March 31, 2011

Connecticut Sues Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The New York Times reports that attorneys general from Connecticut, New York, and Vermont have sued the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The states are challenging a new commission policy that states nuclear waste can be safely stored at a nuclear power plant for 60 years after a reactor goes out of service. The states say the policy violates two federal laws that require a full environmental review be carried out at each nuclear site before permission for long-term storage can be granted.

Justice Department Wants Tobacco Companies to Advertise that Smoking is Dangerous, Addictive

The Associated Press reported the U.S. Justice Department has asked a federal judge to compel tobacco companies to advertise that smoking causes health problems.

The department submitted 14 proposed statements to the court, including:

“A federal court is requiring tobacco companies to tell the truth about cigarette smoking. Here's the truth: ... Smoking kills 1,200 Americans. Every day.”

Philip Morris issued a statement saying that it acknowledges that smoking causes cancer and heart disease and is addictive but believes the proposed statements from the Justice Department are in violation of an earlier court ruling. That ruling held that corrective statements must be factual and noncontroversial.

The tobacco companies have responded by asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and called some of the statements “inflammatory and incorrect.”

March 30, 2011

Unemployment in All 50 States Varies Little in December

Unemployment rates remained little changed for all states in December 2010 compared to the previous month according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rates decreased in 15 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Unemployment rates remained the same in 15 states (including Connecticut) and increased in 20 states, although the increases were statistically significant in only two states.

Comparisons from a year ago point to an easing of unemployment. Overall, 31 states and D.C. had lower unemployment rates in December 2010, than in December 2009.

But Connecticut was not part of that group as our December 2009 rate was 8.9% while the December 2010 rate was 9.0%. For the entire 2010 year, Connecticut’s rate was never higher than 9.2% and never lower than 8.8%.

Nevada continued to lead the states in unemployment, with a 14.5% rate for December, the highest rate since the current record-keeping series began in 1976 and the eighth month in a row that Nevada recorded the highest unemployment rate among the states. California followed, at 12.5%, with Florida at 12.0%. Unemployment in Puerto Rico also remains high, at 15.7% but is down from 17.2% in April 2010.

A Credit Card-Free Wallet? A Wallet-Free World?

This year, millions of mobile telephones capable of making contactless payments will be available to consumers. An article by CNNMoney reports that these “mobile wallets” will allow customers to store multiple credit cards, make payments, check balances, and even use coupons or reward points. A greater number of people may leave home without wallets as it is estimated that by 2015 the pay-by-phone market will account for up to $22 billion in transactions, and there are predictions that other cards such as driver’s licenses, identification cards, or insurance cards, could be stored in these devices.

March 29, 2011

Metropolitan Areas and Economic Growth

A recent Brookings Institution report highlights the importance of metropolitan areas to the nation’s economic growth. In all but three states, metropolitan areas generate the majority of economic output.

Metropolitan areas also have disproportionate shares of assets that are critical to economic growth, including population, exports, lower-carbon commuters (those not driving alone to work), working-age people with a post-secondary degree, and people employed in science and engineering.

According to the report, four metropolitan areas in Connecticut (Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, New Haven-Milford, and Norwich-New London) generate 95% of the state’s economic output.

Feds Look to Reduce Wasteful Duplication of Effort

As in Connecticut, the federal government is searching for ways to consolidate functions to reduce wasteful duplication of effort. In its first annual report to Congress, the General Accountability Office has identified many such instances across government programs, initiatives, and agencies. In the human services field, it reported the need to:
  1. reduce administrative overlap among domestic food assistance programs (18 programs involved),
  2. better coordinate homeless programs to minimize fragmentation and overlap (over 20 programs involved),
  3. improve cost-effectiveness and enhance services for transportation-disadvantaged persons, (80 programs involved), and
  4. co-locate and consolidate administrative structures in multiple employment and training programs.

March 28, 2011

Tax Foundation Analyzes the Governor’s Tax Bill

The Tax Foundation has released an analysis of Governor Malloy’s proposed tax plan. The report highlights the bills major components and estimates that the plan will cost Connecticut taxpayers more than $400 per resident.

