November 30, 2011

Georgia Allows Sunday Sales in Certain Communities

Voters in dozens of Georgia municipalities have decided to allow alcohol sales on Sundays. Georgia’s legislature decided this year to allow local communities to decide whether they want Sunday sales. As a result, the referendum passed in 110 of the 127 cities and counties that voted. In Atlanta, more than 80% of those voting approved the measure.

Opponents said ending the ban would increase drunk driving and lead to family disruption. Additionally, liquor store owners say the cost of opening on Sundays would offset any profits from extra sales.

Most voters, however, viewed the issue as one of individual rights versus governmental mandates, and objected to being told when they could or could not buy alcohol.

Nationally, only Indiana and Connecticut have statewide bans on Sunday retail alcohol sales.

State Exotic Pet Ownership Laws

The recent escape of exotic animals from a private wild-animal preserve in Ohio reignited the discussion over private ownership of these animals. As reported by USA Today, state laws on exotic pets vary, and eight states (including Ohio) do not regulate their ownership. Federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Captive Wildlife Safety Act, and Animal Welfare Act, regulate the exhibition, sale, breeding, and interstate transport of exotic or endangered animals but federal law does not regulate private possession of these animals. Private owners must abide by state and local restrictions.

In Connecticut, it is illegal to possess a potentially dangerous animal, including such wildlife as a lion, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, puma, lynx, bobcat, wolf, coyote, black bear, grizzly bear, brown bear, gorilla, chimpanzee, or orangutan, among others (see CGS § 26-40a).

For more information, the Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University College of Law maintains a list of state statutes related to wild animal possession.

November 29, 2011

Impact of Cap-and-Trade on Connecticut’s Economy

The November 21st edition of summarizes an analysis of the Northeast’s cap-and-trade system, requiring electric generators to pay for their emissions of carbon dioxide has produced a regional net benefit of $1.6 billion over the past three years, with $189 million accruing to Connecticut.

Under the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, power plants buy offsets in an auction based on how much carbon dioxide they emit. The money is redistributed to participating states.

A study by the Analysis Group of the initiative’s first three years, starting in 2009, examined how the states spent the auction money, and its impact on the states’ economies vs. the cost to the power generators to participate in the auction.

The study found that Connecticut invested 73% of its funding for energy efficiency; 23% in renewable energy projects; 5% on offsetting air pollution; and 1% on clean energy education for teachers and students. Efficiency reaped large dividends for Connecticut because those measures sliced overall consumption in the state, saving ratepayers money on their utility bills to spend elsewhere. Energy efficiency also lowered wholesale electric rates, as fewer high-cost power generators are needed to meet demand. While power plants in the state paid nearly $175 million, the proceeds resulted in $364 million in total benefits.

The other participating states are Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey (which is leaving the initiative), Maine, Vermont, Delaware and Maryland.

Hot Report: Naming Rights for Rentschler Field

OLR Report 2011-R-0343 examines the state's ability to sell naming rights for Rentschler Field.

The state, acting through the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), secretary, controls the stadium's naming rights but (1) cannot sell them until the summer of 2018 and (2) must meet several conditions before selling them.

The state acquired the Rentschler Field site through a donation by United Technologies Corporation (UTC). Under statute and the terms of the donation agreement, the stadium must be named Rentschler Field until the summer of 2018, and any proposed name after that must include the phrase “at Rentschler Field.” UTC also has the right of first refusal for purchasing naming rights and the ability to reject a proposed name for the facility.

The state must also (1) negotiate an agreement with UConn to share revenue from the sale of naming rights and (2) receive an opinion from bond counsel that a proposed naming rights agreement would not jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the bonds used to build the stadium.

For a more detail explanation, read the full report.

Small Businesses Create the Most Jobs, Right?

Wrong, according to a recent Fisher College Business School (Ohio State University) and GE Capital study. The job drivers are the middle market businesses, those sandwiched between small and big businesses. Not only do these businesses create jobs, but they manage to ride out economic hard times. Here are some of their characteristics:

  • 82% of the middle market firms rode out the recession compared to little more than one half of small businesses,

  • Middle market firms added 2.2 million jobs while the big boys shed 3.7 million jobs between 2007 and 2010, and

  • Middle market firms can be found throughout the country and in many different industry sectors.

