Insurance Against Disasters

. September 4, 2015

On August 12, 2015 two large explosions occurred at the Chinese port of Tianjin. The port is the world’s third largest port by cargo volume, and early estimates of total insurance losses exceed $1 billion. Several car manufacturers, including Volkswagen, Ford, Hyundai, and Renault, are among the businesses with large losses that are expected to make claims. In a report released just before the explosion, the industry news website Business Insurance notes disaster claims fell by nearly one-third in the first six months of the year. According to the report, “insurance covered nearly 45% of the losses, up from the average for the past 10 years of 27%.” It is not clear how the Tianjin disaster will affect these numbers.  

Disasters, both natural and manmade, pose unique risks for businesses, insurers, and reinsurers, especially in Connecticut. According to the Connecticut Insurance Department’s (CID) Disaster Preparedness and Recovery website, 65% of all insured property in the state is on the coastline, totaling over $560 billion.

Insuring a business may be more complicated than insuring a residence, but it’s just as important.  According to a presentation hosted by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, 40% of businesses do not reopen after a disaster and another 25% fail within a year of one.  Connecticut’s CT Recovers website includes an insurance checklist to help businesses insure against economic loss from disasters. In addition to physical goods and property, businesses may also want to insure against interruptions to the business or its supply chain.

CT Recovers and CID also have information to help individuals, businesses, and municipalities prepare for disasters.

Updated Report—OLR’s 2015 Major Public Acts

. September 3, 2015

The Office of Legislative Research has updated its 2015 Major Public Acts report to include additional acts passed during the June Special Session.  The report briefly describes the most significant, far-reaching, and publicly debated acts passed by the General Assembly in its 2015 regular and special sessions. New laws are listed by their public act (PA) numbers.

Not all provisions of the acts are included in the report. Detailed summaries of all PAs will be provided in our 2015 Public Act Summary book, which will be available later this year. Most summaries are already available online at the General Assembly’s website and OLR’s webpage.

Hot Report: Acts Affecting Seniors

. September 2, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0150 provides highlights of new state laws affecting seniors enacted during the 2015 regular and special legislative sessions.

Some of the policy areas covered in the report include:

  • a right to civil cause of action for elder abuse
  • expanded training for direct care workers
  • prohibitions on inheritances following abuse
  • an expansion of the list of professionals who are mandated reporters
  • Medicaid over-the-counter drug coverage expansion
  • changes to Continuing Care Retirement Communities
  • full state income tax exemption for military retirement income 
Read the full report for information about the laws passed in each of these areas and several others. 

Construction Begins on First Offshore Wind Farm

. September 1, 2015

Last month, construction began on what the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects to be the nation’s first offshore wind farm.   Located three miles southeast of Block Island, Rhode Island, the Block Island Wind Farm is expected to come online in 2016 with five turbines totaling 30 megawatts of generation capacity. 

According to the EIA, there is an estimated 8.8 gigawatts (GW) of installed global offshore wind turbine capacity worldwide; 90% of which is in Europe.  Offshore wind turbines can take advantage of more consistent wind speeds over the ocean, which allows for greater utilization rates than onshore wind turbines.  However, offshore projects are significantly more expensive to build and maintain due to factors such as transporting equipment and workers to the sites, securing the turbines to the bottom of the ocean, and the need for greater maintenance due to the harsher offshore environment. 

Click here to read more at the EIA’s website.

New OLR Report Highlights Acts Affecting Banking

. August 31, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0169  highlights new laws (Public Acts) affecting banking enacted during the 2015 legislative session. Among other things, the new laws:
  • require the banking commissioner to create the position of student loan borrower ombudsman within the Banking Department;
  • add topics that must be included in any state-prepared financial literacy instruction plan;
  • extend the state’s foreclosure mediation plan for three years, until July 1, 2019;
  • allow a minor’s parent or legal guardian to request a credit agency to place a security freeze on the minor’s credit report and requires the agency to do so within five days of the request;
  • make many banking law changes, including:
    • allowing Connecticut-licensed mortgage correspondent lenders to act as mortgage servicers without obtaining a mortgage servicer license under specified conditions and
    • substantially conforming the Connecticut-Truth-in-Lending Act to the comparable federal act;
  • enact the Uniform Power of Attorney Act;
  • require the Aging Commission to create a forum and clearinghouse for best practices and free training resources to help financial institutions and agents detect fraud, exploitation, and financial abuse of elderly consumers; and
  • expressly allow lenders to repossess vehicles by contracting with licensed wreckers or entities exempted from licensure.
Read the full report here.

