January 31, 2011

Checking Accounts Becoming More Costly

According to the 2010 Checking Study by Bankrate, Inc., the percentage of free checking accounts is decreasing. The study, based on surveying the top ten banks in 25 of the nation’s largest markets, found that between 2009 and 2010 the percentage of checking accounts considered “free” decreased from 76% to 65%.

Bankrate cites two regulatory changes as contributing to the decline. First, debit overdraft fees were a significant bank revenue source ($37.1 billion in 2009) and a new Federal Reserve rule is requiring that banks obtain consumer permission before enrolling them in overdraft protection. Second, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act allows the Federal Reserve to regulate the merchant fees paid to banks for debit card transactions. Bankrate explains that these fees helped subsidize banks’ costs for providing free checking to consumers. The study also found that the average bounced-check, ATM, and account service fee rose; the average yield on interest-bearing accounts declined; and the average minimum balance needed to open an account also declined.

January 28, 2011

DECD Recommends Changes to State Tax Credit and Abatement Programs

Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) recently released a report on “An Assessment of Connecticut’s Tax Credit and Abatement Programs.” The report, required by PA 10-1 (June Spec. Sess.), analyzes tax credit programs in effect from 1995 through 2007.

DECD’s report recommends that many state tax credit, property tax abatement, and exemption programs be eliminated, due to negative or very limited positive impacts or limited participation. It recommends that certain enterprise zone programs be reevaluated in light of the 2010 Census. The report further concludes that “the enterprise zone programs generate little economic and fiscal impact and may require municipal and state efforts disproportionate to their benefits.”

Open Court Pilot Program Likely to End

A multi-disciplinary group has unanimously recommended ending a pilot program in Middlesex Juvenile Court designed to increase access to otherwise confidential abuse and neglect litigation. Open court supporters had argued that shedding light on these issues would eventually improve outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system. Opponents maintained that permitting public scrutiny of sensitive family issues would compromise the privacy of children and families, and that this scrutiny was not in the best interests of children served in juvenile courts.

The multi-disciplinary group based its recommendation in large part on the likelihood that open courts would subject abused and neglected children and their families to additional emotional harm. It also noted that very few members of the public attended the pilot program’s open hearings, and that those who did were most often family members or foster parents. The evaluation group felt that open court decisions could best be made on a case-by-case basis.

January 27, 2011

No Left Turns?

An article in the January edition of Smithsonian Magazine presents a new study from North Carolina State University stating that superstreets, which require drivers who wish to turn left to instead make a right turn followed by a U-turn, are actually more efficient than traditional intersections. Researchers collected data from three superstreets in North Carolina that had traffic lights and looked at travel time for both right and left turns as well as passing straight through. They also examined collision data from 13 superstreet intersections in that state that didn’t have traffic lights. According to the article, the study shows a 20% overall reduction in travel time compared to similar intersections that use conventional traffic designs.  The study also found superstreet intersections experience an average of 46% fewer reported automobile collisions and 63% percent fewer injury collisions.

Proposed Tax Reform in Vermont

The Vermont Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission has issued its final report on reforming the state’s tax structure.

Among its recommendations, the 3-member commission proposed that the state (1) lower and flatten its personal income tax rates and brackets, (2) lower its sales tax rate and broaden the base, and (3) evaluate the cost and effectiveness of the state’s tax expenditures.

The Vermont legislature created the commission in 2009 to analyze the state’s revenue system and recommend ways to improve and modernize it.

January 26, 2011

The South Will Rise Again…Thanks To Housing

Conventional wisdom says that Georgia, Texas, and the southwestern states have an economic leg up on the northeast because these states are blessed with warm weather, low taxes, and right-to-work laws. Well, the weather’s nice in southern California, but people and businesses are moving to Houston, where the temperature hovers above 90 degrees 99 days a year.

Ok, so maybe it’s not the weather. But what about taxes and other business costs? After all, low taxes and energy costs means it costs less to make something. That’s true, but those cost factors should translate into higher per capita productivity and wages. But Georgia’s per capita state products in 2009 was $36,700 compared to Connecticut’s $58,000.

