September 30, 2011

Domestic Violence Courts

Specialized domestic violence courts are designed to improve victim safety and enhance defendant accountability. Today, there are nearly 300 courts nationwide that have special processing mechanisms for domestic violence cases. The Center for Court Innovation suggests replicating the Brooklyn Domestic Violence Court protocol, which has served as a model for dozens of violence courts around the country.

A more recent development in New York is the integrated domestic violence court. In these courts, cases are assigned to a single presiding judge who is cross-trained in civil and criminal domestic violence issues. He or she handles all of a family’s domestic violence-related matters, including child custody and visitation; civil protection orders; and matrimonial actions.

Are Childhood Vaccines Safe?

A recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report upholds the scientific community’s position that the health benefits of childhood vaccines far outweigh the risk of serious side effects. The report specifically rejects a causal relationship between the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. Despite its assertion that these vaccines are extremely safe, the report is unlikely to alleviate the fears of certain parents and advocacy groups who believe that they are linked to developmental disorders such as autism.

The report analyzed 1,000 existing scientific studies. Researchers note certain limitations of the report, one being that it is nearly impossible to prove a negative (i.e. that vaccines never cause autism). In addition, because the report analyzed existing studies, it does not add new clinical data to the debate.

Those who raise concerns about childhood vaccines believe new research is needed to examine whether they have serious side effects in small subgroups of children that may not have been included in previous studies. A Boston National Public Radio online article presents five responses to the IOM report representing both sides of the issue.

September 29, 2011

Dumping Sewage in Long Island Sound is Banned

The New York Times reports that, effective September 8, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibits boats from dumping sewage in the New York State waters of Long Island Sound. Connecticut banned such activity for its Long Island Sound waters in 2007. The new ban will require more than 12,000 recreational and small commercial vessels to dispose of their sewage at pump-out stations along the coast. According to the Times, the ban coincides with plans for more action by Connecticut and New York to reduce nitrogen pollution in Long Island Sound.

Hot Topics at OLR: New Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Programs

OLR Report 2011-R-0326 summarizes PA 11-80, with a particular focus on (1) new efficiency programs that are available for historic buildings, (2) the newly created Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), and (3) how the act affects the Energy Efficiency Fund.

PA 11-80 creates DEEP by merging the departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Public Utility Control and transferring their powers and duties, and those of the DEP commissioner, to DEEP and its commissioner. The act also transfers the energy-related powers and duties of Office of Policy and Management and its secretary regarding energy to DEEP and its commissioner.

The act requires DEEP to establish several efficiency programs, including one to encourage the replacement of heating equipment with more energy efficient equipment. It transfers, from the Department of Social Services to DEEP, the administration of a weatherization program that serves low-income households. It allows municipalities to create a program to provide loans to local residents and businesses for the installation of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy systems. The loans are paid by an assessment on the affected property.

The act does not specifically address historic buildings. But it appears that these buildings would be eligible for all of the efficiency and renewable energy programs established by the act that address energy use in buildings. In particular, these buildings may be able to take advantage of programs the act establishes to provide financing and financial incentives for replacement heating systems.

The act (1) creates CEFIA to replace the board that is responsible for developing the plan on how money in the Clean Energy Fund is spent, (2) grants the authority a broad range of powers and duties, (3) places the fund under CEFIA rather than Connecticut Innovations, Inc., (4) allows CEFIA to receive additional specified revenues, and (5) expands how the fund can be used.

By law, the electric and gas companies must develop plans for spending money in the Energy Efficiency Fund. The act requires DEEP to oversee the programs in the electric company plans and specifies how it must do so. DEEP must implement an independent, comprehensive evaluation, measuring, and verification process regarding these plans.

For more information, please read the report.

Preparing Your Finances For Emergencies

On the cover of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)’s summer 2011 edition of FDIC Consumer News readers are asked if they and their finances are prepared for disasters. The edition provides articles with advice on how to financially prepare for and maintain day-to-day financial activities in the wake of a disaster. Some of the FDIC’s tips include:

(1) reviewing insurance coverage,
(2) keeping records and estimated values of personal property,
(3) using direct deposit and building an emergency savings fund,
(4) keeping certain documents (e.g., debit or credit cards, phone numbers and account information for financial providers, and copies of personal identification to help restore financial records) in a secure and available location, and
(5) taking precautions against identity theft.

This edition of FDIC Consumer News also provides advice to consumers on how to avoid and protect themselves from disaster-related financial scams such as unsolicited repair offers and fraudulent charities.

September 28, 2011

Young Workers Lost the Most Hours in the Great Recession

The recent recession has hit younger workers the hardest, but older employees are actually working more than they did before, according to a New York Times blog.

Using data from the Census Bureau’s Household Survey from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Times’ Economix blog calculated the average hours worked by age in 2007 and for 2010. The blogger produced the chart below. He points out that it shows "each age group’s percentage change from 2007 to 2010. For example, the chart shows that the average 16-year-old in 2010 worked 40 percent fewer hours than the average 16-year-old did in 2007." Surprisingly, average work hours actually increased for older workers.

source: NYT

For more, including a discussion of possible explanations, see the Economix blog entry.

