July 29, 2011

Term Limits May Not Reduce the Number of “Career Politicians”

Proponents of legislative term limits argue that they facilitate the election of “citizen legislators”- individuals who come from and then immediately return to private life- instead of “career politicians.” However, a report by the Center of Governmental Studies (CGS) on the California legislature questions whether this is in fact the case.

California limits lawmakers to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate. CGS’s report suggests that, rather than increasing the number of citizen legislators, the term limits have increased the number of legislators with previous public sector experience. For example, in 1990, 28% of the state Assembly and 35% of the state Senate had previously served as elected local officials. By 2008, those percentages had more than doubled, to 70% for the House and 72% for the Senate.

Another consequence is for termed-out Assembly members to move on to the Senate; the number of state senators with previous experience in the Assembly increased from 68% in 1990 to 93% in 2008. And in general, legislators were just as likely (and in the Senate, more likely) to move to another elected or appointed position in the public sector as they were before term limits were enacted.

July 28, 2011

Gun Control Advocates Chide Obama for Inaction

According to National Public Radio (NPR), gun control advocates believe President Obama hasn’t done enough on gun control. Since the January shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), gun control advocates like Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence have been frustrated with the president skirting the issue, specifically during his State of the Union address.

Gun control advocates would like to see the president say something about guns. A group of city mayors called Mayors against Illegal Guns sent a critical letter stating that they find it troubling that six months after the Arizona shooting, there still hasn’t been any White House action or congressional hearing on the shooting.

The article suggests another reason for the inaction. With the upcoming elections, the president may not want to alienate swing voters.

Medicaid for the Middle Class?

According to a recent Associated Press article, a technical glitch in the new federal healthcare reform law will allow up to 3 million middle-class people to qualify for Medicaid in 2014. This change would affect early retirees. Actuaries for the federal Health and Human Services department state that a married couple could have an annual income of about $64,000 and still receive Medicaid. This is because, unlike today, most of their Social Security benefits would no longer be counted as income when determining program eligibility. The Medicaid-eligible early retirees would be in addition to the estimated 16 to 20 million new enrollees the law added by expanding Medicaid to cover low-income childless adults. The Obama administration is currently looking into ways to address the problem.

July 27, 2011

R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Debt Collectors

The debt collection agency business has skyrocketed in recent years and collectors working for them have been criticized for many techniques used to obtain payments from debtors. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 2011 Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) Annual Report, there were 140,036 debt collection complaints for FDCPA violations in 2010, an increase of more than 17% over the number of complaints in 2009. These complaints included allegations of repeated calls, debt misrepresentation, a lack of written notice, threats of illegal or unintended action, and offensive or abusive language.

But the New York Times reports debt collectors nationwide are seeking to update the regulations they operate under and change their image. Some of the proposed changes include updating the FDCPA to include the ability to contact debtors using modern technology such as email and cell phones, specific language collectors can use when leaving voicemail messages, and a requirement that creditors maintain customer account information for seven years. The industry also supports taking action against debt collectors who violate the law.

New York Times Article:
Federal Trade Commission FDCPA Annual Report:

Wal-Mart Discrimination Case May Not End Class-Action Suits

A lot has been written about the Supreme Court’s decision on June 21st in Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes and most suggest the same thing: the decision is going to hamper all class-action discrimination cases going forward. In the case, the plaintiffs argued that Wal-Mart discriminated against 1.5 million women employees because of their gender.

But Connecticut Employment Blog author Daniel Schwartz suggests a more subtle interpretation. The decision may mean the end of mega class action suits, but not the end of all class action suits. He says it may raise the standard for what is a mega class action suit (one the covers an entire company), but keep the same standard for smaller (but still sizeable) groups of employees. The court ruled it would be unfair for an employer to pay damages to such a large number of employees through a formula for damages, when so few of them would actually have to show how much they were injured by the employer.

July 26, 2011

Region’s Economy Still Struggling

According to a recent forecast by the New England Economic Partnership, New England’s economy is still struggling and will not return to pre-recession employment levels until 2014. The forecast found that among New England states, New Hampshire is expected to have the highest employment growth rate this year, and Connecticut the lowest. Housing prices will also continue to decline. It also found that one positive note is trade with Canada, especially exports by Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The New England Economic Partnership is a non-profit organization that provides economic analyses and forecasts of New England as a region and its individual states.

