DOJ Reports Increase in Use of Illegal Drugs

. October 31, 2011


The percentage of the U.S. population aged 12 or older who use illegal drugs rose from an estimated 8.0% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2009. That is according to the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center’s 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment.

According to the study, marijuana use is most prevalent, followed by the non-medical use of controlled prescription drugs. The study found that marijuana use among teens has begun to increase after a decade of slow decline. The study also found that the number of overdose deaths from prescription drugs exceeded the number from cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine deaths combined.

The study estimated that the economic cost of illegal drug use in 2007 was more than $193 billion, including direct and indirect costs related to crime, health care, and lost productivity. The nation’s southwest border remains the primary gateway for transporting illegal drugs into the country, and the overall availability of drugs is increasing.

Obama Administration Drops Health Care Reform’s Long-Term Care Insurance Program

On October 14th, the Obama administration announced that is was abandoning a government-run, voluntary, long-term care insurance program authorized by the federal health care reform law. The program, Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, was deemed too difficult to implement.

The main criticism of the program has been the potential for adverse selection, where too many sick or disabled people enroll without enough younger, healthier enrollees paying premiums to balance the risk.

According to a federal Department of Health and Human Services analysis of the CLASS Act, officials have been unable to create a program that is “actuarially sound for the next 75 years” as the federal health care reform law requires.

OLR Report 2010-R-0313 provides a summary of the CLASS Act.

General Motors Apologizes to Bicyclists

. October 28, 2011

General Motors has pulled an ad campaign that offended bicyclists and apologized for it, according to this October 12, 2011 article.

The ad, which appeared in a number of college newspapers, showed an attractive young woman in a car smirking at an apparently embarrassed male bicyclist riding alongside. “Stop pedaling…start driving,” the ad said.

GM pulled the ad after the company was deluged with complaints on its social media pages. “The content of the ad was developed with college students and was meant to be a bit cheeky and humorous and not meant to offend anybody,” a GM spokesman said.

Hot Report: Foreclosure Mediation Program

OLR Report 2011-R-0331, "Foreclosure Mediation Program," answers a set of questions about the fore closure mediation program run by the Judicial Branch, including:

  • Who can participate?
  • How long is the process?
  • Who conducts the mediation?
  • Does each borrower have to appear at mediation sessions?
  • What are the statistics for program participation and outcomes?
For the answers to these questions and others, read the report.

Keys to Making Desalination of Salt Water More Efficient

. October 27, 2011

A Yale University study published in a recent issue of Science points out several ways desalination of salt water can become a more efficient and less expensive source for fresh water than it is currently.

Current technology that actually removes the salt from the water is approaching a point where it cannot be any more efficient. However, the study’s authors say that it is possible to more efficiently filter organic matter and particulates from the water before removing the salt. They say that improving that aspect of the process will help make desalination more affordable.

The authors also suggest combining steps. Usually boron and carbon, which occur naturally in salt water but are undesirable when using the desalinated water for agriculture, are removed after the salt is removed. A filter that could remove those two chemicals at the same time as salt would eliminate a step and further increase the efficiency of the process, they say.

The President’s Plan for the Payroll Tax


A key piece of President Obama’s jobs plan is to extend the temporary 2% payroll tax cut enacted last December for another year. The plan would also expand the payroll tax break by cutting in half the rate businesses pay on their first $5 million in payroll. It would also eliminate payroll taxes for businesses that add new workers or increase wages (capped at the first $50 million in payroll increases).

To help make sense of this proposal, bloggers at the Washington Post have written a brief backgrounder on the payroll tax and the president’s proposed changes.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, asserts that the payroll tax cuts “would give firms a substantive incentive to increase hiring and should result in a large economic bank for the buck – additional GDP per tax dollar – than previous job tax credits.” On the other hand, William McBride at the Tax Foundation contends that the payroll tax holiday won’t work and “dangerously” cuts into the federal government’s largest stable source of revenue.

OLR Bill Analyses for the Jobs Creation Bills

. October 26, 2011

The Office of Legislative Research has completed bill analyses for the two jobs bills.

DMV Emphasizes Their Online Services


No one looks forward to standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). DMV understands, and wants to help you get things done online instead of in line.

People who do not have what the DMV terms “outstanding obligations” (such as delinquent property taxes) can renew vehicle registration online. Want a vanity license plate? You can check online to see if anyone else has already registered your idea.

Changing your address? You can download a form. Have a problem with a car dealer or auto mechanic? You can file your consumer complaint online. Get caught speeding? The DMV provides a link to the Judicial Branch’s page where you can pay your ticket or plead not guilty.