The authors remark that “While it may not be much consolation to Connecticut residents, some of the base broadening would lead to a more comprehensive and neutral sales tax base - a move toward sound tax policy. At the same time, other provisions simply attempt to raise revenue in politically safe but economically dubious ways, as in the cases of the tax increases on cigarettes, alcohol, luxury goods, and goods purchased with coupons.”

You can read OLR’s preliminary analysis of the bill here.

New MetroNorth Cars Begin Service

The New Haven Register describes the first run of the M-8 rail cars on the MetroNorth rail line. The cars made their first round trip between Stamford and New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The eight-car train was the first made up of M-8s to carry paying customers. The first cars arrived Dec. 24, 2009, and underwent extensive testing, including 4,000 miles of trouble-free test runs. The state has committed to buy 380 of the new M8 cars. The state Bond Commission last week approved purchasing the final 38.

The 380 cars average a $2.23 million price tag, according to a press release by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office, with 65% paid by Connecticut and 35% by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

March 25, 2011

Affordable Housing Creates Jobs, Among Other Things

Business and affordable housing advocates have said for years that affordable housing shortages undercut efforts to attract or retain businesses here. But alleviating those shortages would do more than help businesses do business here. “It stand to reason that building or rehabilitating affordable housing creates jobs in the construction field,” according to the Center for Housing Policy. “Less obvious is that this activity ripples through the economy, supporting businesses that supply the construction trade as well as retailers, health services, and restaurants where newly employed workers spend their pay.

For example, the National Association of Homebuilders estimates that building 100 new low-income units with federal tax credits generate 120 construction jobs. But the benefit doesn’t end there. “Once the paint is dry and the homes are occupied, new residents continue to support roughly 30 jobs in a wide array of industries.” Further, newly built affordable homes generate new state and local fee and tax revenue and improve property values (“The Role of Affordable Housing in Creating Jobs and Stimulating Local Economic Development,” Insights from Housing Policy Research, Center for Housing Policy, January 2011).

Housing Costs Are Squeezing More Low-Income Households

The more money very low-income people spend on rent and other related expenses, the less they have for food, clothes, transportation, and other essentials. Those that spend over half their income on rents constitute the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “worst case housing needs.” According to a new HUD report, the number of households in that predicament jumped from almost 6 million households in 2007 to just over 7 million in 2009, a 20% increase.

Why did this happen? Higher income households are occupying more of the low-income ones can afford.
  • For example, higher income renters occupy about 42% of the units that are affordable to extremely low-income renters, who earn less than 30% of the area median income (AMI).
  • The situation is a little better for those households on the next rung of the income ladder—those earning between 30% and 50% of AMI). Higher income renters occupy 36% the units afford affordable to this group.

Here’s another way to look at the situation: Only 32 units of adequate, affordable rental housing are available for every 100 extremely low-income renters and only 60 adequate units are available for every 100 low-income renters.

What do State Vocational-Technical Schools Cost?

A new State Department of Education report on vocational-technical (V-T) school budgets and expenditures yields some interesting data. Among the highlights:
  • Per-pupil costs at the 15 operating V-T schools vary widely, with the highest-cost school, Eli Whitney in Hamden, costing over 33% more ($15,588) than the lowest, Wilcox Tech in Meriden ($11,700).
  • The state is spending more than $385,500 this year for plant operation and maintenance at the shuttered Wright Tech in Stamford.
  • Nearly 59% of the V-T system’s full-time equivalent employees are trade and academic instructional staff.
  • Almost 12% of system employees are classified as administrative, including principals, assistant principals, consultants, deans, and business officers.

Peer Pressure Affects the Brain

A lot of parents and teachers who deal with students every day know how hard it is to encourage them to do something that their friends don’t like. Now, a new study by a Harvard research team shows that peer pressure actually affects how brains work.