Modest Projection for State’s Economic Outlook

Connecticut’s economy and employment prospects should improve over the next two years, but several factors have diminished the projected improvement, according to a recent report by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA) at UConn.

According to CCEA’s report, had the state and national economies continued to perform as they did in 2010, the state was projected to have a 10% increase in economic output and recover 55,000 jobs by the end of 2013. However, several factors have lowered those projections, including projected reductions in federal spending, including the end of the federal stimulus; recent upheaval in financial markets; and the European debt crisis. Due to these factors, CCEA projects more modest state economic growth and increases in employment of about 20,000 by the end of 2013. The report expects job growth in several areas, including construction, trade transportation and utilities, and other services, less so for manufacturing.

The report gives examples of policies that could improve the state’s economy in both the short and long run, including green energy projects; promoting electric vehicles; bioscience initiatives; and reducing bureaucratic hurdles, including facilitating the use of unused business tax credits.

September 27, 2011

Kids Count Indicates Mixed Bag

The Annie E. Casey’s annual Kids Count Data Book has come out and contains a mixed bag for families with children. Connecticut ranked 6th best in the nation.

Nationally, five of 10 indicators of child well-being improved, (Infant Mortality, Child Deaths, Teen Deaths, Teen Births, the Percent of Teens Not in School and Not High School Graduates); three worsened (Low Birth Weight, Poverty, and Children Living in Single-Parent Homes); and two (percentage of Teens Not In School and Not Working and Families Where No Parent Has a Full-Time Job) could not be ranked due to recent changes in data collection and reporting methods.

Although not listed an indicators of well-being, the authors suggest that unemployment and foreclosure rates should also be taken into account. Nationally, 11% of children had at least one unemployed parent in 2010 and 4% were affected by foreclosure since 2007. The figures in Connecticut were 10% (79,000 children) and 3% (46,000 children), respectively.

Hot Topics at OLR: Summary of New Jersey Case on Eyewitness Identification

OLR Report 2011-R-0334 summarizes the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling on eyewitness identification in State v. Henderson (2011 N.J. Lexis 927, 8/24/11).

The existing legal standard, based on U.S. and New Jersey Supreme Court rulings, requires courts to (1) determine if an identification procedure was impermissibly suggestive and (2) if so, weigh five reliability factors to decide whether to admit the evidence.

The Court looked at scientific research on eyewitness identification and the findings of a court-appointed special master. The Court reviewed research on two types of variables that affect the reliability of eyewitness identifications: system variables, which are factors like lineup procedures that are within the state's control, and estimator variables, which are factors related to the witness, perpetrator, and event such as distance, lighting, and stress.
The Court found that research widely accepted by the scientific community allowed it to reach conclusions on a number of these factors. It found the existing legal standard did not adequately meet its goals because it (1) does not offer an adequate measure of reliability, (2) does not sufficiently deter inappropriate police conduct, and (3) relies too heavily on the jury's ability to evaluate identification evidence. The Court revised the legal standard to require that all relevant system and estimator variables be explored at pretrial hearings if the defendant shows some evidence of suggestiveness. The Court also ordered new jury charges on eyewitness identification.

In this case, the Court found that suggestive comments by the investigating officers during the identification procedure entitled the defendant to a pretrial hearing, which he received. But the Court remanded the case for a new hearing based on its ruling. Except for the defendant and a companion case, the Court applied its ruling only to future cases beginning 30 days after the Court approves the new jury charges.

For further information on how the court findings on the procedural history, the existing test, research on eyewitness identification, revised legal standards, and jury charges, read the full report.

Car Safety Chief Says Cars Not the Place to Tweet

The head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has told telematics professionals that safety, not tweets or Facebook updates, is his first priority.

“I’m just putting everyone on notice,” NHTSA administrator David Strickland told attendees at a telematics conference in Detroit. “A car is not a mobile device…I’m not in the business of helping people post on Facebook better.”

Telematics, in part, is the application of communications technology to motor vehicles. A number of high-tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, are experimenting with new ways to integrate entertainment and messaging with in-vehicle technology. According to the Detroit Free Press, the market for these in-vehicle applications could be as much as $2.4 billion in 2012.

NHTSA is campaigning strongly against distracted driving and there is concern that the new technology will add to those distractions.

While acknowledging that improved in-vehicle communications can help drivers navigate and be of great help in emergencies, Strickland said his top priority is car safety.

September 26, 2011

The French Approach to Urban Renewal

“Il mondo e paese” (the world’s a village) say the Italians, and news from France makes the point. Why? Because the French seem to be making the same mid-course corrections to their urban renewal policies that the Americans made several decades ago. In the 1990s, U.S. housing policy started demolishing high-rise, low- and moderate-income housing complexes (i.e., “families in the air”) and replacing them with less dense, low-rise mixed income housing. Well, the French are doing the same, to the tune of $60 billion.

The New York Times recently reported France’s efforts to demolish La Courneuve’s Balzac housing tower, a 16 story, 600-foot edifice that sits in a neighborhood where drugs and violence are the norm. But this isn’t the first time the French government looked to architecture to solve social problems.