Pre-Emption Ruling a Setback to DSS Controlling Long-Term Costs

. October 25, 2011


A U.S. district court judge recently ruled in favor of an elderly couple who challenged the validity of a state Medicaid statute concerning the treatment of available resources (assignment of support rights) when one spouse is in a nursing home and the other remains in the community. The plaintiff nursing home resident had applied for Medicaid benefits in 2010 and in his application, claimed that his spouse refused to support him, and therefore, her assets should be disregarded for purposes of Medicaid eligibility. DSS denied the application, citing state law that only allows a spouse to make this claim when the community spouse cannot be located or the community spouse cannot provide the required information about his or her assets. Neither scenario was at play here.

The institutionalized spouse filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming that state statute conflicted with federal Medicaid law, which requires a state to approve an application as long as the applicant has assigned support rights to the state.

The court found that federal Medicaid law preempted the much narrower state law, and required assignment in all cases. And because the plaintiff faced “imminent and irreparable harm” without the nursing home care and the pre-emption claim had merit, the court issued a preliminary injunction and advanced the case for immediate summary judgment to determine if DSS should permanently be prevented from determining the institutionalized spouse’s Medicaid eligibility without regard to his wife’s resources.

In the interim, DSS will grant Medicaid eligibility to the plaintiff prospectively from September 28, 2011. Cross motions and briefs will be filed with the court for summary judgment and a final ruling.

Who Says the “Occupy Wall Street” Protesters Can Camp Out in Zuccotti Plaza?


With news outlets reporting mass arrests of “Occupy Wall Street” supporters around the country for refusing to leave public parks at closing time, why haven’t the original occupiers, camped out in New York ‘s Zuccotti Plaza for weeks, suffered the same fate? According to the New York Times, the answer lies in a little-known compromise struck in 1961 between real estate developers and the city. In return for zoning concessions developers need to build tall buildings, the city requires them to construct “bonus plazas” nearby to replace light and air that the new structures block. Zuccotti Plaza is one of approximately 500 such privately-owned plazas sprinkled around the city.

Unlike city-operated parks, Zuccotti and the other bonus plazas must be open around the clock. City zoning laws don’t say if their private owners can regulate public activities, and police cannot come onto the property without permission. City officials say that owners may post and enforce “reasonable rules of conduct” but not without first providing the public with reasonable notice.

So far, the only posted notice on the plaza bans skateboarding, roller-blading, and bicycle-riding.

The Solution to the Affordable Housing Problem May Be In Our Backyards

. October 24, 2011

Seattle has a problem. It is a relatively young city of mostly large, compact neighborhoods zoned for single family bungalows. Over the last decade, its population jumped from 563,000 to 608,000 people. Obviously, the city needs more housing. One way it can meet that need is to cut down forests and build new homes there. But it found a different solution, one that isn’t as novel as it seems.

Seattle changed its zoning rules to allow homeowners to build relatively small backyard cottages, a practice that was very common during the early 1900s when multiple generations lived together. But things changed during the 1950s when “Americans were decamping for the suburbs, pursing the dream of a single-family home on a large tract of land.” Suburban zoning codes reflected this trend, banning backyard cottages in the new large-lot, single-family zones.

How much do Seattle’s backyard cottages cost? Construction costs range from $50,000 to $80,000, considering cottages can be no more than 800 square feet and 22 feet tall. Who lives in these relatively small structures? Many homeowners are renting the cottages to tenants. Although some people are moving into the cottages and renting the homes instead.

Has anyone complained about the higher density? After the city authorized backyard cottages on a trial basis in selected areas, the planning department surveyed the residents and found that most couldn’t discern any impact the cottages had on parking and traffic. Many didn’t realize that there were cottages in their neighborhoods. These results encouraged the city to allow cottages in all neighborhoods.

Seattle isn’t the only city allowing backyard cottages. As a May 2011 Governing article explains, Portland and Santa Cruz have strong backyard cottage programs while Chicago and Madison are considering them.

Sysco Goes Local in Michigan

The business magazine Fast Company recently profiled Sysco’s entry into local food distribution in Michigan. Sysco is the largest food distributor in the country, typically dealing with massive agribusinesses, so the move to integrate with small, local farmers was not an obvious one. Nor was it easy to do – the company had no way to deal with small quantities of produce from small farms.

The article mentions that the company hasn’t seen huge profits from adding local produce in Michigan. However, the article does say company executives are excited about reducing their carbon footprint and making their customers happier by bringing them fresher produce.