The team showed 14 young men pictures of women’s faces and asked them to rate their attractiveness. Subjects were told, falsely, that hundreds of other men had already rated the pictures. After seeing the “peer” rating, the subjects were asked to re-rate the pictures. In every case, they changed their ratings to match those of their supposed peers and MRI scans showed significantly different activity in the parts of their brains associated with determining subjective value and rewards.

The research suggests that being in a class with other students who are interested can increase an individual student’s engagement. The study may also provide additional support for other research showing changes in a school’s overall culture have a bigger effect on student achievement than smaller, targeted programs.

An early version was summarized in a February 25th post in Education Week’s blog, Inside School Research.

March 24, 2011

HUD, Veterans Affairs Issue Report on Homeless Veterans

The federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs recently issued a joint report on homeless veterans. According to the February 2011 report, nearly 76,000 veterans were homeless on at least one night in January 2009, based on a point-in-time estimate, and almost 136,000 veterans spent at least one night in a homeless shelter during 2009.

The report also found that a veteran is 50% more likely to become homeless than other Americans. According to the 2009 point-in-time estimate, the number of homeless veterans in Connecticut (approximately 462) constitute about 10% of the state's homeless population while Connecticut veterans only make up about 7% of the state’s total population.

Nursing Homes Contribute to the Economy Especially in Connecticut

So says a new report by the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, a coalition of 15 national long-term care provider organizations dedicated to improving nursing home care and ensuring adequate government funding for it.

The study’s authors analyzed the economic activity that nursing homes generate in all 50 states. They found that in the New England region alone, nursing homes generated $16.27 billion in economic activity, representing nearly 132,000 jobs. Connecticut ranked second behind Massachusetts in the total number of nursing home-generated jobs (i.e., nursing home jobs and jobs in other sectors supported by the nursing home industry) and economic activity with 54,727 jobs and $5.2 billion in activity, respectively, in 2009.


March 23, 2011

National Right to Work to Work Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) recently introduced a “National Right to Work” bill in the U.S. Senate.  The bill deletes a provision in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that allows a union and an employer to agree that union membership or payment of union dues will be a mandatory condition of employment. In effect, the bill would mean the end of “closed shops” nationwide. The NLRA already allows the states to decide the issue for themselves and there are currently 22 “right to work” states in the nation.

Public Policy Options for Dealing with Homeless and Throwaway Youth

The Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk has recently published “Runaway and Throwaway Youth: Time for Policy Changes and Public Responsibility.” The article outlines the characteristics of homeless youth, distinguishing between throwaways and runaways. It discusses the scope of the problem and federal programs and services that deal with it, such as the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

The study’s conclusions focus on both prevention and emergency care options offered at the community level. Safe and secure housing must be made available, as well as support programs that offer mental health counseling, life skills training, and formal education.

March 22, 2011

Connecticut Adds Five Bee Species to Endangered Species List

In 2010 Connecticut became the first state to add bees to its Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species list. According to a recent article in Connecticut Wildlife, beginning in the late 1990’s there has been a decline in the presence of many wild bumblebee species in the state. The reason for the decline is not known but bees are susceptible to environmental stressors such as habitat alterations, pollution, and pesticides. Bees are essential to the food chain because they support fruit and seed production through pollination. The five species added to the list are the affable bumble bee (special concern), Ashton’s bumble bee (special concern), fringed loosestrife oil-bee (special concern), macropis cuckoo (endangered), and yellow banded bumble bee (special concern). The article, Five Bee Species Added to Connecticut’s Endangered Species List (January/February 2011, pg. 4), is available in the Legislative Library.

The Connecticut 2010 Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species list is available at on the DEP's website.

Higher Education Nationally Hurt by Fiscal Crisis

The fiscal challenges from the past few years took a big bite out of state and local spending on higher education. According to a report from State Higher Education Executive Officers, state and local support for higher education totaled $83.7 billion nationwide, down from $88.9 billion in 2008. But while $4.8 billion in federal stimulus funding brought total support in 2010 up to $88.5 billion, it was not enough to keep pace with enrollment, which increased 11% from 2008 to 2010. To make up the difference, colleges and universities turned to tuition. Between 2009 and 2010, net tuition per FTE rose nearly 5%.