According to the old conventional wisdom, “residential areas ought to remain separate from roads and the workplace, and so the [Balzac] cluster was built as a sort of island; residents trudged across a muddy field to reach the adjacent train station.” The new conventional wisdom deplores the homogeneity and monotony and social segregation of the old.

But the new wisdom still rests on the same premise as the old, namely that architecture can shape social outcomes. “’Mixing’ and ‘openness’ have replaced ‘separation’ and ‘uniformity’ as the watchwords of the day. But the central lesson of past decades, Ms. [Marie-Christine Vatov, architecture and urban planning editor for Innovapresse] said, has been the error of such faith in the power or architecture.”

The “Jersey Shore” Situation

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie blocked a $420,000 tax credit awarded to the MTV reality show, Jersey Shore.

The New York Times reported Christie wrote to  to Caren S. Franzini, the chief executive of the Economic Development Authority, saying “In this difficult fiscal climate, the taxpayers of New Jersey should not be forced to subsidize projects such as Jersey Shore.”
The credit was part of a group of tax credit applications approved by the state’s Economic Development Authority since the program’s suspension in 2010 due to budget deficits. New Jersey is among a group of states that curtailed, suspended, or eliminated their film tax credit programs over the past year.

The tax credit is for Jersey Shore’s 2009 inaugural season, which was filmed in Seaside Heights. While the show has faced criticism from legislators and Italian-American advocacy groups, local officials have generally supported it and the tourism is brings to the area.

September 23, 2011

The International Achievement Gap

A comparison of math and reading proficiency levels shows a sobering gap between the performance of U.S. students and those of students in other developed countries, according to a new report that analyses data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests for the Class of 2011. The report was issued under the auspices of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next, an education policy organization.

Among its findings:

• 22 countries significantly outperform the U.S. in math proficiency, including South Korea, Finland, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, and France.

• The U.S. ranks 17th in percentage of students who are proficient in reading and is outranked by, among others, Finland, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Australia, and Belgium.

• Among states, Connecticut ranks 6th, with 34.7% of its students proficient in reading. Countries with comparable proficiency rates are Australia, Belgium, France, Japan, and the Netherlands.

• In math, Connecticut’s proficiency rate is 34.7%, 21st among states and comparable to France, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

The report also highlights gaps within the U.S. between white and minority students. In math, 42% of white students but only 15% of Hispanic and 11% of African American students are proficient. In reading, the proficiency percentages are: 40% for white, 13% for African American, and 5% for Hispanic, students.

Vet Stand Down 2011

According to a September 10, 2011 Norwich Bulletin article, Connecticut veterans received various goods and services at the 2011 Veterans’ Stand Down. The state Department of Veterans’ Affairs sponsors the annual event at the Veterans Home campus in Rocky Hill and “…offers a variety of services all in one place,” according to the article. “[A]mong the collection of booths and tents, medical workers administered HIV tests, checked teeth, and offered advice and a meal.”

September 22, 2011

Aerobic Exercise Could Help Ward Off Dementia

The journal, Medical News Today, is reporting on a new study by the Mayo Clinic that suggests aerobic exercise, defined as any physical activity that raises the heart rate and increases the body’s need for oxygen, may cut the risk of dementia and slow its progress once it starts. And those seniors who cannot get to the gym should not be discouraged: the Mayo researchers said that walking and doing chores around the house can have a similar effect.

Essentially, the researchers reviewed the scientific research on the subject, including animal studies and observational ones, and concluded that exercise can be a disease-modifying strategy to both prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment and modify the impairment if it has already begun.

Federal & State Coordinate Efforts to Crackdown on Employee Misclassification

The U.S. Department of Labor recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the labor commissioners from seven states, including Connecticut, to share information and coordinate law enforcement efforts with each other and the IRS. In particular, the agreement targets businesses that misclassify employees as independent contractors. Employers must pay unemployment and other taxes, and provide workers’ compensation insurance and other employment rights for workers who are employees, but not for those who are independent contractors. Ultimately, the agreement hopes to “level the playing field for law-abiding employers,” and make sure that employees are properly protected under state and federal laws.

September 21, 2011

Hot Topics at OLR: Speculation in Oil Pricing

OLR Report 2011-R-0290 addresses the role speculation plays in oil pricing. The report states that although some financial and public policy analysts blame the volatility in oil pricing on an influx in speculators into oil futures markets, the attorney general has not investigated oil speculation. According to the report, “critics of oil speculation believe that the most significant impact on oil prices stems from legal practices and ‘loopholes’ in federal laws and regulations that are beyond the jurisdiction of state officials.”

For more information, read OLR Report 2011-R-0290.

Marketing 101

Credit card firms and other companies targeting college students have long been a staple on campuses. But in a new twist, the companies are increasingly using the students themselves to do the marketing. A recent New York Times article highlights this practice, estimating that 10,000 college students across the country are serving as “brand ambassadors” for various corporations. The work involves any number of duties, such as organizing marketing events and product demos, promoting the firm through social media, wearing and distributing company apparel, helping students move into the dorms, and many others.