So why does the south have an edge? Housing. Georgia, Texas, and other growth areas “have built hundreds of thousand of homes despite having low housing prices. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York have high prices but far less construction,” Edward L. Glaeser wrote in a recent New York Times article.

What accounts for the difference? Regulations. According to Glaeser, “A rich body of research shows that regulation, which is intense in the Northeast and California but lax in the Sun Belt, explains why housing is supplied so readily down South. The future shape of America is being driven not by quality of life or economic success but by the obscure rules regulating local land use.”

Quieting Playground Gossip Can Reduce Later Bullying and Victimization

Research shows that verbal bullying (“relational aggression”) increases during grades 3 to 6, emphasizing the importance of school bullying prevention efforts in early grades. According to a new randomized controlled study of 610 third- through sixth-grade students in six elementary schools in the Pacific Northwest, a program that encourages students to reject playground gossip can protect victims from social isolation and more severe bullying later on.

The study showed that the bullying prevention program Steps to Respect reduced playground gossip, verbal bullying, and name calling by 72%. Steps to Respect trains teachers and other school staff to intervene effectively in bullying situations while training students in assertiveness and other social skills. A main focus of the program is to establish nonaggressive behavior as the school norm. The new study reinforces other research showing that bullying is a function of a school’s overall climate and that it involves not just the bully and the victim, but also onlookers who enable the bully and adults who ignore the problem.

Low, S., Frey, Karin, and Brockman, Callie, “Gossip on the Playground: Changes Associated With Universal Intervention, Retaliation Beliefs, and Supportive Friends,” School Psychology Review, 2010, Volume 39, No. 4, pp. 536–551.

California “Parent Trigger” Law Invoked

One of the more highly publicized education bills considered in the General Assembly’s 2010 session was the so-called “parent trigger,” which would have allowed a majority of the parents of students attending a persistently failing school to force changes in its operations. The bill was based on a California law enacted in January 2010, which allows 51% of the parents of students attending such a school to vote for new leadership at the school, takeover by a charter school operator, school vouchers, or school closure.

Parents of students at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, California are the first to exercise their power under the California law. According to the New York Times, 61% (250) of parents are demanding that McKinley be turned into a charter school. McKinley, where many of the parents are immigrants and 100% of the students are eligible for free school lunches, has struggled for years. Less than 25% of its fifth graders perform at grade level in reading and math.

Education analysts expect the Compton parents’ petition and the new law will face legal challenges.

New school reform legislation requires Connecticut school boards with low-achieving schools to create school governance councils for those schools made up mostly of students’ parents. The councils are empowered to, among other things, vote to reorganize low-achieving schools. For more information, please visit:

January 25, 2011

Medicare Skilled Nursing and Home Health Care—Are the Functional Eligibility Rules Too Restrictive?

According to the Hartford Courant, Connecticut congressman Joe Courtney (D-2nd) believes the functional eligibility rules are too restrictive and is asking the federal government to stop denying Medicare home health and skilled nursing care benefits to individuals whose medical conditions may not improve when they receive these services. At issue is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)’ interpretation of Medicare rules, which CMS believes do not allow it to pay for care that will not lead to improvements in a patient’s condition.

Late last week, a group of patient advocates, including the Connecticut-based Center for Medicare Advocacy, filed a class action lawsuit seeking to end this practice. The suit was filed in Vermont but cites cases in a number of states, including someone living in Bloomfield, CT who was denied coverage.

Two federal courts have already decided cases in a way that support’s Courtney’s position, reported the New York Times in November 2010. The Vermont and Pittsburgh courts ruled that the Obama administration’s interpretation was overly strict, and called on Medicare to pay for these services even if they are needed (1) only to maintain a person’s ability to perform routine activities of daily living or (2) to prevent deterioration in his or her condition, not improve it. These decisions are expected to help people with chronic conditions and disabilities, such as multiple sclerosis, whose conditions typically do not improve.

