatstroke are immune from liability under a Tennessee law enacted this year.


The law, which took effect July 1, 2014, protects anyone who forcibly enters a motor vehicle to remove a child locked or trapped inside if the person reasonably believes that the child is in imminent danger.

The rescuer must: 
  • have alerted the local police or fire department, or called 911, before breaking into the vehicle; 
  • place a notice on the windshield with his or her contact information, the reason he or she broke in, the location of the child, and that he or she has notified the authorities; and
  • must stay with the child in a reasonably close, safe location until police, fire, or emergency responders arrive. 
The Nashville Tennessean reports that 28 children died of heatstroke in vehicles in that state since 1990.

Number of Federal Civil Rights Court Cases Remains High

. July 22, 2014

According to research from the federal Judicial Branch, 35,307 civil rights cases were filed in federal courts in 2013.  This represents a 27% increase over the last two decades, but a decline from the high of 43,278 cases filed in 1997.  The research shows that filings began to increase after the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.  They increased more dramatically after the federal Civil Rights Act of 1991 became law, reached a high in 1997, and have declined some since then.

The highest percentage of 2013 claims (38%) relate to employment.

For more information, see:

• an infographic on case filings: http://news.uscourts.gov/over-two-decades-civil-rights-cases-rise-27-percent
• data on all types of federal court filings over time:  http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/Statistics/JudicialBusiness/2013/appendices/C02ASep13.pdf

Timely Report: Heatstroke Deaths of Children Left in Vehicles

OLR Report 2014-R-0202 answers the questions: What are the laws and associated penalties in New York and the New England states for leaving a child in a vehicle who dies from resulting heatstroke? How many children in those states died from heatstroke in the past five years after being left unattended in vehicles? Is there a correlation between these occurrences and the penalty associated with it?

Of the New England states and New York, only Connecticut specifically criminalizes, in certain circumstances, the act of leaving a child in a vehicle unattended. The other states do not specifically criminalize this behavior. But every state, including Connecticut, has laws under which, depending on the circumstances, someone may be charged when a child dies after being left in a hot vehicle. These include murder, manslaughter, and risk on injury to a minor statutes. In Connecticut, the penalties for these crimes range from a class C felony (punishable by one to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 , or both) for risk of injury to a minor to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murder with special circumstances.

Although Rhode Island does not specifically criminalize leaving a child in a hot vehicle unattended, it authorizes police officers to issue verbal warnings in such circumstances. Also, Massachusetts is currently considering a bill that would subject a person to a fine for such an act.

From 2009-2013, there have been a total of six reported child deaths in New York and New England resulting from the child being left unattended in a hot vehicle. None of the deaths occurred in Connecticut. (One child is suspected to have died in Connecticut under these circumstances in July 2014 but the death is still under investigation.) We were unable to draw a correlation based on the limited data between the severity of the penalty and the incidences of these deaths.


For more information, read the full report.

Do Higher Education Tax Benefits Support The Families Who Need It Most?

The Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) doesn’t think so, according to its May 2014 report Upside Down: Higher Education Tax Spending. The report offers illustrations of federal tax spending programs for higher education, explanations of how they fall short of meeting the neediest populations’ needs, and possible remedies for these shortfalls.

The report shows that spending through the tax code for higher education is roughly equal to the primary sources of federal support for special education (IDEA), K-12 (Title 1-A), and Pre-K (Head Start) combined.  From another perspective, the amount is larger than the discretionary budgets of nine cabinet-level departments.

CFED also shows how higher education tax spending focuses support on high-income households by examining four credits: the Lifetime Learning Credit, American Opportunity Tax Credit, Student Loan Deduction, and Deduction for Higher Education Expenses.  None of these credits pass their “simple test of equity and efficiency”: the bottom 40% of households (those making less than $70,000 annually) do not receive as much aid as the top 40% (those making more than $100,000).  In fact, three out of the four credits benefit the top 40% of households more than all other households combined.

The report concludes with suggestions for Congress to adjust spending so that the neediest families may benefit from these expenditures.

Michigan: The Turnaround State (But Who or What Turned it Around?)