According to the article, the trend is a response to the declining effectiveness of traditional marketing methods. For the students, the rewards include hundreds or even thousands of dollars in cash, free products, and job experience. For the corporations, the student ambassadors provide a personal connection to a customer base that not only spent an estimated $36 billion on clothing and consumer products in 2010-2011, but, the companies hope, will also develop life-long brand loyalties.

The End of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT)

September 20, 2011, marks the official end of the DADT policy, which began December 21, 1993, following a presidential directive. In a September 20 article, the New York Times provides opinions from supporters and opponents of the repeal and summarizes the official Department of Defense perspective on the day with two official quotes:

“‘The key point is that it no longer matters,’ said Doug Wilson, a top Pentagon spokesman. ‘Our feeling is that the day will proceed like any other day.’”

The article went on:

“Gen. Carter F. Ham, who was a co-director of a Pentagon study on repealing don’t ask, don’t tell, said last week that he expected the effect to be ‘pretty inconsequential.’”

September 20, 2011

Preserving a Piece of Connecticut’s Agricultural History

A statewide project is ongoing to document and protect a symbol of Connecticut’s agricultural history - barns. The Hartford Courant recently reported that the number of barns in Connecticut has fallen as state agriculture has declined. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation is compiling an historic barn inventory which will be the most comprehensive such inventory in the nation. As part of the project, hundreds of volunteers are surveying and photographing barns, and thousands of barns have been submitted for the inventory database. The project will provide the public with an online resource of information about the state’s barns and agricultural history.

Hot Topics at OLR: Connecticut’s Sales and Use Tax

OLR Report 2011-R-0310 provides an overview of Connecticut's sales and use tax. It (1) describes major sales tax exemptions and (2) compares the tax rates, range of taxable services, and sales tax holidays in Connecticut and nearby states.

Sales tax exemptions include:
1. 7% on certain “luxury” motor vehicles, boats, jewelry, clothing, and footwear;

2. 4.5% on motor vehicles purchased by an active duty U. S. military member stationed in Connecticut;

3. 1% on computer and data processing services;

4. 15% on short-term stays in hotels and lodging houses; and

5. 9.35% on short-term car rentals.

The report covers what is included in the luxury items category.

An interesting table in the report highlights a number of services and whether those services are taxed in Connecticut or neighboring states.

For more information, including a table detailing state sales tax holidays across the country, read the whole report.

Buyer Beware, as Flood Damaged Cars may soon arrive on Dealer Lots

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, damaged cars from cities affected by the storm are likely to be transported to dealer lots. These cars will likely be sold at a discounted price, but without disclosure from sellers about the cars’ exposure to the storm. Flood-damaged cars are generally worth 40 to 70 percent less than undamaged comparable cars.

Some precautions to take are:

1. contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to see if salvaged cars must be identified by the seller;

2. check the vehicle identification number against the National Insurance Crime Bureau database to see if the car has been salvaged or stolen;

3. check for evidence of soot, grime, or water damage;

4. check to see if the car is too clean, compared to other cars;

5. test drive the car and listen to the engine; and

6. check whether the car has a musty odor.

September 19, 2011

Study on State-Level Performance-Based Budgeting

A study by Yilin Hou, a professor at the University of Georgia, examined performance-based budgeting. Performance-based budgeting is defined as a system of budgeting that allocates resources based on the achievement of specific, measurable outcomes. Hou looked at the following aspects of performance-based-budgeting:
  • development of performance measures,
  • its use in budgeting and management,
  • its utility across the business cycle, and
  • its usefulness for budget players.
After surveying data from 11 states, Hou found performance-based budgeting was used occasionally by legislators but more often by executive agencies. It was also found to be used more often in boom years than down years.

Meth Trade Flourishing; Enforcement Efforts Lagging

According to an August 2011 Associated Press report, police in states that produce much of the nation’s methamphetamine are retreating in the war on the drug because of the cost. According to the report, despite evidence that the meth trade is flourishing, cutbacks in federal funding mean law enforcement agencies can no longer afford the cost of cleaning up meth labs.

September 16, 2011

Feds Cracking Down on Drugged Driving

The Boston Herald reports that federal agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are developing new rules to help reduce driving under the influence of drugs.

The article notes that unlike drunken drivers, whose blood alcohol level can be determined through a breathalyzer and other tests, there isn’t yet a similar standard blood, urine, or saliva test to determine a driver’s drug level.

A 2007 national NHTSA survey found that 11% of daytime drivers tested positive for drugs, while 14.4% of nighttime drivers were drug-positive. The drivers were tested for prescription and over-the-counter medication as well as for illegal drugs.

Biomass Is Growing In Connecticut

A Hartford Courant article describes the experience of a Somers wholesale nursery that has converted from oil to biomass to heat its greenhouses. The nursery, Grower Direct Farms, has 18 acres of covered greenhouses or the equivalent of 18 football fields. Historically, it used 500,000 gallons of heating oil each year. In 2011, they reduced oil consumption by 450,000 gallons by switching to a biomass system fed by wood chips. Their annual fuel cost dropped by nearly 70%.