National Labor Relations Board Dismisses Northwestern University Football Players’ Unionization Petition

. August 28, 2015

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently dismissed a unionization petition filed by football players at Northwestern University. The players had previously prevailed in an April 2014 decision issued by the regional director of NLRB’s Chicago office and held a unionizing election shortly thereafter. However, the election results were impounded after the university appealed to the full board.

In dismissing the petition, the board did not directly address the regional director’s decision or rule on the issue of whether the players were employees for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which would allow them to unionize. Instead, the board declined to exercise its jurisdiction to hear the matter, stating that asserting jurisdiction would not effectuate the NLRA’s purposes. It noted that asserting jurisdiction in a case involving scholarship football players would be unprecedented by the board. The board also observed that, because most scholarship football players compete for public institutions (which are not under NLRB’s jurisdiction), asserting jurisdiction would not promote stability in labor relations.

NLRB added that its decision was limited only to the specific petition filed by the Northwestern players and that it does not address what the board’s approach might be to a petition involving a broader class of college athletes.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/08/17/national-labor-relations-board-declines-assert-role-northwestern-football-union

https://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/news-story/board-unanimously-decides-decline-jurisdiction-northwestern-case (has link to actual decision, which is in a pdf)

Connecticut's Fracking Waste Moratorium

. August 27, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0178 describes Connecticut's fracking waste moratorium and related requirements of Public Act (PA) 14-200.

Fracking is the process of pumping fluid into or under the surface of the ground to create fractures in rock for exploration, development, production, or recovery of natural gas. It does not include the drilling or repair of a geothermal water well or any other well drilled or repaired for drinking water purposes (CGS § 22a-472).

The moratorium applies to anyone who accepts, receives, collects, stores, treats, disposes of, or transfers fracking waste between vehicles or other modes of transportation. The moratorium lasts until the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) adopts regulations to control hazardous fracking waste material. DEEP must submit the regulations to the legislature's Regulations Review Committee between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018, and until they are approved, all fracking waste activities are prohibited.

Read the complete report for more details about the fracking moratorium.

HOT REPORT: ACTS AFFECTING ENERGY AND TECHNOLOGY

. August 26, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0174 highlights new state laws enacted during the 2015 regular and special sessions affecting energy and technology. 

Included are new laws:
  • extending, by two years, Connecticut Green Bank's anaerobic digestion pilot program;
  • authorizing a two-year Department of Energy and Environmental Protection pilot program to support the development of shared clean energy facilities;
  • expanding Connecticut Green Bank's residential solar investment program to include supporting up to 300 MW of new residential solar PV installations by 2022;
  • prohibiting electric suppliers from entering into or automatically renewing variable rate contracts for residential electric generation;
  • allowing municipal gas and utility company customers to pay required security deposits by cash, letter of credit, or surety bond; and
  • prohibiting employers from requesting or requiring employees or job applicants to provide information needed to access their personal online accounts.
Read the full report for more information on these and other recently enacted energy and technology related laws.

New Game Illustrates Driverless Car Benefits

. August 25, 2015

According to experts, driverless cars could be on our roads sooner than we think (estimates range from five to 20 years). Many of the potential benefits of these cars are obvious, such as eliminating accidents caused by distracted, drunk, or drowsy driving. But these cars also have the potential to affect commutes significantly in perhaps a less obvious way: reduced traffic congestion.

Driverless cars will likely be able to drive closer together and accelerate and decelerate at the same rate, significantly reducing stop-and-go traffic and the accidents it causes. A new game—“Error Prone”—illustrates how driverless cars can travel closely together—and how quickly human error can mess everything up.

