Feds Want Kids to Swim Safely

. June 30, 2011

As the hot weather increased this spring, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission kicked off its second year of warning parents about the dangers of swimming pools and spas for young children.

The commission released statistics showing that an average of 383 children younger than 15 drowned in pool and spas between 2006 and 2008, with most of the fatalities occurring in a home pool or spa. About three quarters of these deaths involved children younger than five.

Tips on reducing these dangers can be found at the commission’s website.

The pool safely campaign is part of the commission’s efforts to comply with the 2007 federal Pool and Spa Safety Act. The act imposed new safety requirements and called for a national public education campaign to increase public awareness of the problem.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona’s Matching Grants

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court this month struck down Arizona’s provision of supplemental grants to publicly financed candidates who face high-spending opponents, reversing a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Opinions. The Arizona law is similar to the “trigger” provisions which were formerly part of Connecticut’s Citizens Elections Program but removed after they were found unconstitutional by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2010.

The Court wrote that the supplemental grants unconstitutionally burden the free speech rights of nonparticipating candidates and independent expenditure groups. It also held that Arizona did not present sufficient evidence that the matching grants served an anticorruption interest.

Policing the Police

. June 29, 2011

According to a recent National Public Radio article, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating 15 police departments to determine whether officers are discriminating against minorities or using too much force.

Since the start of the Obama administration, the DOJ has launched investigations all over the country. They include tracking how many minorities are stopped and frisked and how many times police use guns or other weapons against suspects.

After an 11 month investigation of the New Orleans Police Department, the DOJ found widespread racial profiling, unconstitutional searches, and the failure to investigate rape and domestic violence.

The DOJ has stated that unlike under previous administrations, they want to stick around to ensure these problems are really solved before turning their attention to other things.

The Girls Next Door

The May online edition of Vanity Fair proclaims human trafficking – the commercial sexual exploitation of children and women via the Internet, strip clubs, escort services, and on-street prostitution - is on its way to becoming one of the worst crimes in America. Although much of the focus on this issue has involved foreign-born victims smuggled into the United States, a sizeable number are “the girls next door” – American girls as young as 13 who fall prey to pimps after being subjected to the pimp’s careful grooming. Victims frequently come from dysfunctional families with no positive male role model and little emotional support.

Two of the central figures in the article are young teen girls, induced by promises of heroin to fuel their addictions, whose pimp repeatedly raped and beat them and forced them to perform sex acts with many men in Hartford and surrounding towns.

Obama Administration Targets Medical Errors

. June 28, 2011

The White House recently announced a new $1 billion patient-safety program on the heels of a study published in Health Affairs indicating that one-third of hospital patients experience some type of medical error or accident and that 7% of these are permanently harmed or die as a result. The program, “Partnership for Patients,” is funded by the new federal health care reform law and is a partnership between private insurers, businesses leaders, hospitals, and patient advocates. Over the next three years, the program intends to reduce the number of preventable hospital acquired infections by 40% and the number of hospital readmissions by 20%.

Watch Out for Moose

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is urging drivers to be cautious of moose, which have been sighted along the Merritt Parkway and I-84 in western Connecticut.

According to the DEP, Connecticut’s moose population is growing steadily, with more than 100 currently in the state. Most sightings and moose-related accidents have been in northern and western Connecticut, but moose can travel long distances. The DEP expects the moose to begin moving into the southern parts of the state.

DEP suggests drivers stay alert, especially around dawn, dusk, and after dark, when moose are the most active. Moose sightings should be reported to the DEP at (860) 424-3333.

Alleged Reckless Lending Leads to Department of Justice Lawsuit

. June 27, 2011

According to a recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, DOJ has filed a mortgage fraud civil lawsuit against Deutsche Bank AG and its subsidiary MortgageIT, Inc. for violations of the False Claims Act and common law for MortgageIT’s residential mortgage origination and sponsorship practices.

Alleged in the Complaint:

• between 1999 and 2009, MortgageIT was a federally-approved direct endorsement lender and endorsed over 39,000 mortgages for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insurance, totaling more than $5 billion in mortgage obligations;

• these mortgages were insured under FHA insurance, marketable for resale to investors, and MortgageIT and Deutsche Bank profited from their resale;

• MortgageIT made false certifications to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for approval of mortgages that were wrongfully endorsed for FHA insurance by MortgageIT;

• the mortgages were not eligible for FHA insurance but MortgageIT falsely certified that MortgageIT conducted the HUD-required due diligence; and

• MortgageIT and Deutsche Bank falsely certified that they had required quality control procedures.