Health Insurance Plans to Cover Women’s Preventive Care

. October 21, 2011

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new rules on August 1, 2011 related to federal health care reform.  The rules require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive care without charging a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible.  The services to be covered include well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, contraception, and domestic violence screening, among others.  The coverage requirement applies to new health insurance policies with plan years beginning on or after August 1, 2012.  The rules include an exemption for religious organizations, which can choose not to cover contraception services.  

Hot Topics: Affordable Housing

OLR Report 2011-R-0348 answers six questions about affordable housing in Connecticut.

1. What is the affordable housing land use appeals procedure specified in CGS § 8-30g?

2. What is the threshold at which towns are subject to the procedure?

3. What qualifies as affordable under CGS § 8-30g and what are the requirements for developers?

4. How many affordable housing units were added to the state's housing stock under the procedure since it was enacted in 1989?

5. What is the cost of rental housing in Connecticut?

6. What is the median household income in Connecticut?

For the answers, read the report.

Economic Studies and Why It’s Important to Read the Fine Print

. October 20, 2011

The Courant recently reported on how various organizations and individuals reacted to a new study on state and local business taxes (“Is Our State a Tax Haven?” August 4, 2011). The study, which Ernst and Young prepared for the Council on State Taxation, examined the total amount of taxes businesses paid to state and local governments in 2010 and the ratio between the taxes businesses paid and the total value of goods and services they produced or delivered. (Total State and Local Business Taxes: State-by-State Estimates for Fiscal Year 2010, July 2011)

The study’s first finding was straightforward. Nationally, businesses paid about $619 billion in state and local taxes in FY 2010. Interestingly, “most states experienced declining state tax revenue and positive local revenue growth in FY 2010, which is the result of significantly different tax structures at the state and local levels.” (The study doesn’t compare the change in state and local revenue flows from FY 09 to FY 10.)

The study’s second finding—tax burden—seemed to draw the most attention. The study measures that burden by dividing the total amount of taxes businesses paid by the total value of goods and services businesses produced. The outcome shows total taxes as a share or percentage of the total value of goods and services. Consequently, the tax burden increases as the share or percentage of taxes increases. According to this measure, Connecticut’s tax burden is light—3.3%—compared to the average for all states—5%.

Is this a good way to measure tax burden? Should states base their fiscal and economic development policy on this measure? The study had two caveats:

1. The measure doesn’t provide enough information to evaluate a state’s competitiveness. The measure lumps all business taxes and business goods and services together. It potentially masks significant differences. States at or below the national average “may impose relatively high taxes on capital-intensive manufacturers, while imposing relatively low taxes on labor-intensive industries.”

2. Measuring the average tax burden on businesses masks the tax burden borne by individual businesses. It’s one way to evaluate a state’s business tax structure, but it is not “a clear indicator of the competitiveness of a state’s business tax system.”

Hot Topic: Listing a Property on the National Register of Historic Places


OLR Report 2011-R-0342 summaries the process of getting a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Federal regulations establish the procedure for listing a property on the National Register of Historic Places—the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation (36 CFR 60). As described below, the process begins with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) where a nominated property must gain initial approval. The process proceeds to the National Park Service's (NPS) National Register of Historic Places for final approval. The Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, Connecticut was placed on the register in 1970.


In Connecticut, the individual or entity seeking the designation must submit an official nomination form to SHPO, providing a physical description of the property and demonstrating its historical significance. (The NPS website provides forms for listing a single property or multiple properties.) SHPO reviews the proposed nomination and issues an “approval for study” if the site meets the federal criteria for evaluation (e.g., integrity of design and association with significant historical events, among other things).

If SHPO issues an approval for study, the state's Historical Preservation Review Board considers and votes on the proposed nomination. If approved, SHPO places the site on Connecticut's Register of Historical Places and sends the completed nomination form to NPS for final review. NPS determines whether to list the nominated site on the National Register. The state process takes a minimum of 90 days and requires SHPO to notify affected property owners and local governments and to solicit public comment. The federal process takes a minimum of 45 days.



Transportation Secretary Wants Power to Remove Unsafe Buses Immediately

. October 19, 2011


According to a recent Bloomberg Government online article, Transportation secretary Ray LaHood told bus industry executives and motor vehicle regulators in September that he wants the authority to immediately remove unsafe commercial buses from the road.

Federal law now allows bus companies to keep operating for 45 days while they appeal a safety rating that would remove a bus from service. LaHood called the 45-day waiting period “ridiculous.”