March 21, 2011

2010 Census Data Expected to Affect the Number of Local Liquor Stores

With the release of the 2010 U.S. Census data, the number of package stores allowed in cities and towns across the state is expected to change.

By law, the state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) may issue one package store permit for every 2,500 residents of a town as determined by the most recently completed decennial census.

Most cities and towns are currently at their allowable number of liquor stores as established by the 2000 census. But DCP’s Liquor Control Division Director John Suchy stated, “No liquor store permits will be taken away from towns that lost population according to the census, but an additional permit will be allowed for every increase of 2,500 persons in a given town.”

New Federal Rules for Mortgage Broker Compensation

Effective April 1, 2011, new Federal Reserve rules will change the way mortgage brokers and others who originate loans are compensated. According to the Federal Reserve, the rules are designed “to protect consumers in the mortgage market from unfair or abusive lending practices that can arise from certain loan originator compensation practices, while preserving responsible lending and sustainable homeownership.”

The new rules prohibit brokers and originators from (1) receiving compensation based on the loan’s interest rate or terms (other than a fixed percentage of the loan amount); (2) steering consumers to loans that lead to greater compensation but are not in the consumers’ best interest; and (3) receiving compensation from both the consumer and lender for the same loan (although they can still charge consumers for third-party services such as appraisals). More information about the rules is available from a recent New York Times article.

March 18, 2011

Report: Individual Political Contributions Result in Benefits to Local Companies

In a recently released paper, two Vanderbilt University professors found that individuals who contribute to political campaigns are more likely to donate to politicians who can benefit them economically. However, the result is that “individual political contributions are also associated with improvements in operating performance of firms in industry clusters.” The researchers conclude there is a positive relationship between the frequency and size of contributions and the performance of local companies. The relationship holds true across Congressional committees but was strongest for those politicians in committees with jurisdiction over geographically concentrated industries, such as mining or manufacturing.

Feds Target Motor Vehicle Blind Spots

The U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) has proposed a new safety regulation to help eliminate motor vehicle blind spots that can hide the presence of pedestrians.

The proposal, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would expand the required field of view for most motor vehicles so that the driver can see directly behind him or her when the vehicle is backing up. NHTSA believes manufacturers will install rear-mounted video cameras and in-vehicle displays to meet the proposed standards.

The requirements will apply to passenger cars, pick-up trucks, minivans, low-speed vehicles and buses whose fully-loaded weight (including passengers, fuel, and cargo) is up to 10,000 pounds.

According to US DOT, 10% of new vehicles must comply with the requirements by September 2012, 40% by September 2014 and 100% by September 2014.

NHTSA estimates that an average of 292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries occur each year because of “back-over” crashes. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk: NHTSA says that about 44% of the deaths occur to children under age five and about one-third to people age 70 or older.

March 17, 2011

New Wind Projects in Norwich

An article in the New London Day describes two new wind energy projects in Norwich. On March 2, Norwich Public Utilities (NPU) officials showed off the first of its new pilot wind electricity-generating wind turbines at the senior center. The propeller blade-style unit in the Mahan Drive parking lot is 45 feet tall with 12-foot diameter blades. At winds of 23 mph, the unit will generate a peak output of 2.4 kilowatts of electricity, which will be sent directly to the senior center.

A second turbine of a different design will be installed within the next two months. The second unit will look much different. At only 25 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter, the unit will resemble horizontally spinning ribbon-like blades to produce about 1 kilowatt of power, said Jeff Brining, energy services division manager for NPU.

Tax Credit for Small Employers that Insure their Employees

The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act helps small businesses and small tax-exempt organizations afford the cost of providing health insurance to their employees. If a business has fewer than 25 employees and provides health insurance, it may qualify for a small business tax credit of up to 35% (up to 25% for non-profits) to offset the cost of the insurance. To determine if a small business or tax exempt organization qualifies for the small business health care tax credit, follow the three steps on the IRS fact sheet.