The Complaint seeks treble damages and penalties for the insurance claims that HUD has already paid and compensatory and punitive damages for breach of fiduciary duty, gross negligence, negligence, and indemnification for future claims HUD expects to pay.

According to the DOJ press release, FHA has paid insurance claims totaling $386 million on at least 3,100 mortgages MortgageIT endorsed. Under FHA’s direct endorsement lender program, participating lenders can endorse mortgages qualified for FHA insurance. The lenders are fiduciaries of HUD for endorsing and underwriting mortgages for FHA insurance. FHA insurance protects lenders against mortgage defaults.

Collect Unemployment Benefits Using a Debit Card

Governor Malloy has announced that the state’s Department of Labor is going paperless for its unemployment checks. People receiving unemployment benefits had to choose in January whether to r have the money directly deposited into a bank account or receive a Visa debit card. According to a press release, the governor expects the state to save more than $300,000 a month by not having to print and mail 140,000 weekly checks..

The state also launched a related website to help explain the change.

The change will also have an additional benefit: unemployed people without a bank account won’t have to visit a check-cashing company and pay a fee to cash their check.

Overlap and Fragmentation of Federal Economic Development Programs

. June 24, 2011

Recent research by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) explores duplication and fragmentation in federal economic development programs.

GAO examined 80 economic development programs across four agencies—the Departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture and the Small Business Administration. These programs include a variety of approaches to economic development, but not tax credit programs. The research found that each of the 80 programs appears to overlap with at least one other in terms of its funded activity. GAO also found that the agencies often lack sufficient data on program outcomes.

GAO recommended that the agencies increase collaboration, such as sharing resources across similar programs and leveraging each program’s strengths to improve existing partnerships. It also recommends that agencies collect better data on program outcomes and use that information to assess how well the programs operate.

Some of the agencies have submitted comments to GAO concerning this research, and GAO is continuing to explore the topic.

House Calls—Better Care for Less?

Health care policy experts estimate that Medicare spends almost 50% on just 5% of the nation’s sickest. Section 3024 of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is testing whether returning to the old-fashioned house call can improve that figure. The law sets up a three-year demonstration program for some of the most expensive chronic health care consumers, designed to provide primary and related care to reduce hospitalizations and drug interactions and improve overall health. A 30-year old model run by the federal Veteran’s Administration has reduced hospital days by 62% and overall costs by 24%.

The new program, known as Independence at Home (IAH), will pay providers normal Medicare rates for reasonable and necessary services, except that that they will be paid 80% of any savings over 5%.

Metro-North to Bill Driver for Damage in Train Collision

. June 23, 2011

A recent New Haven Register article reports that Metro-North Railroad has decided to bill the driver of a car that was hit by a train on May 29 for damages. The railroad concluded that the driver, Vicki Buker-Besse of Milford, did not use caution when approaching the train tracks, and “driver error” led to the accident. Buker-Besse and her 7-year old daughter, who was in the back seat, were in stable condition at Bridgeport Hospital. The car was destroyed.

The railroad will seek repayment for damage to the train from the family’s insurance company, but an estimate of the amount was not finalized at the time of the report.

How DOES New Hampshire Do It?

Jennifer Weiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston recently set out to answer how New Hampshire avoids a broad-based sales and income tax. To answer the question, Weiner examined the factors that contribute to New Hampshire’s lower-than-average spending and major revenue sources. But as the study shows, there is no simple answer.

New Hampshire spends less than other New England states in most areas, but there is a complex set of policy choices and circumstances (e.g., socio-economic, demographic, and geographic characteristics) that drive its spending.

On the revenue side, New Hampshire partially makes up for the lack of sales and income taxes with higher per capita property taxes and a unique business tax structure. But no single source accounts for more than 20% of its general and education fund revenues.

Are Legislative Votes Protected Speech Under the First Amendment? The Supreme Court Says No.

. June 22, 2011

On April 27, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan and for the first time, considered whether an elected official’s vote is protected speech under the First Amendment.