What Makes People Love Their Communities?

Researchers for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently concluded a three-year study that explored the factors that emotionally attach people to their communities and the role of community attachment in an area's economic growth and well-being. Their findings show that a community's (1) social offerings (i.e. the opportunities it offers residents for social interaction), (2) acceptance of diversity, and (3) aesthetics are the most significant factors in creating emotional bonds between people and their communities. These factors out-ranked safety, education systems, and basic services as the top drivers of attachment. The study also found a significant correlation between community attachment and economic growth. Cities with the highest level of attachment had the highest rate of GDP growth.

January 24, 2011

NLRB Proposes Rule to Require Posting of NLRA Rights

On December 22, 2010 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require private sector employers subject to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to post a notice informing employees of their rights under the NLRA.

Among other things, the notice would state that employees have a right to act together to improve their wages and working conditions; to form, join, and assist a union; to bargain collectively; and to choose not to do any of these things. A copy of the notice would be available for employers at no charge from NLRB regional offices and on the board’s website. The public has until February 22, 2010 to offer comments and suggestions for the board to consider before finalizing the rule.

Insurance Claim Costs for Dog Bites

More than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 800,000 dog bite injuries require medical treatment each year. Because the majority of dog bites occur on the dog owner’s property, the issue is a concern for homeowners insurers. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), dog bites account for more than one third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, costing $412 million in 2009. An III analysis of insurance data found that the national average for a dog bite claim was $24,840 in 2009.

January 21, 2011

Next Steps for UConn Health Center Expansion

After its unsuccessful effort to land a $100 million federal grant, the UConn Health Center can still proceed with its expansion plans if it can raise the $100 million from private or other non-state sources. Under PA 10-104, UConn has until June 30, 2015 to raise this money, and cannot begin construction until it has done so. UConn can, however, proceed with planning and design for the expansion.  PA 10-104 reallocated $25 million in existing UConn 2000 funds to pay for planning and design, and the reallocation was not contingent on the receipt of the $100 million in non-state money.

The act also requires the UConn president and the governor’s designee, by June 30, 2011, to notify the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) secretary of the status of the $100 million.

Ski Areas Becoming “Greener”

The Associated Press reports that ski areas are increasing efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. Not only is it good for the environment, but the effort may attract environmentally conscious customers. Ski areas impact the environment by clearing trees, altering vegetation and animal habitat, changing watersheds, and using high levels of energy and water.

Each year, the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition (SACC), a grassroots organization, issues grades for ski areas in 11 western states based on environmental impact. SACC provides both an overall grade and individual grades in habitat protection, watershed protection, climate change, and environmental policies and practices. The grades are based on surveys sent to the ski areas, public records, and information from conservation groups.

Feds Announce Big-Rig Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have announced the first national fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for buses and heavy-duty trucks. The standards cover trucks produced in the 2014 to 2018 model years and are divided into three main categories: (1) “18-wheelers,” (2) heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and (3) vocational vehicles (such as concrete mixers and garbage trucks). These standards may reduce emissions by as much as 250 million metric tons, save approximately 500 million barrels of oil, and provide an estimated $41 billion in net benefits ($35 billion to truckers and $6 billion in societal benefits).

January 20, 2011

DEA Moves to Control Synthetic Marijuana

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has used its emergency scheduling authority to temporarily control five chemicals used to make “fake pot” products. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection has information about it.

A “Notice of Intent to Temporarily Control” was published in the Federal Register in November to alert the public to this action. DEA intends to designate them as “Schedule I” substances, the most restrictive category reserved for unsafe, highly abused substances which serve no medical purpose.

According to the National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL), at least 11 state legislatures and another six state agencies have also acted to outlaw the use of these drugs.

For additional information on these chemicals, see OLR's report, "Fake Pot" Products.