LaHood noted that there have been eight bus crashes causing 28 deaths so far in 2011. “When a motor coach company is not delivering people safely, they should be shut down,” he said.

Earthquake Insurance


According to the Insurance Information Institute, about 5,000 earthquakes are felt in the United States each year. Since 1900, earthquakes have occurred in 39 states and caused damage in all 50. On August 23, 2011, a 5.8 quake struck in Virginia and was felt all along the east coast. Here in Connecticut, the capitol building and surrounding businesses in greater Hartford were evacuated as a precautionary measure. Although earthquakes are not uncommon, property damage from earthquakes are not covered under standard homeowners or business insurance policies in the United States. Coverage is usually available for earthquake damage in the form of an endorsement to a home or business insurance policy. But, automobiles are covered for earthquake damage under the comprehensive portion of an automobile insurance policy.

This American Life and Job Creation

. October 18, 2011


The public radio show This American Life devoted an hour-long episode to how politicians and governments attempt to create jobs.

The show interviewed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker about his campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs during his first term and then interviewed an economist who pointed out that 190,000 jobs would be created if the government made absolutely no effort to create them.

The show also attended an economic developers conference in San Diego. In talking with economic developers from around the country, the show discovers that rather than creating new jobs, economic developers most often engage in stealing jobs from other states.

The Real vs. Fake Debate: Which Christmas Tree is “Greener”?

During the 2010 holiday season, the New York Times reported artificial tree yearly sales were expected to reach a new record of 13 million trees sold. It reported the increase was due to improved quality and convenience as many trees easily collapse and come with built-in lights. The number of artificial trees used during the holidays surpasses natural trees by about 20 million. But which tree is better for the environment?

Citing a study by Ellipsos, a Montreal environmental consulting firm, the article reports that real trees are better for the environment overall and an artificial tree would need to be reused for more than 20 years as opposed to using a natural tree each year. The study’s calculations included human health impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, and use of resources. But results would likely differ among cities and regions and an artificial may be the “greener” choice where the average amount of car travel to purchase a natural tree outweighs the energy and pollution costs of buying an artificial tree. The article also cited a carbon footprint study by the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), an artificial tree maker and retailer trade group, which found fake trees to be better for the environment after only 10 years.

But the article states that scales are tipped in favor of natural trees as the more environmentally friendly option because of the way they are grown and harvested. The trees produce oxygen, fix carbon in their branches and the soil, and supply bird and animal habitat. Tree farms also help preserve farmland and green space. After use, the trees can be composted or mulched whereas artificial trees are not recyclable and often end up in landfills.

Ellipsos and the ACTA agree, however, that both kinds of trees do not impact the environment as much as other every day activities, such as driving a car, and an artificial tree’s impact can be compensated for by exchanging only a few days of carpooling or riding a bicycle.

Drop-Box Drug Disposal Program Offered Statewide

. October 17, 2011


After a successful pilot project, the Department of Consumer Protection is offering help to towns wanting to start a drug disposal drop-box program to remove unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications from residential homes.

The program involves placing a locked, well marked, drop-box in local police departments, where residents can discard their unwanted or unused medicines. When the drop-box is full, designated employees will seal the container, place it as abandoned property, and then periodically destroy it through incineration.

Hot Topics at OLR: 2011-2012 Energy Assistance Plan


OLR Report 2011-R-0355 gives a summary of the 2011-12 Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) plan recently approved by the Energy and Technology, Human Services, and Appropriations committees.

CEAP is a federally funded program that helps low- and moderate- income households pay their heating bills. The Department of Social Services (DSS) administers the program through the state's 12 community action agencies. DSS projects that approximately 122,000 households will participate in the program this heating season.


The funding level for this year's program is not known at this time, but is likely to be substantially less than last year's funding. In part this is because, unlike last year, there are no carry-over funds. Congress appears likely to appropriate less for the program this year than last. In addition, DSS projects that the program's caseload will increase by 4% over least year. The approved plan projects spending $ 61.6 million on CEAP in the 2011-12 program year, compared to approximately $ 115 million last year.

The structure of the program is largely the same as in previous years. However, to address the expected reduction in funding, the 2011-12 plan substantially reduces benefits. Under this year's plan, the program is available to eligible households with incomes up to 60% of the state median income. As in prior years, the plan limits the amount of liquid assets a participating household can have.