The case involved a city councilman from Sparks, Nevada who voted on a casino project that could serve the private business interests of his campaign manager. The Nevada Commission on Ethics officially censured Michael Carrigan under a state law that bars public officials from voting on an issue when a reasonable person would suspect a conflict based on financial interests, or based on the interests of a spouse, family member, or “any other commitment or relationship that is substantially similar.”

On appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court issued a First Amendment ruling siding with Carrigan. Applying strict scrutiny, the court struck down the law’s catch-all (i.e., “other commitment”) provision, finding it overbroad and concluding that it could not be enforced constitutionally. For that part of its ruling, the court relied in part on the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which determined that “laws that burden political speech are subject to strict scrutiny.” The state ethics commission then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 13, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 9-0 opinion reversing the Nevada court’s decision. “Voting by a legislator,” Justice Scalia wrote, “is different from voting by a citizen.” A voter’s casting of a ballot is a personal right, but that of the legislator in considering or passing a bill is no more than the lawmaker’s “apportioned share of the legislature’s power” to pass or reject a proposed measure.

Ebony and Ivory may Live Together in Perfect Harmony, but not Weatherization and Housing Rehabilitation Programs

You would think federally funded housing weatherization and housing rehabilitation program are on the same side; after all both serve low- and moderate-income homeowners. But these programs are funded by different agencies with different funding mechanisms, eligibility criteria, and administrative processes, according to a Fall 2010 Communities and Banking Journal, (“Coordinating Homeowner Assistance: Weatherization and Housing Rehabilitation").

These differences fragment the delivery of services to clients. The Ford Foundation and the Energy Programs Consortium tackled the problems the differences cause in 2002 when they developed a pilot program to show how local entities could combine weatherization and housing rehab assistance. They also had the University of North Carolina’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies evaluate the program.

The center found that:

1. many clients need money and technical assistance for several different problems such as new insulation and leaky roofs, but the funding agencies make it hard to provide timely, comprehensive assistance;

2. the programs’ income limits don’t match up; and

3. the programs have different funding cycles and expenditure requirements.

These and other findings suggest that “programs are structured in ways that prevent local agencies from achieving greater efficiencies and providing better, more comprehensive services by coordinating funding from the separate programs.”

Ok. So what’s the solution? Look at things from the clients’ point-of-view. At least that’s the approach Tim Brown’s IDEO uses to design everything from tooth brushes to floor plans. Brown sees clients and customers as collaborators, not “objects of analysis or, worse, as the hapless target of predatory marketing strategies.

A Little Lead, More than a Little Academically Deficient

The Associated Press reported on a study by Duke University researchers who examined the link between low-level lead poisoning and academic performance. The researchers looked at 35,000 Connecticut children who had shown exposure to lead in blood tests before age 7 and then looked at the fourth-grade reading and math test scores of those children.

The researchers found that children with the greatest lead exposure had the worse academic performance. They also concluded that children exposed to below acceptable established thresholds of lead performed at levels below that of their non-exposed peers.

The researchers also found it more likely that black students were exposed to lead via paint residue, dust, or other sources than white students.

Federal Study Links School Bullying and Family Violence

A study of bullying among Massachusetts middle and high school students by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found strong links between bullying and family violence, suicide, and drug and alcohol use. The report, published on April 22, 2011, is based on data from a 2009 survey of 2,859 middle school and 2,948 high school students.

The data show that students who report being involved in school bullying, both as bully and target, were five times more likely to say that they had been physically hurt by a family member or had witnessed family violence than students who were not involved as either a bully or a victim. At the high school level, 31% of students who said they had been both a bully and a target reported witnessing family violence within the past year.

Overall, 43.9% of middle school students and 30.5% of high school students reported being involved in bullying, most as victims but also some as bullies (7.5% of middle school students) and some as both bully and victim (9.6% of middle school students). The study defined bullying victimization broadly to include physical, verbal, and relational bullying (social isolation, spreading rumors, etc.).

Because the study is the first to look at a broad range of risk factors associated with bullying in a single state, the researchers caution that it is not possible to compare the results with other states.

Money Follows the Person (MFP) Moving People out of Connecticut Nursing Homes

. June 21, 2011

The latest monthly summary from the Department of Social Services (DSS) shows that demand for the MFP program continues to grow. Between January 2009 (when the program started) and March 2011, DSS received over 2,000 applications, with March 2011 being one of the highest application months to date. Applications came from residents of 204 nursing homes (about 85% of the state’s total). Most referrals for MFP services came from family members, social workers, and the state’s nursing home ombudsmen. Nearly two-thirds of the applicants were under age 65.