The project received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP). The program helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses become more energy efficient. Grower Direct received a $500,000 grant from the agency and an $850,000 loan guarantee in 2008. The company expects the system to pay for itself in five years.

The agency said it will make $42 million in grants and up to $61 million in guaranteed loans available through REAP.

September 15, 2011

If a Tree Falls in My Yard, am I Covered?

As people assess damage from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, they may wonder what their insurance policy covers. For example, if a tree falls in your yard but causes no damage to an insured structure, then your homeowners policy typically does not cover tree removal and debris cleanup. But, if a tree falls on your insured house and causes damage, then the policy will cover the damage. For more storm-related insurance issues, see the Hartford Courant and the Insurance Information Institute.

Medicaid Protections For Same-Sex Couples

In June, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued to states guidance clarifying that they are able to offer same-sex couples certain financial and asset protections already offered to opposite-sex couples when one partner enters a nursing home under Medicaid. Examples of these protections include transferring home ownership without penalty and allowing the partner of the Medicaid nursing home resident to remain in that shared home.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated, “Low-income same-sex couples are too often denied equal treatment and the protections offered to other families in their greatest times of need. This is now changing. Today’s guidance represents another important step toward ensuring that the rights and dignity of every American are respected by their government.”

September 14, 2011

Educational Challenges for Hispanic Students

One of Connecticut’s most persistent educational problems is the academic achievement gap between white and minority students. A recent report from Connecticut Voices for Children highlights the severity of the gap for Hispanic students. Using data from Connecticut mastery tests for the years 2007-08 through 2009-10, the report draws several conclusions, including:

• Although Hispanic students face gaps in all subjects and all districts, contrary to expectations, gaps are sometimes larger in math, science, and writing than they are in reading.

• Gaps are present in every district, regardless of income, location, size, or percentage of Hispanic students, but they vary significantly from district to district.

• Though the percentages of both Hispanic and white students reaching state goals have risen over the past five years, the gaps between them have not significantly diminished.

• Achievement gaps are not necessarily smaller in wealthier communities, but Hispanic students’ absolute achievement level in such districts tends to be higher.

• Lack of English proficiency contributes to achievement gaps, but it is not the sole factor. Better data is needed to fully understand how various factors, such as income and parental educational level, contribute to the shortfall in Hispanic students’ achievement.

Hot Topics at OLR: 2011 Campaign Finance Legislation Affecting Candidates

OLR Report 2011-R-0246 summarizes PA 11-48, which made several changes to campaign finance laws, the Citizens Election Program (CEP), and the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC). Concerning campaign finance, the act, among other things:

1. authorizes testimonial affairs in honor of a candidate, statewide officer, or General Assembly member to raise funds for a party committee, not just the candidate or public official;

2. authorizes campaign treasurers to use a bank or cashier's check to pay a television company for advertising costs, provided the treasurer maintains documentation showing the payment came from the candidate committee's funds; and

3. specifies that, for campaign finance purposes “candidate committee” means one for a candidate who participates or does not participate in the CEP, unless a provision clearly indicates otherwise.

With respect to the CEP, the act, among other things:

1. revises the grant application and payment schedule, giving the SEEC more time to review applications; and

2. revises the schedule for submitting supplemental campaign finance statements and reporting excess expenditures.

Concerning the SEEC, the act (1) reduces term lengths for members and prohibits consecutive terms, (2) requires the commission to keep certain information about complaints and preliminary investigations confidential and restricts the number of legislative candidates it may audit after an election, and (3) requires the commission to list organization expenditures on its homepage.

Elections and primaries held on or after January 1, 2012, are subject to the new laws. Other portions of the law, including provisions covering lobbyist forms and eliminating duplicate campaign finance statements for town committees as well as provisions about payments to television stations took effect July 1, 2011.

For more information on the new law, read the report.

Reimagining Detroit

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported on Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s urban renewal initiative, named The Detroit Works Project, which aims to “redefine the physical, economic, and social landscape of Detroit.” The Project’s long-term strategy is to encourage residents to move out of less populated, blighted neighborhoods and into the city’s center and “raze and repurpose” what is left behind. In doing so, the city can reduce its size, save money, and change the way it delivers services.

In the short-term, the mayor has unveiled a plan to tailor city services based on neighborhood needs. The Project chose three demonstration neighborhoods to monitor closely so it can evaluate the impact of the new service delivery model.

Community development advocates, on the other hand, have questioned how the mayor’s strategy differs from other failed urban renewal plans in Detroit’s history.

September 13, 2011

Hot Topics at OLR: Rape Kits, Testing Backlogs, and Model Statutes

OLR Report 2011-R-0260 explains whether there is a national backlog of rape kit testing and whether a simliar backlog exists in Connecticut.

The report also explains what California, Illinois, and Texas are doing to eliminate the testing backlog.

Total Consumer Debt Holding Steady in Second Quarter

Consumer debt in the U.S. held steady in the second quarter of 2011, according to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Total consumer debt (including both real estate and other types of debt, like credit cards) on June 30 was approximately $11.4 trillion, representing a reduction of 0.4% ($50 billion) from the March 31 total. This is about 8.6% below the peak at the end of the third quarter in 2008.