. July 21, 2014

Michigan was already in a deep economic hole when the 2009 recession hit, adding another 400,000 plus lost jobs to the over 400,000 the state had already lost. Unemployment reached 14% that year and personal income dropped to 87% of the national average, tough numbers for the nation’s industrial powerhouse. But things have started turning around, with unemployment dropping to just under 9% and per capita income growing by 3.5%, inching its way to the national average. Housing sales, building permits, and population statistics are also up.

But this good news has triggered a political debate about who caused the turnaround and how, according to Suzanne Weiss in the May 2014 State Legislatures. Legislative minority Democrats point to the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler and Ford’s amazing turnaround (the company mortgaged almost all of its assets to stay in business). Majority Republicans cite a host of 2011 initiatives including a flat 6% corporate income tax (that’s expected to reduce business taxes by about $1.8 billion a year) and a 10-year phase-out of personal property taxes.

Who’s right? Well, we’re not going to jump into this debate, but we would like to suggest that both sides consider University of Michigan professor Scott E. Page’s ideas about complexity, a discipline that draws ideas, concepts, and tools from many other disciplines, including mathematics and economics. Complexity science helps us understand how our choices interact with those of others to create unexpected and unintended outcomes.

While the debate continues, a group of Michigan business leaders put forward a plan in 2009 (updated in 2014) recommending that the state concentrate resources on five assets, in addition to the automotive industry, that could create the most jobs and strengthen the economy:

  1. Play up Michigan’s top ranking with respect to engineers per capita and concentrated technical talent.
  2. Invest in the state’s transportation infrastructure, including the Port of Detroit, one of two U.S. deep water ports that can handle the largest container ships.
  3. Capitalize on Michigan’s leadership in university- and industry-based innovation by making higher education more affordable and strengthening university-business partnerships, among other things. 
  4. Maximize the state’s natural resources by attracting more tourists and boosting agricultural production and exports. 
  5. Capitalize on Michigan’s unique combination of bioscience majors, high quality medical research facilities, and other related assets to make the state an incubation hub for startup pharmaceutical businesses. 

F-35 Cleared for Flight

As reported on CNN.com, the F-35 fleet has been cleared for limited flights following the grounding order after a plane’s engine caught fire in June. After investigations and inspections from the Air Force, the plane’s manufacturer (Lockheed Martin), and the engine’s manufacturer (Pratt & Whitney), the F-35 program has been returned to flying status.

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history with nearly $400 billion already spent and an estimated cost of $135 million per plane.

The article notes that the program has had many overruns and delays, with the engine fire being the most recent. It has also suffered, among other things, software and scheduling setbacks. An analyst states that the glitches now get resolved much faster compared to 18 to 24 months ago.

Hefty Tax Bill for Potato Salad Guy

. July 18, 2014

By now, you have heard about Zack Danger Brown’s Kickstarter campaign for potato salad.  Brown posted the campaign with an initial goal of raising $10 to make his first potato salad, but as of July 17 at 11:35 am, his potato salad project has received $50,740 in pledges from 6,182 donors. 

As the website explains, funds raised on Kickstarter are generally considered taxable.  So Scott Eastman at the Tax Foundation calculated the tax bill Brown can expect to pay on his potato salad project.  Eastman’s calculations work out to a tax bill of just over $21,000 based on $70,912 in donations (the total amount of pledges as of July 9, 2014, which has since decreased as noted above).  That’s an effective tax rate of 32%. 

Income and Taxes Paid by Zach Danger Brown
The Potato Salad Maker From Kickstarter
Source: Tax Foundation Estimates
As of 2:28pm, Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Income
Total Income
$70,912
Income Minus Expenses and 5% Finders Fee
$65,912
Taxable Income
$51,105.47
Taxes
Federal Income
$8,632.22
State Income
$1,712.00
City Income
$1,510.20
Payroll Tax Burden
$9,313.07
Total Tax Burden
$21,167.49
Effective Tax Rate
32.11%
After Tax Income Less Expenses
$44,744.51

Source: Tax Foundation, “$21,000 Tax Bill Just for Some Potato Salad,” July 9, 2014.

Protecting Children from Identity Theft

A June 11, 2014 OLReporter entry summarized eight tips to protect young adults from identity theft, as provided by the Department of Consumer Protection’s May edition of Consumer Watch. Adults are not the only people at risk of identity theft, however.