About a quarter of the nearly 2,000 people who signed informed consents and were targeted for services had care plans approved and moved to the community by the end of March 2011. Nearly half of these individuals transitioned to elder services or personal care assistance.

The MFP program is a federal demonstration program that moves individuals out of long-term care facilities and into the community by providing a rich package of home- and community-based services. The cost of care can be as high as it is in institutions but in many cases, it will be less. The state receives a higher federal Medicaid match for the first year that someone participates in the demonstration. The governor proposed and the legislature approved expanding the program so that by 2013, 2,251 people will have transitioned into the community.

PTSD Treated With A “Wave Of The Hand"?

According to a May 23, 2011, Tampa Tribune article by Howard Altman at Tampa Bay Online, the University of South Florida’s College of Nursing is studying a treatment that a Connecticut therapist discovered to fight post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The treatment is called “accelerated resolution therapy” and involves waving fingers in front of a patient in a way that resembles deep sleep. The article states that PTSD is “…suffered by one in five service members coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq and a contributing factor in suicides, homicides and drug addiction….” The study is funded by a $2.1 million U.S. Army grant, Altman reports. (Tampa Bay, Florida is the location of the U.S. Special Operations Command and Central Command.)

NLRB Counts Giant Inflatable Rats as Free Speech

. June 20, 2011

A recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board validates the union practice of displaying giant inflatable rats at a secondary employer’s premises to protest another employer’s labor practices. While unions are allowed to picket a “primary employer” with whom they have a direct labor conflict, the National Labor Relations Act prohibits them from picketing a “secondary employer,” that deals with the primary employer, in a manner that would threaten, coerce, or restrain the secondary employer. However, the board ruled that the giant rat was symbolic speech, and not confrontational conduct, and thus exempt from the ban. According to Labor Relations Today, the decision, in combination with another recent decision on hanging banners, has significantly weakened the NLRA’s secondary boycott provisions. And in the kind of irony that you just can’t make up – it turns out that the inflatable rat used by the union is made in a non-union shop.

Flame Retardants in Baby Products

The American Chemical Society recently released results of a study on flame retardants found in baby products. An article on the study appears in its publication Environmental Science & Technology (linked below). In 2004, the manufacturer of PentaBDE voluntarily phased out production of the then-most commonly applied flame retardant mixture in the polyurethane foam used in furniture and other consumer products. Since then, there has been little analysis of the effects of alternative flame retardants. The concern over exposure to chemical additives, particularly of infants, prompted this survey and study of baby products that contain polyurethane foam with their replacement flame retardants.

The study is based on analysis of baby products such as car seats, changing table pads, portable mattresses, and baby carriers. In a written statement, the American Chemistry Council comments, "This study attempts to examine the existence of certain flame retardants in a small sampling of children's products; it does not address exposure or risk."

Researchers found that, of the sample baby products tested, 80% contained a known and identifiable flame retardant. They conclude that further research is warranted to investigate the effects of infants’ exposure to the flame retardants in these products.

Department of Education Publishes Final Gainful Employment Regulations

. June 17, 2011

The U.S. Department of Education recently released final regulations to require career colleges (which are generally for-profit institutions) to prepare their students for gainful employment. Students who attend such programs must meet certain debt-to-income or debt repayment rates or the program will risk losing eligibility for federal student aid.

The final regulations follow extensive negotiations between the department and interested parties. According to Inside Higher Ed, the final regulations have a number of differences from the proposed regulations published in July 2010; the final regulations are generally more flexible for the institutions.

Cilantro Tests Positive for Unapproved Pesticides

The Chicago Tribune reports produce testing conducted in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the department’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) found at least 34 unapproved pesticides on cilantro samples. According to the recently released 2009 PCP annual report, 94% of the 184 samples tested positive for at least one pesticide. In total, 43 different pesticides were detected on the samples.