For more information about the small business health care tax credit, see the IRS website.

March 16, 2011

New York to Consider Billions in Medicaid Cuts

The New York Times is reporting that a committee that N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed to come up with significant cuts in the state’s Medicaid program has approved (1) an overall annual cap on program spending and (2) cuts in reimbursements to all Medicaid providers. The committee includes leaders from many stakeholder groups, including hospitals and labor unions.

The cuts, which Cuomo has said he will incorporate into his budget, will create savings of $2.3 billion and include many ideas offered by the health care industry, itself a beneficiary of the state’s Medicaid largesse. They include moving more program beneficiaries into managed care, imposing spending controls on home health and personal care, and limiting noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.

It is not clear how the state’s legislature, which must approve the cuts, will receive the recommendations. And the cap could be dead if it is found to be unconstitutional.

A Gap-Based Approach to Reforming Municipal Aid

Researchers at the New England Public Policy Center have released a study that proposes a “gap-based” formula for distributing non-education aid in Massachusetts. The authors suggest that this approach allocates municipal aid in a “more rational and transparent manner, without redistributing current aid.”

Their gap-based approach is designed to target new pools of municipal aid to cities and towns based on their relative need for state assistance. They measured a city or town’s need as the difference between the cost of providing municipal services in a particular town and the town’s ability to raise local revenue to pay for those services.

The study suggests that by distributing any new pools of municipal aid to cities and towns with higher gaps, without disrupting current levels of funding to other cities and towns, the state could improve the distribution of municipal aid in a relatively short time period.

March 15, 2011

Lessons from Healthy San Francisco

According to a recent article in Health Affairs, “Healthy San Francisco,” a comprehensive, coordinated health care coverage program that began in 2007, offers several lessons for safety-net providers as they prepare for health reform. Although the program enrolls only the uninsured, it incorporates such features of managed care as primary care homes, links to specialty care and hospitalization, prepaid program fees, and customer service.

Connecticut’s History Standards Earn an “F”

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a non-profit organization focused on education policy, recently released a report on each state’s United States history standards. The results were not good. Only seven states earned an “A” or “A-” while 28 states earned a “D” or an “F.” Connecticut is one of the states receiving a failing grade.

The report blasts Connecticut’s standards, saying they “offer isolated historical scraps which are devoid of context, explanation, or meaning. And even these arbitrary thematic shards are merely ‘suggested’ to teachers, not required.”

Another problem with the standards is that “the emphasis throughout…is on social studies skills and concepts rather than on specific historical content.”

An appendix to the report compares the 2011 grades with 2003 grades. Connecticut received a “D” in 2003 and was one of 10 states whose grade dropped.

March 14, 2011

Businesses Hate Government Regulations, Right?

Not necessarily. “This kind of simplistic analysis you often see where it’s business saying regulation is bad, vs. liberals or Democrats saying regulation is good, is not entirely accurate. Plenty of times, businesses are calling for regulation if it suits their business model,” Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen’s energy director stated in an article in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Apparently, energy deregulation doesn’t suit industrial power users because they asked federal regulators to investigate deregulated energy markets. They also asked for changes, including more say in transmission networks’ operations. “Typically, these are folks who would want less regulation,” American Public Power Association vice president Joe Nipper stated in the same article. The federal regulators told them deregulation was working just fine. Consequently, the nation’s largest corporations now want Congress to step in, according to Bloomberg Businessweek’s David J. Lynch.

Industrial power users wear several hats. Sometimes they’re businesses providing products to customers. Other times, they’re customers buying things from suppliers. They play different roles, and their attitude about a regulation depends on the role they happening to be playing.

Sometimes, it’s not a question of roles, but gaining a competitive edge. For example, a business that manufactures emission control systems might welcome tighter air pollution standards if they create a market for its products. A manufacturer emitting pollutants might welcome such standards too if it can afford the systems but its competitors can’t.