As Wired notes, the game is limited in its analogy because it only simulates highway driving, where there are not intersections or cyclists and pedestrians. But, as Wired points out, that’s where autonomous driving will happen first, and it’s the place that we’ll see improved traffic flow.

According to Paul Lewis, director of policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, “A lot of freeway congestion today isn’t necessarily caused by an accident, it’s just caused by too many cars on the road, and you get a lot of bunching,” especially when someone brakes too hard. Driverless cars will slow down only as much as needed and brake only when it’s necessary, thus significantly improving traffic flow. But reduced congestion on the highways has a downside—it could mean more cars on the highway, and therefore more traffic when the cars come off the highways onto city streets.

But, while you wait for driverless cars to make it to our highways, you can try your hand at “Error Prone” here!

2015 State of the Nation’s Housing Report

. August 24, 2015

Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies recently released its 2015 State of the Nation’s Housing report.  The Center summarizes its findings by noting that the nation’s:

housing recovery lost momentum in 2014 as homeownership rates continued to fall, single-family construction remained near historic lows, and existing home sales cooled . . . [but] the rental market remained a bright spot, fueled by strong growth in renter households. With rents rising and incomes well below pre-recession levels, though, the number of housing cost-burdened renters set another record, far surpassing public efforts to provide affordable housing.

Among other statistics, the Center reports that:

  • the national homeownership rate has fallen back to 1993 levels, and “generation X took most of the hit from the housing bust;”
  • there has been very high demand for rental units and it’s not just because of millennials — households aged 45–64 account for about twice the share of renter growth compared to households under the age of 35; and
  • mortgage delinquency rates have fallen by half since the peak of the foreclosure crisis, but loans that are seriously delinquent are concentrated in relatively few neighborhoods, which have disproportionately large shares of minority and low-income residents.
Source: the Center’s 2015 report



Acts Affecting Environment

. August 21, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0156 provides highlights of new laws (Public Acts) affecting the environment passed during the 2015 regular and special legislative sessions. 

Policy areas include, among other things:

  • Boating
  • Brownfields
  • Fishing and Hunting
  • Land Use and Open Space
  • Long Island Sound
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Pesticides
  • Water Pollution
Read the full report here.

A Review of Private Insurance Coverage of Contraception in Five States

. August 20, 2015

The federal Affordable Care Act requires most private health insurance plans to cover, without cost-sharing, all prescribed Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved contraceptive supplies and services. Federal guidance allows plans to apply reasonable medical management (RMM) techniques to control costs and promote efficient care.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation article reviewed coverage in five states (California, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas). Researchers evaluated 20 different insurance carriers’ coverage policies for 12 prescribed contraceptive methods (excluding oral contraceptives) to determine how they applied RMM techniques.

According to the article, plans varied in how they interpreted and implemented the contraceptive coverage requirement. Specifically, researchers found a higher number of plans limited certain contraceptive methods. For example, health carriers were least likely to cover the NuvaRing (a vaginal ring), with only 12 out of 20 providing coverage without cost sharing or RMM limitations. As another example, while most carriers covered the Plan B emergency contraceptive (EC) pill, only 11 carriers covered the ella EC, which is effective longer and preferable for women with a higher body mass index.

Additionally, researchers found that none of the carriers established a formal process for beneficiaries to contest coverage limitations on preventive services. They were also unable to confirm whether carriers had an expedited appeal process that would allow women timely access to emergency contraceptives not covered under their policies.

Click here to access the full report.

Public College Funding Trend Receives Attention from Connecticut Lawmakers

. August 19, 2015

This past legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly passed an act requiring the Planning Commission for Higher Education and the Office of Policy and Management to convene a working group to investigate higher education concepts such as outcomes-based funding (PA 15-75).  This funding model for public higher education institutions, also known as performance-based funding, is currently used by 26 other states and was recently spotlighted by The Pew Charitable Trusts in its Stateline publication.