According to a recent U.S. News and World Report article, a 2011 study found that about 10% of children are identity theft victims before their 18th birthday.  The article attributed targeting children for identity theft to reasons such as children’s Social Security numbers having clean credit files and the credit reports are less likely to be monitored. To help protect a child’s credit from fraud, the article advises parents to (1) learn the signs that indicate a credit history has been compromised, (2) check their children’s credit reports, and (3) consider whether to freeze a child’s credit.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports in its June 2014 State Legislatures magazine that each state has a law on identity theft or impersonation. Twenty-nine states have restitution provisions requiring identity thieves to reimburse victims.

Massachusetts Casino Repeal Referendum

. July 17, 2014

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that a casino repeal measure can appear on the November ballot.  The Court unanimously ruled that the state attorney general made a mistake when she ruled the repeal measure was an unconstitutional taking of the casino developers’ implied contract rights without just compensation.

Casino developers, in an attempt to secure casino licensing, have paid the state’s $400,000 application fee and millions in developing their bids.

According to a Boston Globe poll, 52% of likely voters favored keeping the 2011 gambling law that authorized casinos, while 41% favored repeal.

Hot Report: Marijuana Legalization for Non-Medical Purposes

OLR Report 2014-R-0191 answers the questions: Which states have legalized marijuana for non-medical purposes? What are the concerns about such legalization and how were they addressed? What effect has legalization had on crime in these states?

In November 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington approved ballot initiatives that generally legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for non-medical purposes by adults age 21 and older in those states. They became the first two states to allow marijuana use for non-medical purposes. Both states regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

The stated purposes of the Colorado measure include the efficient use of law enforcement resources, public revenue enhancement, and individual freedom. The stated intent of the Washington measure includes allowing law enforcement resources to focus on violent and property crimes, generating new tax revenue, and shifting marijuana away from illegal organizations into a tightly regulated system such as that which regulates alcohol.

Media reports suggest that concerns about marijuana legalization for non-medical purposes include (1) the drug’s continuing illegal status under federal law; (2) public health risks, such as the possibility of increased marijuana use overall and increased access by children; and (3) public safety concerns, such as maintaining security at the facilities that grow and sell marijuana.

Colorado and Washington attempted to address some of those concerns through their laws or implementing regulations. For example, both states require businesses to be licensed to grow marijuana, manufacture marijuana-infused products, or sell marijuana or such products at retail. Both states’ laws and regulations have various provisions aimed at reducing minors’ access to marijuana or exposure to marijuana advertising. Both states address recordkeeping and security issues and require testing of samples of marijuana and marijuana products. Washington’s initiative requires the state’s nonpartisan public policy institute to conduct cost-benefit evaluations of the initiative’s implementation.

The first retail marijuana stores in Colorado opened in January 2014, and the first such stores were expected to open in Washington July 8, 2014. It is too soon to evaluate the impact of the laws on crime or how well the states have addressed concerns surrounding marijuana legalization for non-medical purposes.

While marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in August 2013 that it would not challenge the Colorado or Washington laws as long as the states maintain strict regulatory control over marijuana.
For more information, read the full report.

Study Finds Almost 18% of High School Seniors Smoke Hookah

According to a recent Time.com article, a study recently published in Pediatrics found almost one out of five high school seniors smoke hookahs (i.e., water pipes used to smoke specially made flavored tobacco).

Researchers at New York University surveyed 15,000 high school seniors at 130 public and private high schools across the country. According to the article, researchers focused on a sample of 5,540 students, inquiring about their hookah use between 2010 and 2012. 

Researchers found that students of higher socioeconomic status were more likely to use hookah. According to study author Joseph Palamar, “Surprisingly, students with more educated parents or higher personal income are at high risk for use.”

The researchers acknowledged that smoking hookah generally occurs less frequently than cigarettes, but expressed concerns about “hookah pens,” which make smoking hookah easier. Similar to e-cigarettes, these devices are suspected to attract “curious” consumers, including non-cigarette smokers.

The State of Black-Owned Banks after the Financial Crisis

. July 16, 2014

The banking industry received significant attention during and after the 2008 financial crisis.  The condition of black-owned banks (BOB) in the wake of the crisis is described in a Summer 2014 Community and Banking article. (The journal is published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.)