Under the PDP, food commodities are tested for pesticide residue and the data is used to study consumer pesticide exposure. USDA researchers speculate that the presence of unapproved pesticides may have be due to confusion about pesticide guidelines for cilantro and flat-leaf parsley, which is similar to cilantro. According to the article, the presence of unapproved pesticides may not put the public at risk because (1) many of the unapproved pesticide levels did not exceed the limits set for other crops, and (2) cilantro is often consumed in small quantities.

A Guide to Food Safety in Emergencies

. June 16, 2011

The Department of Consumer Protection recently published its guide to food safety in various emergencies to help prevent and reduce food-borne illness. The guidelines provide basic information to food establishments and procedures for operators to follow when they encounter these conditions. Some of the scenarios include, among other things, power outages, fires, or chemical contaminations.

Plan to Reduce Mortgage Paperwork

A recent New York Times article describes the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s efforts to reduce required mortgage paperwork and improve disclosure of key mortgage terms to home borrowers. These efforts are part of the Bureau’s “Know Before You Owe” project.

The Bureau is attempting to combine two forms currently required by federal law—one required by the Truth in Lending Act and another by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. According to the article, while the forms are intended to convey basic mortgage information to consumers, they may be difficult to understand as well as redundant.

The Bureau is testing two sample combined forms which are available for comparison on its website.

Voting and Photo IDs

. June 15, 2011

Several states, including Wisconsin and Texas, recently passed laws requiring voters to present state-issued photo IDs to protect against voter fraud. Critics argue that these laws disproportionately affect certain populations, such as minorities, students, and the elderly which have lower rates of having these IDs. For example, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights notes that 78% of young African-American males in Wisconsin do not have a driver’s license.

Georgia law allows an individual to provisionally vote and provide proof of a photo-ID after the election. The law was amended in 2006 to allow provisional voting after it was struck down in 2005 as unconstitutional by a U.S. District court ruling. Click here for more information.

Young Children Should Ride in Rear-Facing Car Seats until Age Two

A national medical organization and a federal safety organization have revised guidelines for young children riding in cars, recommending, among other things, that they ride in rear-facing car seats until age two, rather than only until age one.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued its recommendations in March “to keep pace with the latest scientific and medical research.” NHTSA recommended keeping children in rear-facing seats as long as the kids meet the manufacturer’s height and weight limits.

At the same time, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents to keep children in rear-facing seats until either age two or they meet the manufacturer’s size limits.

The organizations said they based their recommendation on evidence from crashes, which found that one-year-olds are five times less likely to be injured in a crash if they are in a rear-facing, rather than front-facing, car seat. The organizations also recommended that older children who have outgrown front-facing car seats travel in booster seats until they are big enough to wear a seat belt properly, and that children ride in the back seat through age 12.

Wind Power Coming to Colebrook

. June 14, 2011

The Litchfield Times reports that BNE Energy received approval from the Connecticut Siting Council on June 3, 2011 to build wind turbines on the company’s Colebrook property. According to BNE, these will be the first residential wind turbines in the state.

Together with a related project slated for an adjoining property, the turbines should generate 9.6 megawatts, about quadruple the town’s annual energy use, Times reported.

The vote by the Siting Council was six to one with two abstentions. The opposition vote was based on neighbor’s air rights and the reliability of a steady stream of energy.

Insurance Department Takes Action on Health Insurance Rate Filings

The Connecticut Insurance Department has rejected a request by The American Republic Insurance Company to raise premiums by an average of 35 percent for individual-market health plans, ruling that it would be excessive. The proposal would have affected 81 policyholders in the state.

The company had said the policies were "highly subject to inflation" and other increased medical costs, and that the rate increase was necessary to maintain fiscal stability. But the insurance department actuary determined that the block of business had performed at the level the company initially expected and that the company did not submit data to support its assumption that costs would increase.

Separately, the department approved a proposal by Aetna to reduce premiums by an average of 10% for individual-market plans that cover more than 15,000 state residents. The change will take effect September 1, 2011.

Drug Testing Of Welfare Recipients

. June 13, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed a law (HB 353) requiring the state’s welfare agency to perform drug screens on Temporary Care Assistance adult applicants as a condition of eligibility for benefits. Applicants who test positive cannot receive assistance for one year. If they re-apply after the year and test positive again, they are ineligible for three years. The applicant must pay for the test.

To protect the dependent children in these families, the department can designate a “protective payee” to receive money on the children’s behalf. Or the parent can choose an immediate family member to do this, who must also be tested for drugs.