The total delinquency rate for all consumer debt decreased for the sixth consecutive quarter. The delinquency rate stood at 9.9%, down from 10.5% on March 31 and 11.4% on June 30, 2010.

The number of open credit card accounts increased by 10 million, to 389 million. This is almost 22% below the peak in 2008.

About 2.2% of mortgages entered delinquency during the quarter, representing the third straight quarterly decline.

Monthly Criminal Justice Statistics

The Office of Policy and Management’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division publishes a monthly statistical report on Connecticut’s criminal justice system. It includes data on the prison population; people on probation, parole, and other types of supervision; parole hearings and parole granting rates; public defender case loads; and many other things. The report has many useful tables and charts comparing data for the current month with past months and years.

One highlight is a comparison of each month’s prison population to the division’s forecast for the year. On August 1, the prison population stood at 17,648 or 0.8% below the forecast.

The division’s website includes links to the current month’s report.

September 12, 2011

Sales Tax Nexus is in the Eye of Beholder

WalMart is a high-profile member of the Main Street Fairness Coalition, a group of “bricks and mortar” retailers that supports state and federal legislation requiring and other online sellers to collect state sales taxes. But, according to the Los Angeles Times,, the retailer’s online affiliate, based in Brisbane, California, doesn’t always comply with California’s new “Amazon tax” law.

The Times reports that sells “hundreds of products” from Boston-based CSN stores to California residents through its website without charging the state’s 7.25% sales tax. CSN, a privately held online retailer with annual sales of more than $380 million, collects sales tax only on goods shipped to Massachusetts and Utah, the two states where it has a “physical presence.” WalMart says it isn’t responsible for making third parties that sell through its site collect the tax. California tax authorities and UConn Law School professor Richard D. Pomp, quoted in the article, take a different view.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence, Kansas Journal-World reports that the Kansas Department of Revenue is investigating Kansas State University for failing to charge state sales tax on items sold to Kansas residents through the K-State Official Online Store. The university argues that, because the online store is run by a Florida company with no physical presence in Kansas, it doesn’t have to charge the tax. The state revenue department has ruled otherwise, but as of August 29th, the online store has not changed its policy. Kansas’ sales tax is 6.3%, plus applicable local taxes.

“Well the world of research has gone berserk…

Too much paperwork,” wrote Bob Dylan. The world of research is also often wrong, according to science and business journalist David H. Freedman. In Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us—And How to Know When Not to Trust Them, Freedman describes how and why researchers reach flawed conclusions. Consequently Wrong could spells trouble who people rely on research to develop public policies.

Is there a way to spot bad research? Yes, according Freedman, and he lays out some rules for doing so. Be wary of research offering experts’ advice if it:

1. is simplistic, universal, and definitive;
2. rests on a single study or many small or less careful ones;
3. claims to be groundbreaking;
4. is pushed by people or groups that stand if the public accepts the findings; and
5. offers to prevent, for all time, a failure or crisis from happening again.

Be cautious of research:

1. that sounds right or fits too well with your personal world view,
2. upsets the apple cart (i.e., eating fatty foods is good for you),
3. that grabs a lot of good attention,
4. that is widely embraced by other experts,
5. that shows up in a prestigious journal,
6. that supported by only one big, rigorous study, and
7. where experts backing the study have impressive credentials.

Lastly, pay attention to studies that:

1. do not set off other alarms described above,
2. do not confirm interesting or useful hypotheses,
3. qualify its findings and conclusions,
4. incorporate conflicting evidence,
5. provide context for the research,
6. explain how the findings affect the reader, and
7. include the researchers’ doubts and skepticism.

September 9, 2011

The Economic Crisis Facing Seniors of Color

According to an August 2011 study by the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley, California, while the recession has affected all Americans, its effects have been more devastating for African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos. Among the key findings:

1. Even before the 2008 recession, independent measures found that 91% of African American and Latino seniors are financially vulnerable.

2. Current federal standards for measuring poverty are flawed and fail to consider factors that disproportionately affect elders, such as the high costs of health care, housing, and transportation for seniors on fixed incomes.

3. The three-legged stool of retirement security (pension, savings, and Social Security) is collapsing. For a variety of reasons, seniors of color have had less access to all of these sources of support, including less access to employee retirement plans.

4. Seniors of color have become increasingly reliant on Social Security as they have tapped out their modest savings.

5. Employer-based pensions have dwindled in the past 30 years to just one-in-three African Americans and slightly more than one in five Latino workers.

Among the recommendations:

1. Protect the social safety-net program, such as Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, and adult day health care centers from budget cuts, “which may bring heavy burdens for seniors, and ultimately higher costs for state and federal governments.”

2. Lift asset limits that force poor seniors to “spend down their savings before they can participate in Medicaid, cash assistance, or other programs.

3. Better protect senior’s limited assets by, among other things, curbing the abusive practices of businesses such as payday lenders, which tend to cluster in communities of color.

4. Increase access to matched and tax-deferred savings and pension plans for people of color and low-income groups, including universal retirement savings accounts that will help employees save for retirement regardless of the pension offerings of their employers.