Sounds far-fetched? Not if you ask manufacturer Babcock & Wilcox; it’s not gloomy about EPA’s plans to regulate utilities greenhouse gas emissions; it sees a $10 billion to $12 billion market for its scrubbers, which strip sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury from coal-fired plans.

OPM Projects Small Decline in Prison Population over the Next 12 Months

OPM’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division estimates that Connecticut’s prison population will fluctuate according to normal patterns during the next 12 months and range between 17,650 and 18,000. In the 2011 Total Facility Population Forecast, released on February 15, OPM anticipates the prison population will reach a low of 17,375 in January 2012 before rising to 17,640 in February 2012. The current prison population, as of February 23, 2011, is 17,770 inmates.

March 11, 2011

2010 Firefighter Fatality Statistic Report Released

The U.S. Fire Administration, part of the federal Department of Homeland Security, released its report, Provisional 2010 Firefighter Fatality Statistics. According to the report, the number of firefighter fatalities across the U.S. was down 6% in 2010 (85 deaths) as compared to 2009 (90). The leading cause of death was heart attacks and strokes, which caused 60% of firefighter deaths. This proportion is unchanged from 2009. Related to this is the statistic that 45 of the 85 deaths happened to firefighters 50-years-old or older.

There was also a large difference between the number of volunteer and career fatalities: 55 volunteer firefighters died versus 28 career firefighter deaths.

Connecticut had four firefighter fatalities in 2010.

If Medical Marijuana is Legalized, Is it Taxable?

A proposal by Governor Malloy to legalize the palliative use of marijuana in certain circumstances could generate revenue if the bill passes and Connecticut decides to follow California’s lead. The sale of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in California and now the California State Board of Equalization (BOE) says those sales are taxable.

California, like Connecticut, taxes the retail sales of all tangible personal property not specifically exempted. California’s law has no exemption for medical marijuana but the Berkeley Patients Group, Inc. argued that the sales were covered by the state’s exemption for medicine. Not so, the BOE ruled. Berkeley owes the state more than $6.4 million in back sales tax, penalties, and interest. California’s sales tax rate is 8.25%.

Illegal sales of marijuana in Connecticut are already subject to an excise tax of $3.50 cents per gram. But, so far, the state hasn’t gotten any revenue from that tax, which was enacted in 1991.

March 10, 2011

Unintended Consequences: Federal Law and the Easy-Bake Oven

A casualty in the move from traditional incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is the Easy-Bake Oven.

Starting in 2012, the 100-watt incandescent bulbs the Easy-Bake Oven uses won’t be available due to a change in federal law. The toy oven uses the heat produced by the light bulb for baking. Because CFLs are more efficient, they don’t produce nearly as much heat and would leave cookie dough mostly raw.

While Hasbro is introducing a new oven that bakes goodies without a light bulb, kids who are baking cookies with the current model might want to get their parents to look into buying a few extra bulbs for their oven while they are still available.

Restructuring Teacher Pay in Tough Times

A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) argues that difficult economic times provide opportunities for school districts to restructure teacher pay systems to place the best teachers where they are most needed and improve student achievement.

Many studies have shown that teachers’ degree status has little or no effect on student achievement. NCTQ recommends that districts redistribute pay increases teachers currently receive for additional post-baccalaureate coursework and advanced degrees to give younger teachers bigger raises and award meaningful bonuses to highly effective teachers.

Teachers often receive their largest pay raises near end of their careers, despite research showing that most growth in teachers’ effectiveness occurs in their first three years in the profession. NCTQ instead recommends awarding significant pay raises when a teacher achieves tenure, providing an incentive to stay in the classroom when teacher turnover is highest and many teachers leave the profession.

Finally, NCTQ recommends shorter overall teacher salary schedules to allow teachers to reach maximum pay sooner. Increasing teachers’ maximum lifetime earnings would give mid-career teachers an incentive to remain in the classroom, the report argues.

March 9, 2011

Does the Law Allow the Potential Location of Certain ‘Group Homes’ to be Subject to Public Hearings?