As in prior years, the plan provides three major types of benefits, with greater benefits for “vulnerable” households, i.e., those with an elderly or disabled member or young children, than non-vulnerable households. Homeowners and renters who pay their heating costs directly are eligible for a basic benefit, whether they use a deliverable fuel such as heating oil or heat with natural gas or electricity. As in prior years, the program's crisis assistance and safety net benefits are available only for households who heat with deliverable fuels. A safety net benefit is available only for households who have exhausted their crisis benefit and are in a life-threatening situation. In addition, there is a small benefit for certain low-income renters whose heat is included in their rent.

Under the plan, all of the benefits are contingent on the availability of funding. If the state anticipates that funds are in danger of running out, it reserves the right to close the program or parts of it early. If funding exceeds the amount anticipated in the plan, it authorizes DSS to take various steps, including increasing the crisis assistance or safety net benefits, providing an additional benefit for utility-heated households, and providing heating assistance to DSS-funded homeless shelters.

The plan also describes the program's schedule and how participating heating oil dealers are paid, among other things.

Under CGS § 16-262c, households who heat with natural gas or electricity who (1) have arrearages in their accounts (2) are eligible and apply for CEAP are also eligible for payments to match payments the household may make to reduce its arrearage. The matching payments are financed by other ratepayers.

For more information, read the full report.

Social Media and Disasters

. October 14, 2011


A recent Congressional Research Service report describes the increasing role social media plays in emergencies and disasters.

The use of social media can be conceptualized into two broad categories. First, it can be used somewhat passively to disseminate information. A second approach involves its use as a medium to conduct emergency communications, such as receiving a victim’s request for assistance. Currently, most emergency management organizations confine their social media use to the dissemination of information.

Can Medicare Beneficiaries Afford to Pay More Under Congressional Proposals to Decrease Federal Spending on that Program?

A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that some may be able to, but many more may not. The report presents income and asset data estimates for Medicare beneficiaries. Some of its key findings include:

1. half of all beneficiaries had incomes below $22,000 in 2010 (which is just under 200% of the federal poverty level);

2. median per capita income was lower for blacks and Hispanics than for whites; and

3. while per capita income is expected to rise by 2030, most of that rise will be in the highest income brackets (less than 5% of beneficiaries will have income above $119,000).

The data also show that half of all Medicare beneficiaries had less than $2,100 in retirement account savings (e.g., IRAs) in 2010, and half had less than $31,000 in other financial assets. Likewise, only a small number of beneficiaries (5%) had more than $1 million in retirement assets. As is the case with income, there are gaps between whites and blacks and Hispanics. On average, in 2010 whites had six times the savings than blacks and a little less than four times the savings of Hispanics.

“ShoulderFlex Massagers” Recalled

. October 13, 2011


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that King International is recalling all of the about 12,000 ShoulderFlex massagers it sold between 2003 and 2011.

The recall came as the FDA notified health professionals and consumers that the massager posed serious health risks. The FDA said it knew of one death and one near-strangulation that occurred when a necklace and clothing caught in a part of the device that rotates during use. There were two other reports of clothing and hair becoming entangled in the devices.

The FDA is recommending that people stop using the device and dispose of its parts separately so that it cannot be reassembled and used.

Report on Victims’ Use of Victim Service Agencies


According to a recent report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 9% of victims of serious violent crimes from 1993 to 2009 received direct assistance from a victim service agency (whether public or private). The data is drawn from the National Crime Victimization Survey.

The report also compared rates of assistance across different demographic and other variables. For example, from 2000 to 2009, victims who reported the crime to the police were more likely to receive direct help from a victim service agency than victims who did not report the crime. The rates of assistance were 14% for those who reported the crime and 4% for those who did not. During that same time period, a greater percentage of female victims (15%) than male victims (6%) received such assistance. Victims living in rural areas (12%) were also more likely to receive assistance than those in urban areas (9%).




What Do Google and the AFL-CIO-Housing Investment Trust Have in Common?

. October 12, 2011

According to this article in the Star Tribune, they’re both reaping the benefits of investing in Minneapolis’ booming affordable housing market. As we’ve written before, rentership rates have been rising lately, while ownership rates have been dropping. With this increased demand for all types of rental housing comes an increased demand for affordable rental housing—a demand that was high even before the recent rentership trend.

As Americans turn in even greater numbers to rental housing, investors see the affordable housing market as a less risky alternative to more volatile investment options like the stock market or other forms of commercial real estate. One of the reasons affordable housing investment is coming into favor with investors--Federal Low-Income Housing Tax credits (LIHTC), which developers use to finance affordable housing developments for low-income individuals, equate to a safe investment option. Under the LIHTC program, developers of qualified projects sell these credits to investors to raise capital for their projects, reducing the debt that the developer would otherwise have to borrow. Investors receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against their federal tax liability each year over a period of 10 years. (For more information on the LIHTC program, see the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website.)