But the picture isn’t entirely rosy. Over 55% of the middle market firms surveyed said they had trouble accessing capital and 71% said that it was hard to comply with regulations.

November 28, 2011

State Cash Safety Net for Poor Single People Weaker Despite Recession

A new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit think tank that examines the impact of federal and state budget policy on low- and moderate income families, suggests that state cash assistance safety net programs, typically called General Assistance (State-Administered General Assistance or SAGA in Connecticut) continue to be scaled back, with (1) fewer states offering them and (2) fewer individuals qualifying because of eligibility rules. Thirty states were offering this assistance when the study was done.

Most states, including Connecticut, eliminated GA for the non-disabled during the last 20 years (Connecticut did so in 1997). But between 1998 and 2010, five additional states either terminated their programs or cut them back. And in 2011, two states eliminated their programs, one restricted eligibility, another reduced benefit levels for all recipients, and a third did both. In most states the benefit level was a small fraction of the federal poverty level.

The study includes detailed information about all 30 states’ GA programs.

Accountability Statistics Fail to Accurately Measure Long-Term Performance in the Chicago School System

A new report by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) shows that Chicago public school students have made only marginal academic progress after 20 years of almost constant education reform. The report’s disappointing findings also significantly undermine the accuracy of years of publicly reported education statistics.

The CCSR’s analysis shows that, since 1990 in the Chicago public schools:
  • There has been incremental improvement in math scores in elementary and middle grades but reading scores in those grades have been flat for the entire period.
  • Racial gaps have steadily increased, with white students making a bit more progress than Latino students, and African-American students falling behind all other groups.
  • Graduation rates dramatically improved, high school test scores have risen, and more students are graduating with no average decline in scores. 
  • But most students’ academic achievement is far below that needed to be ready for college.
The report’s findings contradict more optimistic trends shown in publicly reported test data, but that data does not take account of changes over time in such things as content and scoring. Thus, the CCSR concluded, without the complex statistical analyses of that data used in the report, “the publicly reported statistics used to hold schools and districts accountable are not accurate measures of progress.”

November 25, 2011

Arrest-Related Deaths

Based on state and local law enforcement reports to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 4,813 arrest-related deaths in the U.S. from 2003 to 2009. By comparison, the FBI estimates nearly 98 million arrests in the U.S. during this time period.

Of the reported arrest-related deaths, 61% were homicides by law enforcement personnel, 11% were suicides, 11% were death by intoxication, 6% were accidents, 5% were death by natural causes, and 6% were undetermined or unreported. Agencies report deaths regardless of whether the person was in custody and include deaths where a person tried to avoid capture.

From 2003 to 2009, Connecticut law enforcement reported 31 deaths. The report cautions against comparing states due to variations in reporting practices.

Connecticut Behind In Home Health Care Agency Inspections

According to a recent Connecticut Health Investigative Team article, the Department of Public Health (DPH) is approximately six months behind in its inspection of home health care agencies, which must occur at least every three years under federal law. But the article highlights a larger issue: DPH’s inability under state law to impose fines when problems are discovered during inspections. In cases of serious violations, DPH may enter into a consent order with an agency, under which the agency agrees to correct the problem. In addition, serious violations may also result in the loss of Medicare certification, although this rarely happens.

While a federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid spokesperson notes that some states do impose fines against home health care agencies, none of the New England states routinely do so. CMS is currently drafting regulations regarding home health care agency penalties and enforcement, according to the article.

DPH expects its inspections to be back on schedule by the end of the year.

November 24, 2011

Drunk Driving Declines But Rates Remain “Unacceptable”

According to an NPR blog entry, newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics indicate that last year, Americans took to the road 112 million times after drinking too much.

Although this number is high, it actually declined 30 percent since peaking at 161 million in 2006.

Men, especially those under age 35, account for a disproportionate amount of these incidents. More than four out of five incidents involve men and 32% of them involve men ages 21 to 34.

The CDC reports that between 2006 and 2009, annual alcohol-impaired fatalities declined 20%. But, this decline may also be attributed to other factors such as increased airbags or fewer repeat offenders.