July 25, 2011

Hang Up and Drive

The July 11th edition of USA Today reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that handheld cellphone use and texting while driving dropped sharply in Hartford and Syracuse, New York during four periods of stepped-up enforcement coupled with media campaigns. Handheld cellphone use fell 57% and texting while driving 72% in Hartford, and both fell 32% in Syracuse, NHTSA says. The declines were based on researchers' observations of cellphone use before and after each enforcement period and on public-awareness surveys at driver-licensing offices in the two cities.

The programs, called "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other," were modeled after the "Click It or Ticket" national campaigns that helped push seat-belt usage to 85% in 2010, an all-time high. The new programs included four waves of police crackdowns and education campaigns in April, July, and October 2010 and March and April 2011. They began after NHTSA determined that 5% of drivers were using handheld cellphones at any given moment during a typical day in 2009. NHTSA next plans to test the same model statewide in an as-yet-undetermined state.

Sales Tax Holiday for Connecticut Shoppers

Mark your calendars – the state’s 2011 sales-tax-free week runs from Sunday, August 21st through Saturday, August 27th. During this week, Connecticut shoppers can purchase clothing and footwear costing less than $300 without paying the 6.35% sales tax.

Connecticut joins 22 other states that have scheduled similar sales tax holidays in 2011. It is still unclear whether Massachusetts will offer its generous sales-tax-free weekend later this summer. Typically, it has exempted sales of any tangible personal property, not just clothing and footwear, costing $2,500 or less.

Housing Policies: The Law of Unintended Consequences

Housing policies aren’t immune to the law of unintended consequences. And, as in other policy areas, these consequences don’t show up until years after a policy is implemented. And sometimes it isn’t obvious that the consequence follows the policy.

Hanna Rosin made this point in a 2008 Atlantic Monthly article about how programmatic changes in a popular federal housing program seem to correlate with a shift in violent crime from inner Memphis to its surrounding neighborhoods. The program subsidizes rents in privately owned apartments low- and moderate-income people find on their own. Memphis and other cities used it to relocate families from apartments in high-rise public housing projects into apartments in residential neighborhoods.

Researchers were amazed and deflated, Rosin wrote, when they overlaid a city map showing crime patterns on top of one showing the neighborhoods where people found apartments. The findings seem to question the wisdom of demolishing public housing and spreading the tenants to other locations.

“Physically redistributing the poor was probably necessary; generations of them were floundering in high-rise. But instead of coaching them and then carefully spreading them out among many more-affluent neighborhoods, most cities gave them vouchers and told them to move in a rush, with no support,” she wrote.

Shorter School Weeks Produce Modest Savings

A 2009 Education Commission of the States (ECS) policy brief found that about 120 school districts in 17 states have moved to a four-day school week in an attempt to save money. ECS has now followed up with a second report on the savings to school districts from such a change. Contrary to expectations, ECS concludes that (1) such a change produces, at most, a savings of 5.43% for the average district and (2) districts that have moved to a four-day week have experienced actual savings of only 0.4% to 2.5%.

Why are the savings so small? Educator pay and benefits are the largest single expense in public education, typically comprising more than 60% of a district’s total budget and none of the districts that adopted a four-day week reduced pay and benefits. Thus, their only instructional savings are lower expenses for substitute teachers. After instructional expenses, the largest pool of available savings is operations and maintenance, including heating and cooling, janitorial services, and supplies. Achieving such savings requires closing school buildings on the fifth non-instructional day, but most districts do not. Instead, they keep buildings open for teacher training and student extra-curricular activities.

July 22, 2011

Study Finds Children’s Learning Suffers When Parent are Deployed

In an April 6, 2011, article, Education Week reported that a Rand Corporation Arroyo Center study found, “Army children coping with a parent’s long-term deployment-19 months or more- have lower test scores than their peers, including other military children….”

According to the article, “Overall, every month a parent is gone seems to hurt a student’s academic achievement a little, researchers found.”

The article goes on to state, “In Washington, for example, each additional month of deployment was associated with about an average of 1.18-point difference in a reading achievement scale score.”

Cuts to Federal Senior Employment Program

The budget President Obama signed in April contained a 45% cut to the Senior Community Service Employment Program, bringing the funding level down to $450 million from $825 million. Connecticut’s funding went from $8.4 million to $4.8 million. The number of participants will drop from 1,220 to 760.