Fed Website Tracks Progress of Federal Banking Reform Rules

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, signed into law by President Obama on July 21, 2010, requires various federal agencies to issue over 200 rulemakings concerning numerous aspects of the financial industry. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has created a helpful web page tracking the progress of the various rulemakings required by the act. The page includes links to the full text for each rule being considered, identifies the agency considering the rule, and provides relevant dates. It has separate tabs for final rules, proposed rules, and rules open for public comment.

January 19, 2011

Driving While Drowsy

A recent analysis of federal traffic safety data estimates that about one in six fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The foundation also found that two of five drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel at least once, and that one in 10 have done so in the past year. More than one-quarter of those surveyed said they had driven despite being so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

The foundation said these percentages were much higher than previously thought. “Many of us tend to underestimate the negative effects associated with fatigue and sleep deprivation and conversely, overestimate our abilities to overcome them while driving,” an AAA spokeswoman said.

AAA recommends scheduling a break every two hours or 100 miles and getting at least six hours of sleep before a long trip.

Vermont Saves Millions in its Medicaid Program and Expands Access to Health Care

Five years ago, Vermont began an experiment with its Medicaid program. Under its Global Commitment to Health waiver, the state was given a great deal of flexibility in the way it ran its Medicaid program. In return, the amount of federal funds available to the state was capped ($4.7 billion over five years), and if it spent more than that, there would be no federal match available. The state did not go over the cap; in fact, it spent less, reports The Burlington Free Press.

To meet the cap amount, the state limited the Medicaid program’s annual growth to 9%. It was able to spend $260 million less than the cap and use the money to actually expand the program to provide subsidized health insurance to previously uninsured individuals and new programs for people with chronic diseases. In addition, premium subsidies were available for lower income people to purchase private insurance. The state also had the ability to limit the benefits available to newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries and others for whom Medicaid was provided optionally.

January 18, 2011

Hawaii’s Paperless Senate

By implementing a “paperless initiative,” Hawaii’s senate reduced its paper consumption by 60%, saving 1,340 cases of copier paper (13,400 reams). The initiative included giving each of its 25 senators his or her own tablet PC, improving the capitol building’s wireless capacity, and providing specialized training to senators and staff. Overall, lobbyists and other stakeholders have responded favorably to the initiative, especially the increased online access to legislative documents.

New Energy Efficient Building Code

More than 500 state and local code officials voted on changes to the nation's model energy code to achieve energy savings of 30% relative to the current code. The new 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) meets the 30% savings goal sought by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of State Energy Officials, and other organizations. The code governs home and commercial building construction, additions, and renovations in 47 states, including Connecticut. Local building codes are based on these national model standards.

In the residential sector, the new code improvements will:
  • ensure that new homes are better sealed to reduce heating and cooling losses,
  • improve the efficiency of windows and skylights,  
  • increase insulation in ceilings, walls, and foundations,  
  • reduce wasted energy from leaky heating and cooling ducts,  
  • improve hot-water systems to reduce wasted energy and water in piping, and
  • boost lighting efficiency.
The package of improvements for commercial buildings should match those for homes in terms of energy savings. In addition to many of the features cited above, the commercial buildings package includes continuous air barriers, daylighting controls, use of economizers in additional climates, and a choice of three paths for designers and developers to increase efficiency: renewable energy systems, more efficient HVAC equipment, or improved lighting systems. The package also requires testing of new buildings to ensure that the actual energy performance of the building meets the design intent.

January 14, 2011

Study Says Young Black Male Achievement a National Catastrophe

An achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented — a social divide vexing to policy makers and the target of one blast of school reform after another. But a recent report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is even bleaker than generally known.

Only 12% of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38% of white boys, and only 12% of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44% of white boys. Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

The data was distilled from highly respected national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009. The Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools released the report, “A Call for Change,” in October 2010.

A Number of New Federal Rules Adopted for Health Care Reform

More than 40 provisions in the federal health care reform legislation specifically require or allow federal agencies to issue regulations to implement the act’s requirements. To date, federal regulators have adopted at least 18 final rules since passage of the reform law, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). These new regulations include health insurance reforms, creation of an early retiree reinsurance program, and requirements for states to start high-risk insurance pools for people with pre-existing conditions.