The 2011 Missouri legislature has passed its own version of a drug screening bill. It makes work-eligible cash assistance recipients ineligible for two years from the date of an administrative hearing, unless the adult is referred to and successfully completes a substance abuse treatment program and does not test positive for illegal substances over time. Governor Nixon has until July 14 to sign or veto the measure. If he does not veto it, it becomes law.

Many other state legislatures proposed similar measures during in 2011.

Civil libertarians and others have challenged such laws as unconstitutional, claiming they amount to unreasonable searches and seizures. To date, no state has successfully imposed mandatory drug testing on welfare applicants. Michigan had such a law but it was struck down in 2003.

OLR's Major Acts Report

The Office of Legislative Research has published our annual Major Acts report, which briefly summarizes the most significant, far-reaching, and publicly debated pieces of legislation passed in the 2011 regular legislative session.

Is the Municipal Fiscal Crisis Overblown?

Richard Mattoon, senior economist and economic advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, contends that while 2011 will be a tough year in local government finance, the likelihood of municipal bankruptcies and credit defaults is low. Mattoon maintains that despite the challenging fiscal conditions, very few local governments will default on their debt or end up in bankruptcy. He credits this to (1) relatively stable property tax revenues, (2) manageable debt levels, (3) the disadvantages of bankruptcy and (4) corrective budgetary actions.

You can watch Mattoon discussing his article here:


Team Approach to Managing Medical Care for the Elderly

. June 10, 2011

Over a decade ago, geriatricians at a Milwaukee hospital developed a model for improving the care of the elderly by creating a unit specifically designed for their health care needs. The unit, known as “Acute Care for the Elderly” (ACE), is a laboratory of sorts that has led to the development of software now used by a number of other hospitals. The software, known as the ACE Tracker, helps ensure that physicians, nurses, and others adhere to basic principles for caring for elderly patients. It pulls information every 15 minutes from electronic health records to provide a snapshot of the potential risks for patients aged 65 and older, enabling teams to identify and monitor patients at greater risk.

High School Diplomas = Economic Stimulus

Cutting the high school dropout rate for the class of 2010 by 50% would have provided a big boost to the nation’s economy, generating $5.6 billion in additional spending and $2 billion in additional investment in an average year, according to an economic analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Census data show that, in 2008, a high school graduate earned an average of $10,200 more per year than a high school dropout. Thus, according to the analysis, if half of the 1.3 million U.S. students who dropped out of high school in 2010 had stayed to graduate, they would, as a group, have:

• earned $7.6 billion more in an average year compared to those without a diploma,

• boosted U.S. GDP by $9.6 billion by the midpoint of their careers, and

• spent $19 billion more to buy homes and $741 million annually to buy cars.

The additional economic activity generated would support 54,000 new jobs nationwide, according to the Alliance’s economic model.

New Jersey Agency Recommends Ending Film Tax Credits

. June 9, 2011

The quasi-public New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) recommended ending the credits last February. It did so after Governor Christie asked it to review the program’s effectiveness and recommend if the state should continue it. The legislature created the $15 million program in 2005, with a 2015 sunset date.

NJEDA engaged the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) to determine the program’s economic impact and recommend if the state should continue it. NJIT determined that the program created over 1,600 jobs in 2009 with wages averaging around $47,700, concluding that it will generate and maintain significant jobs in state while “breaking even” on program costs.

NJEDA then asked the Treasury Department’s chief economist to review NJIT’s study, and he found that its data didn’t support its projected increases in jobs and film making. “In my reading, of the evidence, the net effect of the credit upon state activity is smaller, thus suggesting the credit has produced a net loss to state revenues.”

How does one explain the dueling evaluations? The bone of contention appears to be the extent to which the credits stimulate movie making. NJIT determined that the $10 million credit program would pay for itself based on the $10.1 million in state and local revenue all moviemakers—including those who did not receive credits—generated in 2009.

The Treasury Department economist evaluated the program based on the state and local revenue generated by only those filmmakers who received the credit. Because these filmmakers generated about $5.5 million in state and local revenue, the credit program cost the state about $4.5 million (i.e., $10 million program less $5.5 million in state and local revenue).

Graffiti Taggers: Artists or Felons?