The program specifically targets older adults who are seeking employment and training assistance.

CIGNA Moves Headquarters to Connecticut, Promises New Jobs

The Hartford Courant reports that CIGNA insurance company changed its headquarters from Philadelphia to Bloomfield on Tuesday, July 12. In addition, CIGNA’s CEO, David Cordani, and Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced that CIGNA is the first company to sign on to the state’s First Five economic development program. First Five offers tax incentives to companies that add at least 200 employees in the state. Cordani expects to add between 200 and 800 jobs, most of which will be new positions in technology, customer service, finance, legal, human resources, and underwriting. CIGNA currently has about 30,000 employees worldwide. Of the 3,883 in Connecticut, 3,250 are in Bloomfield. The company also employs about 1,000 contractors in Connecticut.

Juvenile Justice 101 for Parents

King County, Washington has started offering juvenile justice classes for parents. The 15-minute class orients parents about what to expect as their children enter the juvenile justice system. The short class also includes a video with testimony from other parents.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is the class is held in the juvenile court house lobby, not in a separate room. Researchers from the University of Washington decided having it in the lobby would allow more people easier access to the information.

The classes are funded by the MacArthur Foundation through Washington's Models for Change program.

July 21, 2011

U.S. Department of Education Launches Website with College Cost Data

The U.S. Department of Education’s website now lists America’s most expensive colleges and universities. The department lists institutions across several categories (e.g., public, private, four-year, two-year, etc.) that are in the top 5% for costs and those in the bottom 10%. Costs are measured by both tuition and fees and by net price, which is the difference between an institution’s cost of attendance and the average amount of federal, state/local government, or institutional grant or scholarship aid. The website also lists institutions with the highest percentage tuition and fee increases between 2008 and 2010.

Mosquito-Testing Season Arrives

The state’s Mosquito Management Program started again on May 31. Mosquitoes are being tested for West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis virus.

Dr. Theodore Andreadis, the state’s chief medical entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, stated in a press release, "We are currently experiencing unusually high numbers of mosquitoes throughout the state due to last winter’s snowfall and excessive spring rains. With additional flooding and arrival of warm weather we expect this trend to continue for several weeks."

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station maintains 91 mosquito-trapping stations in 72 towns. You can follow the latest mosquito information on the Mosquito Management Program’s website.

Last year, 11 Connecticut residents contracted West Nile. Mosquitoes that tested positive for the West Nile virus were caught in 24 towns. Eastern equine encephalitis-positive mosquitoes were caught in one town.

NLRB Proposes New Rules to Speed Up Union Elections

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently proposed changes to the rules and regulations that govern the secret-ballot elections used to determine if employees want to be represented by a union. In general, the changes would speed up the process by allowing for electronic filing of documents, setting shorter deadlines, and limiting the use of some current pre-election proceedings. Proponents of the changes believe they will remove unnecessary barriers in the pre-election process, but NLRB member Brian Hayes, who dissented from the board’s decision, believes the change “tilts heavily against employers’ right to engage in legitimate free speech and to petition the government for redress.”

The public can submit written comments on the proposal until August 22, 2011.

Federal Sentencing Commission Votes to Make New Crack Cocaine Guidelines Retroactive

On June 30, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to makes its proposed amendment to federal sentencing guidelines retroactive. The amendment implements the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which lowered the penalties for crack cocaine offenses, reducing the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and power cocaine offenses. The amendment to the guidelines will be retroactive when the proposed amendment takes effect in November, unless Congress acts to reject the amendment.

In its news release describing the decision, the commission estimated that approximately 12,000 offenders may be eligible to seek a sentence reduction, and that the average sentence reduction will be 37 months.

The news release specifies that its vote would make the proposed amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines retroactive, but would not give retroactive effect to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 itself.

July 15, 2011

Department of Defense Announce $15 Million to Improve Electronic Voting for U.S. Military

On May 18, 2011, the U.S. Department of Defense announced it will award over $15 million in grants to state and local governments under the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to develop electronic voting options for military voters.