According to the article, BOBs are predominately located in communities that other banks might view as unprofitable.  These communities are areas where more than half the residents live below the poverty line and where poverty rates are almost twice the national average, suggesting that BOBs primarily serve the capital needs of low-income customers, while creating jobs and providing job training opportunities in these areas.  

Citing national statistics from the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the article indicates that from 2000 to 2011 there was a sharp decline in the total number of BOBs with only a slight decrease in the total number of branches.  During this same period, the geographic area served by BOBs expanded (measured by the number of unique ZIP codes of account holders) and the average deposits per branch and per bank increased significantly.  Specifically, the statistics show that from 2000 to 2011 the:

  • number of BOBs declined from 51 to 33 (35.3%),
  • number of branches decreased from 163 to 159 (2.5%),
  • number of ZIP codes served expanded from 142 to 150 (5.6%), and
  • average deposits grew to over $10 million per branch office (40.9%) and slightly less than $180 million per bank (159.8%)
These trends suggest that there may have been some consolidation, with a smaller number of BOBs serving a larger number of customers. The consolidation may also have been fueled by the cost advantages of operating on a larger scale and tighter federal bank regulations.  

New Orleans Closes Last Neighborhood Public School, Goes All in with Charter Schools

This fall, the charter school experiment will reach a new plateau as New Orleans become the first city to close the last of its traditional public schools and convert them to public charter schools, the Washington Post reports.

The Post looked back over the history of charter schools, observing

"It has been two decades since the first public charter school opened in Minnesota, conceived as a laboratory where innovations could be tested before their introduction into public schools. Now, 42 states encourage charters as an alternative to conventional schools, and enrollment has been growing, particularly in cities."


But like so much in public education, charter schools are controversial. In New Orleans, the controversy concerns (1) losing the sense of community that comes with a neighborhood school, (2) racial equality, and (3) turning over school management to independent operators who seem less accountable to parents and students, the Post reports.

On the other hand, some charters have shown marked improvement in student performance. According to the Post,

"By most indicators, school quality and academic progress have improved in Katrina’s aftermath, although it’s difficult to make direct comparisons because the student population changed drastically after the hurricane [Katrina], with thousands of students not returning."

Pediatricians to Advise Parents to Read to Infants from Birth

. July 15, 2014

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is asking its 62,000 members to advise parents of newborns to read aloud to their children on a daily basis. Although many more affluent parents read to their children as a matter of course, the AAP has found that many parents do not read to their children as much as they should.

The AAP believes that reading aloud may help reduce the literacy gap between wealthier and low-income children. “Children who are read to during infancy and preschool years have better language skills when they start school and are more interested in reading,” the AAP said. “In addition, parents who spend time reading to their children create nurturing relationships, which is important for a child’s cognitive, language and social-emotional development.”

“If we can get that first 1,000 days of life right,” an assistant professor of pediatrics told the New York Times, “we’re really going to save a lot of trouble later on and have to do far less remediation.”
Another concern of AAP is that parents of all income groups are forgoing reading in favor of having very young children use smartphones and similar technology, the Times reported.

Hot Report: Local Taxes on Leased Cars

OLR Report 2014-R-0189 answers the question: Who is liable for paying local taxes on leased cars in Connecticut, the other New England states, and New Jersey and New York?

People leasing cars in the selected states that levy local motor vehicle taxes and fees generally pay them, unless the lease agreement requires otherwise. Leased and privately owned cars are subject to property taxes in Connecticut; excise taxes in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island; and motor vehicle registration fees in New Hampshire. They are not subject to local taxes in New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

For more information, read the full report.

Satellite Launches to Study Carbon Emissions

Combusting oil and coal produces energy, but also carbon dioxide emissions. Of the estimated 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted per day on earth, half remains in the atmosphere, a quarter is dissolved in the ocean, and the rest is absorbed by plants, but scientists are trying to understand more about when, where, and how plants soak up these emissions. One big question they hope to understand better is how plants have kept pace with fossil fuel emissions that have tripled since 1960.

According to a recent New York Times article, NASA will be launching a satellite to understand better these questions. The satellite will take a million measurements per day with a tool designed to measure the colors of the sunlight as it is reflected by the earth’s surface. The intensity of the color reveals the amount of carbon dioxide the light beam passed through.

A similar mission failed in 2009 when equipment on the satellite malfunctioned, resulting in a crash soon after takeoff.