The outcomes-based funding model is unique because it does not use enrollments to drive state appropriations for public institutions; instead, it focuses on outcomes such as retention and graduation rates and graduates’ wages, among other metrics.  Florida based 8.8% of its state university spending on outcomes-based funding this fiscal year, while other states (Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio) spent over half of their higher education budgets using this model.  Tennessee budgeted almost 100% of its funds using an outcomes-based formula.

Stateline reports that presently the effects of this funding model are inconclusive.  Self-reporting by universities indicates positive effects on student achievement; the University of Tennessee, for example, reports that graduation rates have risen and the university has improved its academic advising in the wake of outcomes-based funding. 

Formal studies of the funding model’s effects, however, are hesitant to declare the model a success without additional statistical analysis.  Stateline reports that researchers feel they must further “disentangle” performance funding from other factors that affect colleges, such as decisions made by presidents and faculty, requests by accrediting agencies, grants received from foundations or the federal government, and public pressures.

Acts Affecting Animals and Agriculture

. August 18, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0164 provides highlights of new laws affecting animals and agriculture passed during the 2015 regular and special legislative sessions.

Policy areas include:

  • Agricultural Science Centers
  • Agricultural Hearing Officers
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy Services
  • Animal Control Officers (ACO)
  • Animal Research or Testing
  • Bond Authorizations
  • Commercial Fishery Reforms
  • Community Investment Account (CIA)
  • Connecticut-Grown Farm Products
  • Farm Wineries
  • Farmers' Market Beer Sales Permit
  • Farmland Restoration Program
  • Industrial Hemp
  • Noise-Making Devices
  • Raw Milk Herd Shares
  • Shellfish
  • Veterans to Agriculture Program

Read the full report here.

Coffee Pod versus Pot Brewing – Environmental Impacts

. August 17, 2015

A 2015 article in The Atlantic summarizes the arguments in the debate over which is better for the environment – individual pod brewing (such as Keurig’s K-cups) or coffee pot brewing.

Focusing primarily on K-cups, the argument against pods is that some types are not easily biodegradable, recyclable, or reusable. To recycle them, their parts must be separated into paper, plastic, and metal components. And not many facilities specialize in recycling the pod’s specific plastic type.

But a traditional coffee pot brewing is not without its own environmental impacts. Traditional pots use more electricity to keep a pot warm. They also use more coffee. Coffee beans are a water-intensive crop so unused coffee represents wasted water.

The article, citing a journalist who authored a book on coffee use, reports that instant coffee is actually the most sustainable way to make your daily cup o’ joe. So, Sanka, anyone?

Do Payment Text Reminders Help People Improve their Credit?

. August 14, 2015

Yes, but only for people with low credit scores, according to a new working paper from the Boston Federal Reserve.  After conducting a field experiment during the 2013 tax season on approximately 1,000 low- to middle-income tax payers, the study’s authors found that monthly text reminders:

  • improved credit scores by 23-24 points for people who began with low scores (below 584),
  • had no effect on those with scores between 584 and 671, and
  • decreased credit scores by 17 to 18 points for people with high scores above 672.
For people with low scores, the authors found that the text reminders helped reduce their debt and improve their payment patterns.  Those in the middles level had improved payment patterns but no effect on their credit scores, possibly because it takes longer for a positive payment pattern to affect a score than a negative one.  For people with high credit scores, the authors state that the reminders may have led them to slacken their financial self-discipline.
 
Click here to read the full paper.

Summary of Suitability Issue in Kuck v. Danaher

. August 13, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0136 summarizes the issues discussed in a recent federal district court decision as to whether a state law requiring a person be found “suitable” to hold a gun permit violates the 2nd Amendment.

The case involved M. Peter Kuck, whose application to renew his gun permit was denied when he refused to submit a passport or birth certificate as part of the renewal application, and James Goldberg, whose gun permit was revoked as a result of his arrest for 2nd degree breach of the peace. Both men were deemed unsuitable to hold a permit, which is required to carry handguns in Connecticut. In their court challenge, the men alleged that the determination that they were not suitable to hold a gun permit violated their 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The court said that although the term “suitable” [as used in the gun permit statute] is not statutorily defined, “Connecticut courts have made clear that the purpose of imposing a suitability requirement is to ensure that persons who potentially would pose a danger to the public if entrusted with a handgun do not receive a permit.” Applying the intermediate scrutiny standard of review used by most district courts in determining the constitutionality of firearm regulations, the court concluded that the challenged statute was not unconstitutional.