The Wall Street Journal reports that law enforcement officials across the nation are stepping up efforts to prosecute graffiti taggers, just as taggers are moving into the mainstream of the art world. In years past, authorities usually didn't go out of their way to prosecute the artists, most of whom use pseudonyms to protect their identities.

Now, law-enforcement officials in major cities around the country are sharing information, creating catalogs of graffiti work by artist. Police can use evidence of past vandalism to obtain search warrants, and "stack" charges to prosecute graffiti vandalism as a felony.

Connecticut’s Taxable Estates, 2000-2009

. June 8, 2011

New IRS statistics show that, while the nationwide number of estates liable for federal estate tax fell by almost 68% between 2000 and 2009, the number of Connecticut estates liable for the tax dropped by nearly 75%, from 1,063 to 270. According to calculations by the Citizens for Tax Justice, 3.6% of Connecticut estates owed federal estate tax in 2000 versus 0.9% in 2009. The IRS attributes the drop primarily to a 2001 law that gradually increased the federal threshold for a taxable estate from $675,000 in 2000 to $3.5 million in 2009.

On the other hand, between 2005, when it was enacted, and 2009, the number of estates subject to the Connecticut estate tax increased by 91%, from 165 to 315, according to the Department of Revenue Services. The state tax threshold was $2 million over those years. Connecticut increased its taxable estate threshold to $3.5 million starting with deaths in 2010.

Among the other IRS estate tax data highlights:

• Nearly 58% of 2009 federal estate taxpayers were male.

• 87% were married or widowed and 13% were divorced, single, or separated.

• 30% of aggregate gross estate assets consisted of stocks; 22% real estate; 13% bonds; 11% cash; and 7% pensions and 401(k) accounts, with other assets making up 17%.

Internet Poker: Unclear Present, Uncertain Future

According to some estimates, up to 10 million Americans, play online poker, but its legal status is unclear. On April 15, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) seized the domain names of the three largest companies offering online poker games to U.S. residents, including PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, alleging conspiracy, illegal gambling offenses, and bank and wire fraud. On April 20, the DOJ reached an agreement with these two companies, which agreed not to “allow for, facilitate, or provide the ability for players located in the United States to engage in playing online poker for money or any other thing of value.” The agreement allows players to access any money they had deposited in personal accounts on the companies’ websites. But it prohibits U.S. players from depositing new funds in them, and it expressly allows players outside of the U.S. to engage in playing poker online for money.

Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Overdiagnosed

. June 7, 2011

Military.com reports that a new study found that more than half of military spouses who think they are suffering from secondary PTSD symptoms may have been misdiagnosed. According to the article, the study, due for release this fall, found that up to 41% of the 190 spouses surveyed had symptoms similar to those linked with secondary PTSD. But when questioned further, only about 15% of respondents indicated that their husbands’ military experience was the sole cause of their stress.

Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnostic Guidelines Updated

For the first time in almost 30 years, clinical diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease have been revised. Experts say this could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of the disease. According to the National Institute of Health, the updated guidelines cover the full spectrum of the disease as it changes over time. “They describe the earliest preclinical stages of the disease, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia due to Alzheimer’s pathology. Importantly, the guidelines now address the use of imaging and biomarkers in blood and spinal fluid that may help determine whether changes in the brain and those in body fluids are due to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Feds Issue Final Rule on Health Insurance Rate Increases

. June 6, 2011

On May 19, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its final regulation expanding federal oversight of health insurance rate increases. Starting September 1, 2011, all proposed rate increases of 10% or more by individual and small group health insurance plans must be independently reviewed. Insurers must also publicly disclose and justify the proposed increase. States will have the primary responsibility for reviewing rate increases, but HHS will conduct the review for states that do not have the resources or authority to do so. After September 2012, the 10% threshold will be replaced by state-specific thresholds that reflect each state’s insurance and health care cost trends.

The rule requires HHS to post rate review decisions, along with justification provided by insurance companies for those increases deemed unreasonable, on its website. Each insurance plan must also post its justification for a rate increase on its website. It also requires states to provide an opportunity for public input in the evaluation of proposed rate increases. HHS is also requesting public comment on applying the rule to individual and small group coverage sold through associations, which is sometimes exempt from state oversight.

Currently, 43 states, including Connecticut, have a rate review process. Some of these processes allow the state to block increases their regulators deem unjustified.