A recent CRS report discusses these new regulations, and includes a summary of their requirements and effective dates. TheHill.com has more information.

January 13, 2011

Connecticut’s Revenue Increased 12.6% in the Third Quarter

The Wall Street Journal reports strong revenue growth for Connecticut in the third quarter of 2010. The report is based on the Census Bureau’s third-quarter statistics on state and local tax revenue issued on December 29, 2010. Bureau statistics show that, nationwide, combined state and local revenue increased by 5.2% in the quarter. In the same quarter of 2009, revenue fell by 5.4%.

The Journal attributes Connecticut’s surge to stock market gains and financial services industry profits, which led to a 13% boost in the state’s personal income tax revenue. Connecticut’s corporation tax revenue was up more than 50% for the quarter. Nevertheless, Connecticut and other states still face big budget gaps as revenue growth starts from a lower base and spending outpaces revenue in most states, as shown in an interactive map that accompanies the article.

Link between Weak Gun Laws And Interstate Gun Trafficking

A September 2010 study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 30% of guns confiscated from crime scenes across the country in 2009 originated with out-of-state gun dealers.

The study found a strong association between a state’s gun laws and the state’s propensity to export guns used in crimes. Among the states with the worst record of exporting these guns were Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia, and West Virginia. All of these states have weak gun laws and exported guns “at more than seven times the rate of the 10 states with the lowest crime gun export rates.” These six states generally do not require (1) background checks for handgun sales at gun shows, (2) state inspection of gun dealers, (3) handgun permits, or (4) that reports of lost or stolen firearms be made to police. They also do not grant law enforcement officials discretion to approve or deny permits.

Connecticut’s Manufacturing Sector is Coming Back!

Well, yes, but not right away, according to futurist Ken Gronhbach, who bases his prediction on demographic trends, accorinding to the Hartford Business Journal. America’s industrial workforce is relatively young, compared to China’s. Consequently, American companies will grow as people between the ages 6 and 24 enter the workforce. Connecticut will benefit from this trend, but the increase in manufacturing will come mainly from small firms making parts for larger ones.

Connecticut Businesses Cut R&D Spending

Research and Development (R&D) spending dropped 2% in Connecticut in 2009, reports Fred Carstensen, the director of UConn’s Center of Economic Analysis, according to the Hartford Business Journal. Money spent on R&D today lays the foundation for new companies and future jobs. A related concern is that Connecticut’s major companies are spending their R&D dollars in other states and nations, Connecticut Technology Council CEO Matthew Nemerson stated.

Connecticut, like many other states, offers tax credits for R&D spending. But over $1 billion in credits go unclaimed, Carstensen stated. Consequently, he proposes allowing companies to cash in their credits to build new facilities here.

Crimes Against People With Disabilities

A new report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics finds that people in U.S. households age 12 or older who have disabilities experienced approximately 730,000 non-fatal violent crimes and 1.8 million property crimes in 2008. Non-fatal violent crimes include rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault. Property crimes include household burglary, motor vehicle theft, and property theft. Disability is defined as a sensory, physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting at least six months that makes it difficult to perform daily living activities.

Among the reports findings:
  • Adjusting for the varied age distributions of people with and without disabilities, the violent crime rate against people with disabilities was 40 violent crimes per 1,000 people age 12 or older, double the violent crime rate for people without disabilities.
  • People with cognitive disabilities had the highest risk of violent victimization among the types of disabilities studied.

January 11, 2011

Suicides Continue to Rise in the Military

The incidence of suicide among U.S. Armed Forces members has continued to rise despite numerous programs and services intended to combat it. It is currently the third-leading cause of death for soldiers. Among the recommendations in a 2010 Department of Defense report, mandated by Congress in 2009, is a call for a suicide prevention division in the department to oversee and “standardize policies and procedures with respect to resiliency, military fitness, life skills, and suicide prevention in all branches of the military services.”