Click here to read more about the case and the court’s decision in the full report.

News of Interest for Older Americans

. August 12, 2015

New Website and Resource: www.aging.gov
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently launched a new website, aging.gov, which consolidates several services for older Americans, including information on healthy aging, elder justice, Social Security, and Medicare. The website was launched in coordination with the 2015 White House Conference on Aging. The White House holds a Conference on Aging each decade to “identify and advance actions to improve the quality of life for older Americans.” The conference brings together legislators, policy leaders, community activists, and others to consider ways to better meet the needs of older Americans going forward.

Connecticut Ranks High in Well Being of Older Americans
Gallup’s new report, “State of American Well-Being” ranks each state according to the well-being of older Americans. The report measured the following five categories: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. Connecticut ranks 10th overall, with high marks in the social (8th), financial (13th), and physical (2nd) well-being categories. The report takes into account several factors, including exercise frequency, healthy eating habits, and access to a personal doctor. Hawaii ranked 1st overall, and West Virginia ranked last.

The “Oldest Old”
In other news, the New York Times profiled New YorkCity’s “oldest old” population, those age 85 and older. The age group is one of the city’s fastest growing demographic groups.


A REVIEW OF STATE FLAGSHIP UNIVERSITY FOUNDATIONS IN COMPARISON TO UCONN’S FOUNDATION

. August 11, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0073 provides the (1) Freedom of Information (FOI) requirements, (2) fundraising duties, and (3) total fundraising revenue secured in the past three to five years, of four university foundations in comparison to UConn’s foundation. The foundations include the University of Florida Foundation, the University of Georgia Foundation, the Iowa State University Foundation, and the Ohio State University Foundation. 

While Connecticut law specifically exempts public university foundations from the state’s FOI laws, the other states provide broad to limited exemptions. Generally, the exemptions cover donors’ and prospective donors’ identities and personal financial records, but the laws vary in terms of which specific records they exempt from disclosure.

Each foundation serves as its related institution’s primary fundraising arm.  Managing university endowments; overseeing private gifts and grants from alumni, partnerships, corporations, and trusts; and providing fundraising services are some of the main responsibilities of these foundations.

According to foundation audit reports, financial statements, and official websites, the average contribution secured by each foundation in the past three to five fiscal years ranges from $37.5 million to $160 million. 

Economic Development Tax Credits in Northeastern States

. August 10, 2015

OLR Report 2015-R-0138 outlines the economic development tax credits available to partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and other “pass-through entities in New England.

Unlike corporations, pass-through entities are not subject to a corporation business tax. Consequently, they cannot claim the corporation business tax credits most states offer for creating jobs, researching and developing new products, acquiring new machinery and equipment, or making other types of investments and expenditures. Some states, however, extend these tax incentives to pass-through entities, allowing their owners and partners to claim credits against their personal income taxes.

To review the categories of tax credits and the specific tax credits available to pass-through entities under each category, click here to read the full report.


Historic Preservation in Connecticut

. August 7, 2015

Curious about the history behind a historical site in your town?  ConnecticutHistory.org, a project of Connecticut Humanities (the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), profiles historic events, people, and structures in Connecticut. Recent articles describe:

  • how the evolution of industry and transportation in the Northeast shaped New Canaan’s identity;
  • the origins and demise of Bridgeport’s Steeplechase Island;
  • the state’s first state parks, which include Sherwood Island State Park, Mount Tom State Park, and Kent Falls State Park; and
  • canal fever” in Connecticut, a period following the completion of the Erie Canal during which the Farmington and Enfield canals were built.
Entrance to Steeplechase Island, Bridgeport
Steeplechase Island, ca. 1900-1910, via Connecticut History.org