Farming as a Second Career

. July 14, 2014

Retiring?  Leaving a job?  Consider farming.  According to The New York Times, the 2013 Economic Report of the President notes that one-third of beginning farmers (i.e., those who have been farming fewer than 10 years) “are over age 55, indicating that many farmers move into agriculture only after retiring from a different career.”  Additionally, the report found that the average age of farmers and ranchers in the United States has been increasing over time.

The New York Times article features Connecticut-resident Debra Sloane, whose position with Cisco Systems was eliminated in 2013.  She now operates a backyard farm in Washington, Connecticut; sells produce at local farmers’ markets; and runs a community-supported agriculture program (CSA).  She has 11 CSA customers who pay her in advance in exchange for weekly portions of fruits and vegetables throughout the summer.

Road Trip: Midwestern Modernist Architecture

Heading west this summer?  As part of its “Fifty Reasons to Love the Road Trip” series, the Wall Street Journal maps sites between Cleveland and Chicago for the road tripping architecture-lover.  According to the article, there is a concentration of modern and contemporary architecture in the Midwest thanks to preservation efforts and a recent museum-building boom.  Noteworthy sites include:

  • the faceted, mirrored-glass structure housing the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland (pictured below);
  • the mid-century modern Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, designed by Gateway Arch-architect Eero Saarinen;
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's glass-walled Farnsworth house, built as a weekend retreat outside of Chicago; and
  • the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruises, where docents describe over 50 buildings in the skyscraper’s birthplace.

Are “Super Paralegals” Coming to Connecticut?

. July 11, 2014

As reported in the Connecticut Law Tribune, a Connecticut Bar Association task force has recommended that the state consider allowing certain nonlawyers to offer some basic legal services.  The article refers to these people as “so-called super paralegals or legal technicians.”

The recommendation was made by the CBA’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education and Standards of Admission.  Specifically, the task force report states that:

Recognizing that much legal work is already being performed by individuals with credentials less than fully licensed attorneys . . . the concept should be expanded so that non-lawyers be permitted to offer some basic legal services to the public. This would be a post-bachelor’s degree training (more than a paralegal but less than a JD) and it is expected that if the [Superior Court] Rules Committee permitted such practitioners, schools would happily train them and consumers would likely utilize them.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth Shluger chaired the task force.  According to the article, he believes the number of people who cannot afford traditional legal services “has reached a crisis point” and allowing trained non-lawyers to offer certain legal services “is one way the justice gap can be met.”  He suggests that the place to start may be cases with a “high concentration of self-represented parties” such as simple divorces and landlord-tenant disputes.

The article notes that before allowing this type of legal representation in the state, “many questions regarding consumer protection issues and the impact on small law firms and solo practitioners would have to be answered.”

For more information, see the full article, which appeared in the June 23, 2014 Connecticut Law Tribune.

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Sends Letter to State DOTs Regarding Highway Trust Fund

According to the US DOT’s website, the Highway Account of the federal Highway Trust Fund, which gets most of its money from the federal gas tax, is expected to become insolvent by the end of August. On July 1st, U.S. DOT Secretary Foxx sent a letter to state DOTs outlining cash management procedures for the Highway Account. In the letter, Foxx states that the Federal Highway Administration will reduce payments and distribute incoming funds in proportion to each state’s federal apportionment for the current fiscal year. He also states that the U.S. DOT will restrict travel and administrative expenses as much as possible to conserve funds.

Legislation that would provide $302 billion for infrastructure projects and replenish the Highway Trust Fund has failed to gain bipartisan support in Congress. According to the CT Mirror, this could affect more than 80 Connecticut transportation projects. Without a funding bill, Secretary Foxx stated that payments for road projects would be reduced by about 28%.

DOH and CHFA Release FY 15 Schedule for Competitive Funding Rounds

. July 10, 2014

The Connecticut Department of Housing (DOH) and Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) recently released their schedule for competitive funding rounds.  The schedule lists each program for which funding is available in FY 15 and delineates eligible projects, application deadlines, and funding availability, among other things.  For housing developers and owners seeking funding, the schedule provides more details about which opportunities are best suited to their circumstances. 

Seniors Can Often Simplify Prescriptions

Simple beats complicated, especially when it comes to a routine for taking prescription drugs. A new study finds that many seniors could simplify their routines — resulting in fewer forgotten doses — by talking to their physicians.