Insurance Department Reduces Anthem Rate Request

The Connecticut Mirror reports that the Connecticut Insurance Department has turned down a request by the state's largest health insurer to raise premiums by 12.9% for more than 25,000 individual-market policies, instead granting the company a 3.9% increase. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield had said that the higher increase was needed to account for rising claims costs, increased use of services by members, and state and federally mandated benefit changes. The increase could take effect January 1, 2012 for about 25,000 policies covering an estimated 48,000 state residents who buy private insurance on their own rather than through their employer.

State Revenue Up While Local Revenue Stagnates

. October 11, 2011

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals divergent state and local government revenue trends in the second quarter. The housing bust continues to weigh on property taxes, the chief revenue source for local governments. Property taxes are off 1.2% from the same period last year while overall local revenue grew by only 1.3%. Meanwhile, revenue from the three main state taxes grew for the 7th straight quarter, with personal income taxes up by 17.4% (12.5% in Connecticut); sales taxes by 4.4% (4.1% in Connecticut), and corporate income taxes by 20.5% (56.3% in Connecticut).

A recent presentation by Robert Ward of the Rockefeller Institute of Government includes this and other charts showing effects of the “Great Recession” on jobs and tax revenue.

EPA’s Most Wanted


Eighteen fugitives are wanted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division for environmental crimes or violations of the U.S. Federal Criminal Code. Some of the environmental crimes involved include illegal (1) asbestos removal, (2) transportation of hazardous materials aboard a commercial aircraft, (3) oil dumping, and (4) importation of vehicles that do not meet national emission standards, among others. The EPA provides summaries of each fugitive case and instructions for reporting information about a fugitive to the agency.

Are Student Loans the Next Financial Bubble?

. October 10, 2011


The Huffington Post recently reported that there is fear of a higher-education spending bubble because of a continuing depressed job market and rising student loan debt. Citing data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the article reported that outstanding student loan debt has increased 25 percent since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, whereas other forms of consumer debt (mortgage debt, auto loans, and credit card debt) have decreased. Delinquency rates for student loans are also increasing.

According to a July 2011 report by Moody’s Analytics, “[f]ears of a bubble in educational spending are not without merit.” Some of the reasons for increased student lending demand is a rise in the (1) number of high school students pursuing higher education, (2) cost of education (tuition and fees have more than doubled since 2000), and (3) number of for-profit schools. Further, in the past decade (1) colleges have directed students towards larger loans because of available government and private credit, (2) endowments have declined, and (3) state funding for many universities has been cut. Student loans are also considered more profitable because they are likely non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Hot Topics at OLR: Parents' Appeal Rights When a Child Protection Agency Removes a Child from Their Home

OLR Report 2011-R-0332 explains which states give parents a bill of rights or similar explanation of appeal rights at the beginning of an abuse or neglect investigation. It also talks about (1) what appeal rights Connecticut parents have when the Department of Children and Families (DCF) removes a child from their home due to charges of parental abuse or neglect and (2) how these appellate procedures work.



Federal law requires state child protection agencies to have a process allowing appeals from a substantiated abuse or neglect complaint (1996 Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act of 1996, codified at 42 USC §§ 5101 et seq.).


Based on our Internet search, we found two states – Maryland and Tennessee – whose child protection agencies provide suspected abusers, including parents, written notice of their appeal rights at the beginning of their investigation.

Maryland's Department of Social Services distributes fliers to those involved in child protection services cases. The fliers describe agency findings that can be challenged through an administrative process followed by a court appeal. Tennessee's Department of Children's Services gives parents a comprehensive handbook when it opens a case. Among other things, the handbook sets out the agency's administrative review process and specifies what rulings can be appealed and how to file a court challenge.

Connecticut is among the states, including Maine and Maryland, that provide handouts when a case is opened using a “Frequently Asked Questions” format that generally informs recipients that they have appeal rights. Each agency determination that can be appealed contains a description of the procedure for doing so.

An accused parent in Connecticut has several appeal options that he or she can pursue before a DCF finding of abuse or neglect becomes final. First, he or she may request an internal agency review of the case. If dissatisfied with its outcome, he or she can request an administrative hearing, and, if the hearing officer does not rule in his or her favor ask the DCF commissioner to reconsider. Alternatively, the accused may go directly to Superior Court to challenge the hearing officer's decision.

Except in extraordinary circumstances, the agency's decision becomes final if the accused misses any filing deadline.

For more information, read the full report.