Child Identification Tool

. June 3, 2011

Just in time for summer, events are scheduled for the Connecticut Child Identification program, supported by the Connecticut Freemasons Foundation. The program has provided identification packets to parents of more than 40,000 children to assist law enforcement agencies in recovering missing children. An identification tool packet, provided at no cost to families, includes a DVD Ram disk with a brief digitally recorded interview of the child and a still photo, the child’s fingerprints of both hands, a dental bite impression, and cheek swab DNA/scent sample.

The CTCHIP program’s website (provided below) includes a link to the calendar of events scheduled to provide the small “Purple Packs,” as well as a link to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s current list of missing Connecticut children.

Housing Bad Moon A-Rising?

Yes, according to University of Utah city and regional planning professor Arthur C. Nelson, and he backs up his claim by pointing to “demographic and economic forces that will apply unrelenting downward pressure on the [housing] market for the next decade.”

Why? What happened? Before the market crashed, we overbuilt big single-family homes on big lots and under built apartments and attached homes, Nelson stated. Now, most of the demand for new housing will come from seniors and households without kids, from people who prefer to live in multifamily units near stores, doctors’ offices, bus and train lines, and other amenities. But there’s more: “When those 65 and older move, 80% vacate single-family houses, but 41% move into single-family units.”

Household size is another force depressing the housing market, and no one expected it to increase. In fact, demographers predicted it would drop 2.59 people per household to 2.52 per household. Instead, the national average jumped to 2.63 people per household. And these households are multigenerational—they include kids moving back with their parents and their elderly moving in for care.

And, what’s going to happen to McMansions—one of the icons of the 1990s? Well don’t be surprised if people start dividing them into separate apartments, much to the chagrin of zoning enforcement officers and homeowners associations.

Minnesota’s Higher Education Consolidation

. June 2, 2011

The biennial budget calls for the Connecticut State University System, the community-technical colleges, and Charter Oak State Colleges to be consolidated under a single board of regents. Minnesota has been cited as a model for this consolidation, as that state in 1995 consolidated its state university system and community colleges under a single governing board while leaving the University of Minnesota outside that structure. (Legislation was passed in 1991 but the consolidation did not occur until 1995.)

Reports on the consolidation by Minnesota’s legislative auditor have found mixed results. A 2000 report, five years after the consolidation, found improvements in transferring credits and financial oversight, but said that the system struggled with cohesion and morale. The system’s presidents were divided as to whether the merger’s overall impact was positive or negative.

A 2010 report examined the system’s central office and its relationship to the individual campuses. It found that some office functions were important to the campuses while others added little value.

Internet “Death Penalty” for Copyright Pirates

Several U.S. Senators, including Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, have recently introduced the Protect IP Act, a bill that would allow courts to order internet search engines, domain name system providers, and internet advertising firms to block access to websites suspected of online piracy and illegal content distribution. According to an article posted on CNET.com, such an order could effectively serve as a death sentence for pirate web sites by essentially making them invisible. The bill is backed by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Motions Picture Association of America.

Be Careful When Buying Pet Drugs On-line

. June 1, 2011

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions pet owners to be careful when buying drugs for their pets on-line. Although some Internet sites are legitimate, others are not, warns Martine Hartogensis, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Office of Surveillance and Compliance.

When buying pet drugs on-line she warns consumers to:

• Order from a website that belongs to a Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site) accredited pharmacy, or

• Order from an outsourced prescription management service their vet uses

Hartogensis is especially concerned that pet owners will buy nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and heartworm preventives on-line. These drugs can be dangerous. She said pet owners should consult their vet before buying them.

Arsenic, Old Lace, and the Freedom of Information Act

In 2010 the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) ruled that medical records of Civil War soldiers treated at Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) are public records subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. In an upcoming case, the commission will consider whether CVH’s records of Amy Archer Gilligan should be made public.

Gilligan, suspected of committing two dozen murders in the early 20th century, was committed to CVH after pleading guilty to one of the murders. Her case inspired the film Arsenic and Old Lace. According to the Connecticut Law Tribune, a journalist researching Gilligan has requested CVH’s records of her treatment. After initially saying that Gilligan’s files could not be located, CVH is asserting, as it did in the Civil War case, that the psychiatrist-patient privilege exempts the records from disclosure. The FOIC is scheduled to hear the case today.