The study, published in Patient Education and Counseling, surveyed 200 seniors age 70 and older about their routine for taking medication and examined their prescriptions. The study found that 85 of the seniors could reduce the number of times per day they took medicine by at least once a day and 32 could reduce it by twice a day.

The reasons for over-complication, according to the study, included:

  • concern about interactions with food and other prescriptions and
  • not understanding prescription instructions.
The study recommends seniors talk to their doctors about how they take their medications, including when they take them and how many times per day.

State Supreme Court Affirms Prior Decisions on Disclosure of Law Enforcement Records

. July 9, 2014

The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires law enforcement agencies to disclose certain information about a person’s arrest. (CGS § 1-215). In a recent case (Commissioner of Public Safety v. Freedom of Information Commission), the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that, during a pending prosecution, the agency must release only the arrest information specified in the statute.

The case stems from a 1993 state supreme court case and legislation passed in its aftermath. In Gifford v. Freedom of Information Commission, 227 Conn. 641 (1993), the court considered whether FOIA at that time required the disclosure of a police report during a pending criminal prosecution. The court held that, during a pending prosecution, an agency had to disclose only the name and address of the person arrested; the date, time, and place of the arrest; and the offense for which he or she was arrested.

In response, the legislature passed PA 94-246, which expanded the disclosure requirement to include at least (1) the arrest report, (2) the incident report, or (3) a news release or similar report of the arrest. The act gave the agency the discretion to determine which of these reports to release.
In the most recent case (Commissioner of Public Safety) the Freedom of Information Commission argued that, in requiring the disclosure of certain arrest information, CGS § 1-215 does not allow agencies to withhold other records from disclosure. Rather, it argued that PA 94-246 made those records subject to disclosure under FOIA generally, and the agency must cite a specific FOIA exemption in order to withhold them.

In rejecting this argument, the court noted that PA 94-246 did not disturb the holding in Gifford that, during pending prosecutions, CGS § 1-215 governs agencies’ disclosure obligations. Instead, the act simply required the agencies to disclose certain additional information.

Hot Report: Department of Correction and Judicial Branch Residential Housing Facilities

OLR Report 2014-R-0197 answers the questions: How many residential programs are operated by or under contract with the Department of Correction (DOC) and Judicial Branch?  Where are they located?  How many beds are available?

Other OLR Reports list residential housing programs operated by or under contract with other state agencies: 

  • 2014-R-0078 (departments of Developmental Services, Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), and Children and Families operated or funded group homes)
  • 2014-R-0194 (emergency, supportive, and affordable housing receiving Department of Housing funds)
  • 2014-R-0195 (nursing homes receiving funds from the Department of Social Services)
As of July 2013, DOC contracted with 25 nonprofit community agencies for 47 residential programs with 1,167 residential beds located in 19 different towns (DOC, Directory of Contracted Community Programs, July 2013).  While most of these programs have a specific address, 14 offer scattered site supportive housing beds and we do not have the addresses for these locations.
 
According to the Judicial Branch, as of May 2014, the branch operated two juvenile detention centers, contracted for 14 residential programs, and purchased beds from an additional 21 programs operated under DMHAS or DOC contracts.  These programs offered a total of 726 beds in FY 14.  They operate in 14 different towns and one offers scattered site apartments for which we do not have an address.
For more information, read the full report.

OLR Blog Survey: We Want to Hear From You!

We’re asking you, our readers, to let us know what you think of the blog and how we can improve your reading experience. Here is a link to our (brief, we promise) reader survey, which closes Sunday, July 13.

Thanks in advance for your participation!

Response of Public Benefit Programs to Rise In Parental Unemployment

The Urban Institute recently published a fact sheet on the response of public benefit programs to the increase in parental unemployment during the recent recession (specifically, 2007-2012). The researchers looked at certain programs supporting children over those five years and found that enrollment in some programs rose along with the unemployment rate while others appeared less responsive. As depicted in Table 1, the researchers found that enrollment in unemployment insurance (UI) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) rose dramatically from 2007 to 2009, while enrollment in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) remained relatively stable.