New Police Scanner Raises “Facial Profiling” Concerns

. October 7, 2011


A new hand-held device that will allow police officers to scan a suspect’s face, irises, or fingerprints and instantly identify him or her is raising concerns among privacy advocates. The Mobile Offender Recognition Information System (MORIS) is a small attachment that turns an iPhone into a biometric scanner. MORIS does not save the photo but keeps it long enough to determine whether the suspect’s iris matches any in a national database of people who have been arrested before and whose information is in the database. According to a National Public Radio report, about 40 counties nationwide are set to get about 1,000 of the devices beginning in September. It is not known if any Connecticut towns are among them.

Internet Voting: What’s Safe, What’s Not?


With the advent of the Internet, the U.S. and several other countries began looking at the possibility of online voting, according to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). During the 2000s, the U.S. Congress began considering legislation to facilitate online voting by U.S. citizens living overseas, particularly military personnel. Toward that end, Congress passed the (1) National Defense Authorization Act of 2005 directing the EAC to create electronic absentee voting guidelines and (2) National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 requiring the agency to submit a report with a timeline for the establishing these guidelines.

As part of these requirements, the EAC researched Internet voting projects at home and abroad, looking at 31 projects in 13 countries. On September 14, the agency released a technical paper, focusing on three questions:

1. Given that no system can be 100% secure, what level of risk can be accepted for such a fundamental democratic process as voting?

2. How can a sponsor considering Internet voting measure the level of risk associated with various methods and technologies?

3. How can a sponsor create and implement standards for this technology and reliably test to those standards?

The paper does not make recommendations (instead it includes observations), but it may nonetheless be of particular interest in Connecticut because PA 11-173 (§59) requires the secretary of the state to recommend an online voting method for military personnel stationed out of state. The secretary must (1) look at what other states have done to reduce potential fraud and (2) determine whether any such system may be appropriate for Connecticut. By January 1, 2012, the act requires the secretary to report to the Government Administration and Elections Committee on her progress in recommending the online system.

School Vouchers in the Hoosier State

. October 6, 2011

A new Indiana law has brought to life long-time fears of public school advocates. Since the law was signed in May, more than 3,200 students in the Hoosier state are receiving vouchers to attend private schools according to an Associated Press article. This means a loss of money for the public schools where the students would have been attending.

On the other hand, some Catholic schools are able to remain open with the influx of students. The AP says that more than 70% of the vouchers are being used at private schools and most of those are in urban areas such as Indianapolis and Gary where the public schools have reputations for struggling.

Economic Studies and Why It’s Important to Read the Fine Print

The Courant recently reported on how various organizations and individuals reacted to a new study on state and local business taxes (“Is Our State a Tax Haven?” August 4, 2011). The study, which Ernst and Young prepared for the Council on State Taxation, examined the total amount of taxes businesses paid to state and local governments in 2010 and the ratio between the taxes businesses paid and the total value of goods and services they produced or delivered. (Total State and Local Business Taxes: State-by-State Estimates for Fiscal Year 2010, July 2011)

The study’s first finding was straightforward. Nationally, businesses paid about $619 billion in state and local taxes in FY 2010. Interestingly, “most states experienced declining state tax revenue and positive local revenue growth in FY 2010, which is the result of significantly different tax structures at the state and local levels.” (The study doesn’t compare the change in state and local revenue flows from FY 09 to FY 10.)

The study’s second finding—tax burden—seemed to draw the most attention. The study measures that burden by dividing the total amount of taxes businesses paid by the total value of goods and services businesses produced. The outcome shows total taxes as a share or percentage of the total value of goods and services. Consequently, the tax burden increases as the share or percentage of taxes increases. According to this measure, Connecticut’s tax burden is light—3.3%—compared to the average for all states—5%.

Is this a good way to measure tax burden? Should states base their fiscal and economic development policy on this measure? The study had two caveats:

1. The measure doesn’t provide enough information to evaluate a state’s competitiveness. The measure lumps all business taxes and business goods and services together. It potentially masks significant differences. States at or below the national average “may impose relatively high taxes on capital-intensive manufacturers, while imposing relatively low taxes on labor-intensive industries.”

2. Measuring the average tax burden on businesses masks the tax burden borne by individual businesses. It’s one way to evaluate a state’s business tax structure, but it is not “a clear indicator of the competitiveness of a state’s business tax system.”