The Value of Teacher Tenure

Proposals to eliminate teacher tenure are often premised on the assumption that doing so would save money. But a post in a blog cosponsored by the American Statistical Association analyzes the budgetary effect of ending tenure and predicts the opposite.

While acknowledging that a primary reason for states to agree to give teachers tenure rights in the first place was to protect academic freedom, the post’s author, Howard Wainer, speculates that states may also have granted tenure because, unlike other job benefits, tenure has no direct cost to the employer while having considerable value for the teachers. Given this, Wainer thinks that, without tenure, school districts would have to pay significantly higher salaries to employ teachers at a given level of training and experience.

In support, he cites the example of New Jersey, which eliminated tenure for school superintendents in 1991. At the time, the average pay for New Jersey superintendents was twice that of the average teacher. After repeal, superintendents’ pay rose sharply to 2.5 times average teacher pay. In fact, in 2010, two New Jersey legislators introduced a bill to restore tenure for superintendents. Why? To save taxpayers from “bloated salaries and over-inflated, lavish compensation packages,” they said.

September 8, 2011

Middletown Leads the Way on Downtown Revitalization

A recent Hartford Business Journal Online article describes what Middletown does right in downtown revitalization: “It is a successful office/retail destination. And as such, it’s a pathfinder for every Connecticut municipality revitalization plan, community task force, business district redevelopment report and special charter commission on economic development.”

The article notes that a key aspect of keeping the downtown area busy was the decision to require all downtown buildings to place retail or restaurants on their first floors, preventing them from flooding with office space. This attracts diners and shoppers and makes the district attractive to professional businesses that occupy the upper floors of these buildings. The diverse crowds help Middletown from becoming a ghost town a night, a fate other downtown improvement districts have historically faced.

Hot Topics At OLR: State Initiatives to Promote Green Jobs

A recent OLR Report highlights Connecticut’s current initiatives to promote the growth of jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and brownfield redevelopment, including:

• providing financial incentives to replace inefficient heating equipment and promote in-state renewable energy resources and

• developing funding programs, liability protections, and regulatory relief to help remediate brownfields.

For more information on these initiatives, read OLR Report 2011-R-0313.

Social Security Disability Insurance on the Brink of Insolvency

According to a widely reported Associated Press article, an aging baby boomer population coupled with increasing numbers of laid-off workers is causing a flood of Social Security Disability Insurance claims, pushing the already financially strained program toward insolvency. These claims generally increase during a bad economy because many disabled people get laid off and can’t find new jobs. Applications have increased almost 50% over the last ten years resulting in qualified applicants waiting up to two years to receive benefits. Congressional estimates state the trust fund that supports the program will run out of money by 2017 unless Congress takes action.

The article notes that the federal government’s focus has been on fixing the Social Security retirement system, but the disability system is in much worse financial shape with fewer plausible solutions. Social Security trustees are urging Congress to reallocate money from the retirement program to the disability program as was done in 1994. But, this would provide only temporary relief at the retirement program’s expense.

A recent Government Accountability Office report cites $1.4 billion in overpayments to disability beneficiaries, mostly to people who got jobs and no longer qualified. According to the article, the recently enacted deficit reduction package allows Congress to increase Social Security’s budget by $4 billion over the next decade to invest in programs identifying people who no longer qualify for disability benefits, which will save an estimated $12 billion over that time period.

September 7, 2011

Energy Efficient Subdivision Going Up in Berlin

According to a Harford Business Journal article, Plainville developer By Carrier proposed an 83-unit subdivision in Berlin that would be Connecticut’s first to bear the National Green Building Standard for green building. The standard was devised by the National Association of Homebuilders and the International Code Council. To meet the standard, a building must incorporate a minimum number of standards addressing lot and site development; energy, water, and resource efficiency; and indoor environmental quality.

The subdivision’s current plan preserves 45% of the site for open space, protects natural resources, and address water quality and storm water management. How much will the units cost? Oh…between $450,000 and $500,000.

Survey on Juvenile Justice Issues Facing Law Enforcement

The International Association of Chiefs of Police, with support from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Provision, surveyed law enforcement around the country earlier this year about their challenges and training needs in juvenile matters.

The report, released in July 2011, asked agencies about the most important juvenile issues facing them today. They most frequently reported problems involving substance abuse; physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; repeat offending; bullying and cyber bullying; gangs; internet crimes with juveniles either as perpetrators or victims; running away; and school safety.

The report also found that a lack of funding and manpower were primarily responsible for agencies not receiving juvenile justice training. Over half of the responding agencies had their training budgets cut or eliminated completely in the last five years.

The report collects statistics, including on how agencies are structured, and comments from law enforcement officials around the country.

September 6, 2011

Hot Topics at OLR: Enterprise Zones

Do you want to know anything about enterprise zones? Well, with OLR Report 2011-R-0307, we have you covered. We give you:
  1. the legislative history of enterprise zones;
  2. a summary of the program benefits and the differences across the various subprograms, including how many new zones are receiving some form of enterprise zone benefits;
  3. what communities are in enterprise zones;
  4. how many companies are receiving enterprise zone benefits;
  5. what funding source pays for the benefits and the balance of that fund; and
  6. how Connecticut's program compares to those in specified nearby states.