Table 1: Growth in Public Benefit Programs Supporting Children


Source: Urban Institute, Public Supports When Parents Lose Work: A Fact Sheet

In the accompanying research brief, researchers noted that during the recession, most low-income families were able to access at least some public assistance (in the form of cash, food, or both) when one or both parents were unemployed. However, they also found that many families receiving some form of assistance still struggled economically and were food insecure. But, according to the brief, “without the safety net, unemployed parents would have found it more of a challenge to meet their children’s basic needs.”

Impact of California Teacher Tenure Ruling May Reach Across the Nation

. July 8, 2014

A nonprofit organization dedicated to sponsoring public education impact litigation has won a California Superior Court case challenging state teacher tenure laws, and it has expressed its intention to file suit in other states as well.

The National School Board Association reports that the organization Students Matter filed suit on behalf of nine California public school students, alleging that five state statutes violate students’ right to equal protection under the state constitution.  In Vergara v. California, they argued that these laws impacted poor and minority students’ right to education equality and disproportionately burdened them by allowing grossly ineffective teachers to evade termination.  A Superior Court judge agreed.
The court concluded that all of the challenged statutes were unconstitutional. 

It found California’s two-year probationary period for teachers was insufficient for making a tenure award decision.

It also struck down the state teacher dismissal statutes, finding that the time and cost of complying with the laws caused school districts to be reluctant to initiate teacher dismissal procedures.  It held that the laws create a complex and expensive process to dismiss grossly ineffective teachers that was not effective, efficient, or fair.

Additionally, the court struck down California’s “last in, first out” statute that requires teachers to be laid off in order of seniority rather than performance level.  The court found it unconstitutional, refusing to agree that California had a compelling interest “in de facto separation of students from competent teachers, and a like interest in the de facto retention of incompetent ones.”

The court declined to enforce its decision, allowing the challenged laws to stand pending higher court review.  The New York Times reports that Students Matter is considering filing similar suits in other states, such as Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon.

Connecticut’s Opportunity for Economic Mobility Ranked Consistently High in 40 Year Analysis

A recent report, issued by Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan organization working to promote economic mobility, and Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, cited Connecticut as one of two states with consistently high opportunity for economic mobility from 1970 to 2010.

The report measured 10 factors in three categories:

  1. Economy: unemployment rate, median household income, percent of people below the poverty line, and the Gini Index of income inequality.
  2. Education: percentage of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool, percentage of high school freshmen that graduate in four years, and percentage of adults with an associate’s degree or higher.
  3. Community: violent crime per 100,000 people, people aged 16 to 24 not in school nor employed, and medical doctors per 100,000 people.
Each of the three categories was given equal weight and then a score was calculated for 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010.

Farmers Insurance Co. Sues Local Governments for Ignoring Climate Change, Then Withdraws Suit

. July 7, 2014

In May, the Chicago Tribune reported on a class action lawsuit by Farmers Insurance Co. against nearly 200 Chicago-area local governments.  The insurer alleged that the governments should have done more to plan for severe weather tied to climate change.  It sought reimbursement for claims it paid to homeowners for a 2013 April rainstorm that overwhelmed municipal sewer and storm water drains, causing significant damages to flooded properties.

But as the Tribune subsequently reported in June, Farmers “took the defendants by surprise” by withdrawing the lawsuit shortly after filing it.  Farmers spokesman Trent Frager told the Tribune that “company officials had hoped the suit would encourage cities and counties to do more to reduce the risks of future flooding.”

Hot Report: OLR Backgrounder: Continuing Education for Health Professionals

OLR Report 2014-R-0141 provides a brief overview of state continuing education requirements for health professionals. It updates OLR Report 2012-R-0285.

State law requires continuing education for license renewal for several categories of health professions. Generally, the applicable law or regulations (1) define basic continuing education requirements; (2) specify qualifying activities; (3) establish a system to document that a professional satisfied the continuing education requirement; and (4) allow the relevant agency to waive the requirement in certain circumstances, such as a medical disability.

Table 1 in the report lists all health-related professionals regulated by the Department of Public Health who must complete continuing education for state license or certification renewal. The table also includes pharmacists, who are licensed by the Department of Consumer Protection. (The table does not include emergency medical technicians, who are required to complete refresher training, or tattoo technicians, who are required to complete a course on preventing disease transmission and blood-borne pathogens, for recertification or license renewal.)
For more information, read the full report.