At the General Assembly’s Planning and Development Committee public hearing on February 7, 2011, many people testified in support of and against bills to require some type of notice (e.g., public hearings) on the location of group homes. A February 7, 2011, Hartford Courant article summarized the debate, as the ‘struggle’ “between the rights of homeowners and the legal protections for residents of group homes.”

As many argued at the public hearing, and as discussed in OLR Report 2009-R-0361, the law protects individuals with current, past, or perceived disabilities against discrimination in housing (which would include people with disabilities who are clients of the departments of Developmental Services and Mental Health and Addiction Services). However, certain groups are not explicitly protected. Therefore, as the news site reported on February 7, the debate becomes whether it is “legally possible to create categories of group homes that would treat facilities for certain groups, like juvenile offenders or sex offenders, differently from homes serving other groups.”

New England States Receive $35.6 million Federal Grant To Develop Online Health Insurance Exchanges

The Governor’s office recently announced that Connecticut residents and businesses will benefit from a two-year, $35.6 million “early innovator” federal grant awarded to New England states to develop a state-of-the-art online gateway to health insurance plans. The gateway project is based at the University of Massachusetts’ Medical Center in Worcester and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Human Services. Once completed, Connecticut residents will be able to search the online exchange for public and private health insurance coverage and service options. Early innovator grants were also awarded to Kansas, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington.

March 8, 2011

Updated 50-State Data on Children Available

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization focused on public policy concerning children and families, has updated the data in its Kids Count Data Center. The data covers all 50 states and encompasses demographics on education; economic well-being; family and community health; safety and risky behaviors; and other information.

Visitor to the foundation’s website can find data showing, for example, that (1) children in Connecticut have, consistently since 2001, lived in families with greater food security than the national average and (2) the number of children in Connecticut living without health insurance is at the lowest it has been since 1991.

HUD Proposing Rule to Eliminate Bias Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) proposed a rule that would eliminate bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in its housing programs.

HUD wants public comments on:
  • barring the use of “actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity” as a basis for determining whether a borrower will receive a federal Housing Administration-mortgage;
  • including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, anyone involved in a LGBT relationship, or anyone perceived to be such an individual or in such relationship in the definition of families who are eligible to participate in HUD’s programs; and
  • barring HUD-assisted housing owners or operators from asking applicants about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The rule is open to public comment until March 25.

March 7, 2011

Create Jobs to Address Blight

According to New York Times op-ed contributor Diana Lind, neighborhood rehabilitation plans, particularly in the northeast, must address the need for jobs as much as the need to fix buildings to eliminate blight. Lind wrote in her January 24, 2011 piece, “The Bright Side of Blight” that “any plan to mitigate the vacant property crisis must not only include innovative urban planning, but also try to restore employment opportunities.” She cites a Philadelphia program that provides “low-skill residents with intensive education and then matches graduates with jobs” at local universities and businesses.

Higher Education Goes Global

Global universities are “reshaping the world” as many ambitious students demand an education that transcends geographic boundaries. A special report on global leaders in The Economist finds that the most popular destination is the English-speaking world, led by the United States which hosts 19% of the world’s mobile students. French and German universities are also popular. In disciplines such as computing and economics, physics, and mathematics, most postgraduates at American universities are foreign.

“Morris Model” Saves NJ County Millions

According to the Morris County Improvement Authority (MCIA), a unique financing model being used in Morris County, NJ saved the county $3.8 million in electricity costs. Using the “Morris Model,” the MCIA issued $22.3 million in low interest government bonds to install 3.1 megawatts of solar panels on county properties like schools, government buildings, and a sports arena. The solar energy company that owns and operates the panels then sells the solar generated electricity back to the county at a discounted rate. Any money the company makes from federal tax incentives and the Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) generated by the panels gets returned to the county as discounted electricity. The MCIA estimates that the electricity generated by the program costs 35% less than its local utility charges.