A Snapshot of Older Americans

A 2010 federal report provides the latest data on 37 key indicators selected to determine the well-being of older Americans and their families. Among the report’s highlights:
  1. The older population is growing rapidly, and the aging of the baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 (and who begin turning age 65 in 2011) will accelerate this growth. This larger population of older Americans will be more racially diverse and better educated than previous generations.
  2. The life expectancy of Americans lags behind those of people in other developed nations.
  3. Most older people are enjoying greater prosperity than any previous generation. On average, net worth has increased almost 80% for older Americans over the past 20 years. But major inequalities continue to exist with older blacks and people without high school diplomas reporting smaller economic gains and fewer financial resources overall.
  4. Overall, health care costs have risen dramatically for older Americans. In addition, between 1992 and 2006, the percentage of health care costs going to prescription drugs almost doubled from 8% to 16%, with prescription drugs accounting for a large percentage of out-of-pocket health care spending.

January 10, 2011

Study Says Eminent Domain Used for Narrow Reasons

A survey of the use of eminent domain by researchers at the University of North Carolina has found that the power has been mostly used for specific purposes, such as sewage, water, and roads, rather than “broad” uses, such as economic development. The researchers, who surveyed county officials in North Carolina regarding the use of eminent domain over the last five years, found 99 uses of the governmental power. Eminent domain was used for a “narrow” purpose in 92 of the 99 cases.

Feds Propose New Regulation for Health Insurance Rate Increases

On December 21, 2010 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed a new regulation expanding federal oversight of health insurance rate increases.

Starting July 1, 2011, all insurers in the individual and small group market seeking a rate increase of 10% or more must publicly disclose and justify the proposed increase. After 2011, a state-specific threshold will be set for the disclosure of rate increases, using data that better reflects costs trends in each state. If HHS determines that a state does not have an effective rate review process, it will conduct the review. Forty-three states, including Connecticut, already have a rate review process, some of which allow the state to block increases their regulators deem unjustified.

HHS will 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.

Kaiser Health News has more information.

January 7, 2011

Why Youth Join Gangs

The latest bulletin from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention surveys research on why youth join gangs. Among the findings:

  1. Youth join gangs for protection, enjoyment, respect, money, or because a friend is in a gang.
  2. Youth are at higher risk of joining a gang if they engage in delinquent behaviors, are aggressive or violent, experience multiple caretaker transitions, have many problems at school, associate with other gang-involved youth, or live in communities where they feel unsafe and where many youth are in trouble. 
  3. To prevent youth from joining gangs, communities must strengthen families and schools, improve community supervision, train teachers and parents to manage disruptive youth, and teach students interpersonal skills.

More information on assessing gang problems and intervention and prevention strategies can be found at the federal agency’s National Gang Center Web site.

U.S. Census Bureau Releases First 2010 Census Counts

On December 21, 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau released the first set of 2010 Census data along with an interactive map highlighting U.S. population and apportionment changes since 1910 . The data includes the resident population for the nation and the states, as well as the congressional apportionment totals for each state.

January 6, 2011

Some Colleges Say “Au Revoir” To Foreign Language Majors

Because of cutbacks in state aid, a number of public colleges and universities are dropping certain majors, in particular, European language majors, according to a recent New York Times article. For example, the State University of New York at Albany announced recently that it would stop letting students major in French, Italian, Russian, and the classics. But, as some higher education commentators note, these actions are occurring at the same time many schools are embracing an “international mission” and opening campuses abroad, recruiting overseas candidates, and undertaking other global activities.

CT Gets Good Grades for Green Energy Interconnection & Net Metering

Published by the Network for New Energy Choices, the 2010 edition of Freeing the Grid examines state policies and procedures on renewable electricity sources such as solar, wind, photovoltaics, hydroelectric, and fuel cells. The study gives Connecticut a “B” for its interconnection procedures, which allow renewable energy generators to connect to the electric distribution grid, and an “A” for its net metering policies, which allow customer-sited generators to get credits for any excess electricity they feed back into the grid. While the state’s net metering policies have received good grades in the past (“B” in 2007 & 2008, and “A” in 2009), the state had previously received straight “D’s” for its interconnection procedures.