Law Schools Sued Over Job Placement Rates

Three laws schools are being accused of fraud by graduates who question the accuracy of the schools’ placement rates, according to a report in Inside Higher Ed. A New York City law firm recently filed class action lawsuits against New York Law School (in New York City) and Thomas Cooley Law School (Michigan), claiming that the job placement information they released to potential students was sufficiently inaccurate as to constitute fraud. A similar suit was filed earlier against the Thomas Jefferson School of Law (San Diego).

Lessons from the Evergreen Solar Bankruptcy

According to’s Martin LaMonica, the recent bankruptcy of solar panel manufacturer Evergreen Solar offers an important lesson for those in rapidly developing green industries: don’t try to do everything yourself. The company, which in 2008 had a patent on making silicon solar wafers more cheaply than anyone else, eventually found that its own proprietary processes kept it from being able to outsource steps in the manufacturing process to other manufacturers (particularly in China) who could perform them at less cost. With costs in solar manufacturing rapidly decreasing over the past three years, eventually Evergreen simply couldn’t compete.

September 5, 2011

After Irene, IRS Highlights Tax Help for Disaster Losses

Connecticut residents who suffered property damage from Hurricane Irene may be able to take advantage of several federal tax provisions designed to mitigate disaster losses. Federal law generally allows taxpayers to deduct losses on homes, businesses, personal property, and vehicles stemming from sudden, unexpected or unusual events, such as hurricanes, floods, tornados, and volcanic eruptions. Losses are deductible for the tax year in which they occur.

Losses covered by insurance are not deductible and taxpayers must show that they made a timely request for insurance reimbursement. For more information, consult IRS Publication 547, Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts.

Some Baseball Gloves Could be Hazardous to Your Health

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Mizuno USA, Inc. have announced the recall of 131,000 baseball and softball gloves because some contain a variety of molds that can cause respiratory or other infections in people with chronic health problems or with impaired immune systems.

The Mizuno gloves were sold at Wal-Mart and Target stores from April 2010 through May 2011 and cost between $24 and $60 each.

The state consumer protection commissioner advises consumers to immediately stop using the gloves and contact Mizuno for a full refund. The model numbers and descriptions of the recalled gloves can be found at the state consumer protection department website.

September 2, 2011

Hurricane Irene Information

The Governor’s Office has created a website with some helpful links and information on how to deal the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

It has information on:

1. shelter locations,

2. announcements,

3. utility information,

4. travel information,

5. public health information,

6. social media announcements, and

7. information for state employees.

Report Shows Increase in Authorized Communications Interceptions

Federal and state applications for orders authorizing or approving the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications increased 34 percent in 2010, compared to the number reported in 2009. The interceptions are reported in the 2010 Wiretap Report, released recently by the federal agency that tracks such matters.
Three thousand, one hundred ninety- intercept applications were authorized in 2010, with 1,207 applications by federal authorities authorized and 1,987 applications by 25 states authorized. One application was denied.

The most frequently identified communication type (96%) was “portable device,” which includes cellular telephones and digital pagers. The most common surveillance method was wire surveillance that used a telephone – land line, cellular, cordless, or mobile. Telephone wiretaps accounted for 97 percent (2,253 cases) of the intercepts installed in 2010, the majority of which were cell phones.

Eighty-four percent of all applications for intercepts (2,675 wiretaps) in 2010 cited illegal drugs as the most serious offense under investigation.

September 1, 2011

Got Raw Milk?

According to a recent article by the Heartland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank, consumers and producers of raw (unpasteurized) milk will likely face increased scrutiny by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In July, the FDA was given additional regulatory powers under the Food Safety Modernization Act, including the ability to confiscate food it believes to have been produced under unsanitary or unsafe conditions. Under prior law, it had to have “credible evidence” in order to take such action.

According to the article, the FDA has stepped up its regulatory efforts in recent years citing safety concerns and the belief that raw milk consumption contains no health benefits. But raw milk supporters believe pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria and enzymes needed to absorb nutrients and helps improve the health of people with a range of medical conditions. Currently, only ten states, including Connecticut, allow the retail sale of raw milk. Fifteen states allow the sale of raw milk on farms only.

Insect Repellent Needed

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station reports that so far this summer mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile virus in 30 Connecticut towns: Branford, Bridgeport, Cromwell, Danbury, Darien, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Groton, Hamden, Hartford, Litchfield, Meriden, Milford, New Britain, New Canaan, New Haven, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, South Windsor, Stamford, Stratford, Tolland, Trumbull, West Brook, West Haven, Westport, and Woodbridge. One Connecticut residents was identified with an illness related to the infection this year. Residents are urged to take precautions. People should use insect repellent and stay indoors during dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active. In 2010, West Nile virus-positive mosquitoes were trapped in 24 Connecticut towns with 11 reported human cases. For information on West Nile virus and what you can do to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes, visit the Connecticut Mosquito Management Program Web site.