March 4, 2011

States Consider Later Presidential Primaries

After 2008’s front-loaded presidential primary schedule, some states are now looking to have later primaries in 2012, according to a recent article from Stateline. Arkansas has already passed legislation to move its primary from February to May, while Illinois will move its primary from February to March. Other states are considering similar action. For some states, a later primary could save money because it allows the state to have primary contests for all offices on the same day, rather than having the presidential primary on a separate day.

Infant/Toddler Pajama Recall

The consumer protection department is warning people who have bought infant or toddler pajamas from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s “Pajamagram” store that one style of pajamas has been recalled because it poses a choking hazard.

The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. has voluntarily recalled about 800 “Hoodie-Footie” pajamas in the “Winter Whimsy” pattern because the metal snaps attaching the hood to the pajamas can come off, creating the choking hazard.

The recalled pajamas have a front zipper, detachable hood, and are in red fleece with a multi-colored design of penguins, snowmen and snowflakes. They were sold in infant sizes 0 to 18 months and toddler sizes 2T to 5T. The words “Hoodie Footie,” the size, and product code (GPU #SUNHFH1 or GPU # SUNHFH2) are printed on a neck label.

People who purchased these pajamas should take them away from children and contact the company to receive free replacement pajamas and a $25 gift card. More information, and photographs of the recalled pajamas, are available at at the Department of Consumer Protection's website.

March 3, 2011

Connecticut Prison Population Demographics

Did you know that Connecticut’s total prison population is at its lowest level in four years? As of January 1, 2011, there were 17,746 prisoners in Connecticut prisons. Prisoners serving a sentence accounted for 13,578 inmates; the rest - 4,168 inmates, were prisoners awaiting a sentence. The prison population has dropped steadily in the past four years from a high of 19,894 on February 1, 2008.

All of this information and more, along with helpful charts and tables, can be found in the OLR’s Report, Connecticut Prison Population Over the Last Four Years.

Law Enforcement Agencies Phasing Out Old Radio Codes

In the past, law enforcement officers rarely had to communicate with officers outside their department. Most departments used one-channel conventional radios to communicate with officers in the field. Since everyone shared the channel, codes were needed to pass concise information with a minimum amount of radio time. However, there was no uniformity in the codes, which made inter-jurisdictional communication difficult.

Agencies now must be able to communicate effectively across jurisdictions, and using plain language helps. The Department of Homeland Security encourages plain language in its National Incident Management System. It encourages (1) law enforcement agencies to commit to a plan and outline the necessary steps, (2) each agency to keep a small subset of agency-specific codes, and (3) the standardization of certain terms (i.e. GTA for grand theft auto).

March 2, 2011

Florida Judge Rules Federal Health Care Reform Law Unconstitutional

On January 31, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the federal health care reform is unconstitutional in a lawsuit brought by 26 states against the federal government. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled the entire law unconstitutional after finding the “individual mandate” provision violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. This provision requires most people to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty.

This is the second ruling by a federal judge against the law’s constitutionality. In December, a Virginia federal judge ruled the individual mandate provision unconstitutional, but stopped short of voiding the entire law. Previously, two other federal courts in Virginia and Michigan upheld the law’s constitutionality, including the individual mandate provision. According to several media reports, the U.S. Justice Department will appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

40 Years of Environmental Protection

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established on December 2, 1970. Since that time, drinking water has been made cleaner with the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act; oceans have been protected by banning the dumping of sewage sludge and industrial waste; and communities are being safe-guarded by critical health standards to reduce smog. Explore major events in environmental history since the creation of EPA through an interactive timeline.

March 1, 2011

Collect Unemployment Benefits Using a Debit Card

The Connecticut Department of Labor is going paperless with 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.

Streamlining the Small Business Loan Process

The U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) recently announced two new loan programs it hopes will increase small business lending, particularly in underserved communities.  The Small Loan Advantage and Community Advantage programs will provide a streamlined application process for certain SBA 7(a) loans up to $250,000.  The goal is to provide these loans to businesses quickly; applications are two pages long and approval will be granted in less than 10 days.  The programs are expected to begin by March 15, 2011.