FVAP will award grants to proposals seeking to (1) reduce voting impediments faced by Uniform and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voter Act (UOCAVA) voters and (2) advance innovative approaches to absentee voting by them. According to the grant announcement, the objective is to advance electronic absentee voting system research, development, testing, and evaluation and collect and present data that can show cost-effective methods that, among other things:

1. establish and operate successful, sustainable and affordable electronic tools that will improve voting systems for voters protected by UOCAVA;

2. increase the percentage of ballots successfully returned by UOCAVA voters to be either equal to, or greater than the percentage of ballots returned by the general absentee voting population; and

3. reduce the failure rates for UOCAVA voters experienced in each of the various stages of the absentee voting process.

In this article from Stars and Stripes, FVAP’s director states that he expects money to be awarded later this year, and the new programs to be in place before the 2012 presidential preference primaries.

Feds Unveil New Fuel Economy Labels for New Vehicles

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency have introduced new fuel economy labels designed to give new car buyers more information about energy costs and pollution emissions. The new labels are required by the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Among other things, the stickers will give consumers estimates on how much they will spend on fuel over five years compared to the average new vehicle, and how a vehicle compares to other vehicles for smog emissions and emissions that contribute to climate change.

July 14, 2011

Report on Connecticut’s Propane Regulations

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Program Review and Investigations (PRI) recently published a study on the state’s propane regulations.

PRI studied, among other things, the current propane regulations, container law, propane pricing, and consumer protections.

A few of the consumer protection recommendations PRI suggests are: requiring that propane contracts be in writing and contain all the terms and conditions for delivery; not including liquidated damages beyond actual damages; and prohibiting automatic renewal clauses, except under certain situations.

July 13, 2011

Proposed Federal Cuts/Limits in Medicaid Could Have Negative Impact on State Economies

A new report by Families USA, a non-partisan health care advocacy organization, suggests that Congressional proposals to limit federal spending on the Medicaid program (i.e., remove its entitlement status) could have severe economic consequences for the states.

Using a U.S. Department of Commerce economic model, the authors show how proposals to reduce federal Medicaid expenditures would have a multiplier effect and result in a loss of many billions of dollars to the states, and lead to thousands of job losses. For example, in Connecticut, a 5% cut in the state’s 2011 federal share of Medicaid would be a loss of just over $225 million, creating a risk of over $460 million in lost business activity and 3,690 lost jobs. Under a 15% cut, the state would stand to lose almost $1.4 billion in business activity and over 11,000 jobs.

Out-of-State Property Owners Can Appeal Local P&Z Decisions

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled that out-of-state residents can challenge a Connecticut municipality’s zoning or planning commission decision that affects land within 100-feet of their properties. The CT Law Tribune notes that the decision “could ultimately affect development in the dozens of Connecticut towns that sit astride the New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island borders.”

The case concerned property owners in New York and Connecticut and challenged the New Canaan planning commission’s approval of a subdivision plan and special permit for a 900-person church sanctuary. The plaintiffs appealed the decision, claiming that the commission “had acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and in abuse of its discretion” in approving the project.

July 12, 2011

CHAMPs-A Model Health Care Delivery System for Medicaid

To sustain community health centers (CHCs) and preserve access to health care for Medicaid beneficiaries and other low-income patients, the physician-authors of a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine propose a new health care delivery model: CHCs and Academic Medical Partnerships or “CHAMPs.” CHAMPs would combine the medical technology, inpatient care, and subspecialty expertise of academic health centers (AHCs) with the primary care expertise of CHCs. The authors believe that combining the best elements of AHCs and CHCs would result in high quality, cost effective care to low-income individuals while also training the next generation of professionals.

Idaho Leaving Behind No Child Left Behind

Tom Luna, Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced the state will no longer comply with the federal No Child Left Behind regulations that test children until reforms are made and there are tests to measure student academic growth from year to year according to an Associated Press report.

Luna told the AP that the law was now a stumbling block preventing student progress.

Governing reports that Idaho isn't alone: Kentucky has taken the same position and South Dakota might join them soon. The magazine reported that reforming the law seemed unlikely in the current Congress, citing Rep. John Yarmuth saying that given budget problems and the looming presidential election, reform just wouldn't happen.

July 11, 2011

Beyond Cap and Gown: Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh’s Comeback

Pittsburgh’s comeback from the late 1970s recession owes much to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), which spearheaded efforts to clean up the mammoth J&L steel mill and attract leading corporations to the city. But CMU also spent a lot of time helping entrepreneurs start new businesses and existing businesses organize themselves into clusters, reports ED Now (January 2, 2011, available in the Legislative Library).