State Revenue Up While Local Revenue Stagnates

. October 5, 2011


New data from Census Bureau reveals divergent state and local government revenue trends in the second quarter. The housing bust continues to weigh on property taxes, the chief revenue source for local governments. Property taxes are off 1.2% from the same period last year while overall local revenue grew by only 1.3%. Meanwhile, revenue from the three main state taxes grew for the 7th straight quarter, with personal income taxes up by 17.4% (12.5% in Connecticut); sales taxes by 4.4% (4.1% in Connecticut), and corporate income taxes by 20.5% (56.3% in Connecticut).

A recent presentation by Robert Ward of the Rockefeller Institute of Government includes this and other charts showing effects of the “Great Recession” on jobs and tax revenue.

 

Bon Appétit: Invasive Species May Come to a Dinner Plate near You

Species such as the Asian carp, European green crab, and the lionfish feast on native species and compete with them for food and habitat. Now, the New York Times reports, experts are looking into controlling these species by dishing them up for human consumption. Dining on these invasive species could also protect other species that are currently overfished or threatened. But adding invasive species to the American diet has risks. Experts warn that (1) fishermen may unintentionally capture other species while trying to catch the invasive species and (2) invasive species could become so popular a meal item that they are raised or released in areas where they did not previously exist.

Fewer Fledgling Farmers

. October 4, 2011

National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported on the decrease in young farmers and the financial difficulties facing prospective young farmers when they try to get into the business. For example, despite low interest rates, banks are generally not lending to high-risk first-time farmers without a co-signer. Also, investors are increasingly buying farmland because of high commodity prices, which drives up its price. This often makes land purchases out of reach for young farmers, who resort to renting it. According to the article, between 1997 and 2007 the number of farmers under age 35 decreased by almost 60,000 (approximately 33%), whereas the number of farmers at least 60 years of age increased by almost 150,000 (approximately 19%). NPR’s farmer demographics chart is below.


Changing Farmer Demographics


Source: NPR

Yale to Develop New Energy Institute

The September 13th edition of the Yale Daily Bulletin reported that the university will establish an Energy Sciences Institute on its West Campus in West Haven. The institute will bring together physicists, chemists, geologists, biologists, and engineers to develop solutions to the world's energy challenges.

During the institute's start-up phase, the university will recruit several new faculty members, including a director; establish 40,000 square feet of dedicated laboratory space on the West Campus; and launch interdisciplinary research programs that will span Yale's science and engineering departments.

The institute will divide its research into two major areas: solar energy and near-term 'transitional technologies' such as clean fuels, refined combustion technologies, and carbon capture and sequestration.

The institute’s research will build on a foundation already underway at the university. For example, the Solar Group will continue to develop its photocatalytic solar cell as an economic source of liquid fuels derived from hydrogen. Other scientists will advance the study of microbes that produce fuel hydrocarbons as a byproduct of digesting cellulose. As these long-term solutions incubate, the institute will also explore ways to better use existing fossil fuels. The Center for Combustion Studies will work to improve technology so that engines and furnaces can burn fuel with minimum waste, while another group of scientists will continue its examination of shale gas to determine its potential as a clean transitional fuel.

Planning for the new institute involved faculty members from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The institute will tap into ongoing research in all three, as well as undertake joint initiatives with the Yale Climate and Energy Institute.

Federal Reserve Reports Decline in Number of College Credit Card Accounts in 2010

. October 3, 2011

In July, the Federal Reserve issued its required 2011 annual report on college credit card agreements. The report examines agreements between credit card issuers and higher education institutions and certain affiliates, such as alumni associations. It shows that the number of open college credit card accounts at the end of 2010 declined by 17% from the end of 2009. This includes cards that are opened by students as well as others, such as faculty, staff, or alumni.

The report also lists all agreements between credit card issuers and higher education institutions, including the number of open accounts and total amount of payments by each issuer.

New Data Confirms High Attrition Rates for New Teachers


The National Center for Education Statistics has issued an analysis of the first three years of data from its longitudinal study of beginning teachers. The study tracks more than 2,000 teachers who began teaching in 2007-2008 and is scheduled to run for at least five years.

Preliminary findings include:

  • The first-year attrition rate for the new teachers was almost 10%.
  • Nearly 13% of the teachers aged 30 or older left after the first year compared to 8.7% of younger teachers.
  • The first-year attrition rate for teachers who work in high-poverty schools is more than double that of those who work in lower-poverty schools (7% compared to 3.1%).
  • There is no difference in first-year attrition rates of teachers certified through alternative routes to certification and those trained in traditional teacher preparation programs.
  • Of the beginning teachers who left teaching in 2008-2009, 31% did so because their contracts were not renewed. Of those who left in 2009-2010, the percentage of non-renewals was 35%.