January 5, 2011

Supreme Court to Hear Supplemental Grants Case

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari to two cases (AZ Free Enterprise v. Bennett, 10-238, and McComish v. Bennett, 10-239) challenging Arizona’s provision of supplemental grants to publicly financed candidates who face high-spending opponents. 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.

Unlike Connecticut, Arizona’s provision of supplemental grants was upheld in May 2010 at the appellate level (the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals). However, the Supreme Court stayed the appeals court’s ruling, thereby enjoining Arizona from issuing supplemental grants in the 2010 election cycle. The Court consolidated the two cases for one hour of oral argument, which will occur on March 28, with a decision rendered by the end of June.

Makers of Controversial Alcoholic Energy Drinks Pulling Them from Shelves

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that several manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages have stopped producing and shipping the products and expect to remove them from store shelves.

The companies took the steps after the FDA warned four beverage manufacturers on November 17, 2010 that it had not approved adding caffeine to the drinks, and that the caffeine was an “unsafe food additive.”

Several states banned the drinks and a number of colleges have barred them from their campuses after nine college students in Washington state were hospitalized after drinking the beverages at an off-campus party.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was one of 17 state attorneys general to call on the FDA to ban the drinks in 2009.

According to a letter from medical researchers that accompanied that request, the beverages are particularly worrisome because the caffeine may “mask” the effects of alcohol, leading to excessive and binge drinking.

January 4, 2011

Internet Gambling Growing More Popular with Young Men and Women

According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, college age males are visiting online gambling sites at a growing rate. Compared to the 2008 survey, monthly Internet Gambling use has risen from 4.4% to 16.0%. Most of this gambling is due to card playing, but it also likely includes other forms, such as horseracing.

The study also shows a sharp increase in gambling, primarily involving sports, among high school girls, although they continue to gamble less than their male counterparts. In 2008, only 9.5% of high school girls engaged in sports betting, but in 2010, the number jumped to 22%.

Web Privacy Bill of Rights

The U.S. Commerce Department has recently released a report recommending a policy framework to protect online consumer privacy. The report notes that the framework must evolve to keep pace with changes in technology, online services, and Internet usage.

Among other things, the report calls for creating (1) a Privacy Policy Office within the department and (2) a privacy bill of rights for online consumers.

January 3, 2011

Virginia Judge Rules Federal Healthcare Reform Provision Unconstitutional

On December 13, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the “individual mandate” provision in the federal health care reform law is unconstitutional. This provision requires most Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty. U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled that the government cannot require Americans to purchase health insurance because it exceeds congressional authority granted under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

The ruling is unlikely to immediately affect health care reform since the law’s major provisions do not kick in until 2014 and the law will remain in effect while appeals are heard. According to several media reports, the U.S. Justice Department will appeal the judge’s ruling.

Judge Hudson is the first federal judge to rule against a key federal health care reform provision. Previously, two federal judges in Virginia and Michigan issued decisions upholding the law’s constitutionality, stating that the individual mandate provision was within congressional authority under the Commerce Clause. There is currently a 20-state lawsuit pending in Florida involving Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

Credits for Fishing and Hunting Licenses, Permits, and Tags

PA 10-3 reduces many of the fees for sportsmen’s licenses, permits, and tags that had been doubled effective October 1, 2009 under PA 09-3, June Special Session. PA 10-99 authorizes a credit to be applied against the fee for any 2011 sportsmen’s license, permit, or tag when purchase of these items for 2010 had been made while the doubled prices were in effect.

Anyone who purchased a fishing or hunting license, permit, or tag while higher prices were in effect (October 1, 2009 through April 14, 2010) is eligible for a credit against the cost of purchasing these items for the 2011 season. The credit will be the difference between the higher amount paid for a license, permit, or tag and the amount set by the new fee structure established under PA 10-3. For full details on the credit program– including the process for obtaining a credit– see the DEP's website.