CMU’s cluster strategy included a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh to launch the Digital and Life Sciences Greenhouses, initiatives that integrated their efforts to find commercial applications for university research (i.e., technology transfer), help faculty launch businesses, and provide funds and technical assistance for fledgling new businesses.

“The net effects of this collaboration,” according to ED Now, “has been accelerated rates of university-based business formation—CMU is ranked second in the nation by the Association of University Technology Managers in the rate of start-ups per federal research dollars invested—and increased business survival and growth rates.”

One element of CMU’s success is its Community Connection Committee, whose staff regularly meets with people and organizations involved in economic development. The committee goal is to share ideas, discuss resources, learn about each other’s work, and establish a framework for groups to collaborate on projects.

Out-of-State Small Loan Lenders That Lend to Connecticut Borrowers Must be Licensed Here

A recent legal opinion by Attorney General George Jepsen concludes that state law requires an out-of-state small loan lender to be licensed in Connecticut if the company solicits and makes loans by mail to Connecticut residents. The legal opinion was issued in response to a request by Department of Banking commissioner Howard Pitkin, in relation to a complaint filed with the department concerning the interest charged by such a lender.

The opinion also concludes that requiring such companies to be licensed here does not violate the Commerce Clause of the federal constitution, because (1) the licensing statute does not discriminate against out-of-state lenders in favor of in-state lenders, (2) there is a legitimate interest in restricting the maximum interest rates that small loan lenders may charge, and (3) the licensing requirement only applies if at least part of the transaction occurs in Connecticut (for example, the borrower negotiates the terms, in person or by mail, phone, or the Internet, while physically present in the state).

July 8, 2011

New York Court Rules “Private Dances” Taxable

The New York Appellate Court has unanimously upheld the state Division of Taxation’s assessment of an Albany-area adult “juice bar” called Nite Moves for nearly $125,000 in unpaid taxes, plus penalties and interest, based on its failure to collect sales tax on admission charges and “private dance” sales.

The club, which allows patrons to “view exotic dances performed by women in various stages of undress,” charges a separate fee for “couch sales” or dances performed for customers in private rooms. The club argued that such dances are exempt from tax as “dramatic or musical arts performances” (NY Tax Law § 1105(f)(1)).

Rejecting expert testimony from a cultural anthropologist, the five-judge panel found that “at a bare minimum” the club failed to prove that private dances were choreographed performances or that the club was a “theater in the round” exempt from state sales tax. The judges also dismissed the club’s claim that the tax was unconstitutional, ruling that the New York statute is “facially neutral and in no way seeks to levy a tax upon exotic dance as a form of expression.”

677 New Loudon Corporation, d/b/a Nite Moves v. State of New York Tax Appeals Tribunal, et.al., #509464, June 9, 2011

Rethinking Police Lineups

Recently, Texas became the tenth state to have their state’s police departments review the procedures for conducting police lineups. Departments in Texas were strongly encouraged to consider research done in this area by psychologists.

A story on National Public Radio details the ways research can help lower the number of innocent people picked out of lineups.

In conducting a photo lineup for an eyewitness, research suggests showing the witness one photograph at a time. Researchers say this has the effect of having the witness compare the photograph to his or her memory of the suspect instead of one photograph to another.

Research has also shown that the officer conducting the lineup should not know which person in the lineup is the actual suspect. This prevents any unconscious communication from taking place between the officer and the witness.

For both photographic lineups and lineups where the people are present, telling the witness that the suspect might not be present also changes how witnesses approach a lineup.

July 7, 2011

Fitness and Planning?

The Hartford Courant’s Rick Green wrote in his blog on May 23: “For a change, we're among the best. Here's a list of the metropolitan areas that have score the highest on health and fitness. The Hartford-Middlesex-Tolland county area moves up two notches this year on the American Fitness Index.”

The Hartford metropolitan area is number seven, behind only Minneapolis; Washington, DC; Boston; Portland, OR; Denver; and San Francisco. Does this speak to planning, with perhaps more thought given to bike paths and recreational space?

States Relaxing Regulations to Lure Insurance Business

Some states are making some of their financial regulation laws look something like those in the Caribbean, according to the New York Times. It reports that Delaware, Hawaii, South Carolina, and Vermont, among other states, have changed their laws to allow for something called a “captive,” which is a subsidiary company that provides insurance to its parent company.

The Times reports that a number of large companies have taken advantage of this, including Hartford Financial Services, Aetna, and MetLife. This has allowed the companies to release money that is normally tied up in reserves.

Critics say there are number of problems with this type of transaction. Potential problems cited include a lack of reserve capital and a lack of public oversight since audited financial records are confidential instead of public.

July 6, 2011

Californians (and other states) Do It Independently

Unlike Connecticut ,California does not have a legislative commission or an executive task force working on redistricting, but rather an independent commission of citizens: the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. The commission recently released the first draft of its maps and is currently taking public comments on them.

The commission is made up of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four people who belong to neither party. None of the members can have a prior or existing relationship with any state government official, been a candidate for state office, or been a state or federal lobbyist. California voters authorized creation of the commission in 2008.

The commission has to follow strict, nonpartisan guidelines in creating districts that are about equal in population.

Currently 11 other state uses similar commissions: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Workplace Violence Declines

There were more than 572,000 nonfatal violent crimes (rape, robbery, and assault) against people age 16 or older at work or on duty in 2009 according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). This number is down from 2.1 million in 1993, the year BJS began its survey. Law enforcement, security guards, and bartenders suffered the highest rate of nonfatal violent crimes at work or on duty. The BJS study also compares the rate of nonfatal violent crime against employees at work and outside of work. The study finds that the rate of these crimes outside of work is three times higher.

According to BJS, the number of homicides also fell from a high of 1,068 in 1993 to 521 in 2009.

July 5, 2011

Statewide Home Visiting Program

The Connecticut’s Children’s Trust Fund has developed its effective home visiting program to assist vulnerable new parents. The program’s purpose is to identify at-risk parents and provide effective services in order to reduce child abuse and neglect. The article, published in a recent edition of Child Abuse & Neglect The International Journal, describes the strategy and history of a universal home visiting program that relied on strong legislative support. The Trust Fund’s authorization, now codified at CGS § 17b-751b, resulted in the establishment of the Nurturing Families Network. The home visiting program sites grew from two to 42 over a decade, and are now in place at all 29 of the state’s birthing hospitals with expanded programs in Hartford and New Haven.

Read about the program details, its data collection and evaluation components, and the Continuous Quality Improvement Team that meets to address implementation problems and quality assurance issues. Program results show that participants have low rates of substantiated abuse and neglect. The research for and evaluation of the program help the Trust Fund to promote best practices, set standards, and measure outcomes at each of the program sites. Its goal is to expand its efforts to reach at-risk families with this effective model, as fiscal resources permit.

Chicago Public Housing Authority Scraps Controversial Plan to Test Residents for Drugs

On May 13, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) ignited controversy when it announced a proposal to require all residents age 18 and over, including the elderly, who live in or apply for public housing to undergo drug testing. Under the proposal, CHA would have amended its lease and Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy to require the testing. A positive test would have subjected leaseholders to eviction proceedings. CHA claimed it needed more tools, such as the drug test, to help fight crime in its housing developments. But after strong criticism of the proposal during a public comment period, and the American Civil Liberties Union accusing CHA of placing a double standard on the poor, the authority announced on June 22 that it would not move forward with the changes.

July 1, 2011

Why We Have College

More and more Americans are attending college. According to a recent New Yorker article by Louis Menand, 68% of graduating high school students attend college and 6% of the country’s population is currently enrolled in college or graduate school. By comparison, in Great Britain and France the rate is about 3%. Menand, a college professor who has worked at both private and public institutions, discusses various theories about what should be learned in college and how this learning can be measured. One theory is based on a meritocratic mode of thought where college tests intellectual ability and is in effect, an aptitude sorter. A second theory, based on a democratic mode, argues that students should attend college for exposure to a multifaceted world with various experiences. A third theory views the college degree as a vocational necessity.

Bursting a Gas Bubble?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, numerous officials in the natural gas industry have expressed doubts about the financial viability of the industry’s recent shale gas boom. Studying hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents from energy executives, lawyers, geologists, and market analysts, the article quotes several experts who call shale gas “inherently unprofitable,” comparing it to the dot-com investment bubble and “giant Ponzi schemes.” The article’s author also looked at data from over 9,000 shale gas wells and found that less than 10% had recouped their costs over their first seven years.