November 23, 2011

U.S. Losing Battle Against Military Suicides

A comprehensive, new report by the Center for a New American Society concludes that “America is losing its battle against suicide by veterans and service members. And as more troops return from deployment, the risk will only grow.” The report notes that from 2005-2010, service members committed suicide at a rate of approximately one every 36 hours, with a record-high 33 in July 2011. It identifies excess prescription drug use, flawed post-deployment mental health screening, and shortage of mental health care providers as factors contributing to the increase. The report includes policy recommendations that will help reduce the number of suicides.

Hot Reports: Storm-Related Reports

The Office of Legislative Research has collected the reports done on various storm-related issues into a single page on its website.

Currently, the reports include:
  • Massachusetts Law on Restoring Utility Service After Storms
  • State Tax Relief for Storm-Related Expenses
  • Undergrounding Electric Lines 
  • Pet-Friendly Shelters 
  • Tree Trimming Laws and Programs 
  • Reorganizing Electric Company Territories/Possible State Takeover of Electric Companies
  • Back Up Power Requirements for Service Stations

First “Stuck on Tarmac” Fine Imposed

Just over a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) issued the first fine against an airline for violating a rule against holding passengers on board planes for more than three hours on an airport tarmac, absent certain exceptions (e.g., poor weather conditions). The $900,000 fine resulted from a May 29, 2011 incident at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport where 608 passengers were kept on board 15 American Eagle Airlines planes. Investigators found that the airline was responsible because it continued to land flights at the airport even though others were not able to take off. Thus, some planes had no gate upon landing.

Under DOT’s rule, carriers must allow passengers to get off a plane if they are stuck on board for more than three hours. (International flights are subject to a four hour limit.) Airlines can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger for violating this rule. DOT secretary Ray LaHood was reported in the New York Times as saying the fine would send a message to other airlines but some industry analysts say that it will also result in more canceled flights. Airlines maintain that they are more likely to cancel flights than risk violating the rule and being fined. A September 2011 Government Accountability Office report found that the rule has reduced the amount of long tarmac delays but also appears associated with increased cancellations.

November 22, 2011

Legislature Addresses Timeliness of State Permitting Processes

During the October Special Session, the legislature focused on job creation, including encouraging development by directing agencies to seek and implement ways to streamline certain state permitting processes. The resulting law, An Act Concerning Economic Growth and Job Creation in the State, PA 11-1, October Special Session, does this in several ways.

For example, it requires the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to study its state permitting and enforcement processes and the feasibility of developing a methodology for processing permit applications and enforcement actions based on tiered levels of environmental risk. It also requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the State Traffic Commission to make a final determination within 60 days after receiving a completed formal petition, application, or request for a permit in connection with an economic development project.

Furthermore, the act requires the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), within available appropriations, to enter into an agreement for consultant services to apply LEAN practices and principles to the permitting and enforcement processes that business entities most frequently use or are subjected to. OPM must do this for DEEP, DOT, and the departments of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and Administrative Services. (LEAN is an approach used by the public sector to improve efficiency in services and administrative processes.)

Among various other provisions, the law additionally requires the DECD permit ombudsman to develop, by July 2012, recommendations for a certification program similar to New York state's "Build Now-NY/ Shovel Ready Certification Program." By January 1, 2013, the permit ombudsman must submit the recommendations to the DECD and DEEP commissioners, the governor, and the Environment and Commerce committees.

CHRO Issues Breastfeeding in the Workplace Guide

The state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) recently issued the Guide to Connecticut Breastfeeding Nondiscrimination and Workplace Accommodation Laws. Prepared by CHRO and the state’s departments of Public Health and Labor, the guide answers to common questions posed by businesses, parents, employers, and employees about CGS § 46a-64, which allows mothers to breastfeed their babies in places of public accommodation. It also provides links to other resources on such topics as the health benefits of breastfeeding, federal breastfeeding laws, compliance assistance for businesses and employers, and discrimination complaint procedures.

November 21, 2011

Hot Report: Income Tax Rates in Connecticut and Surrounding States

OLR Report 2011-R-0379 examines the personal income tax rates in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. .

Of the five states, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have income taxes structured with multiple income brackets taxed at progressively higher marginal rates. Massachusetts is the only one of the five that imposes a flat income tax with two rates (5.3% and 12%) that apply based on the category, rather than the amount, of taxable income. Rhode Island's tax is comparatively flat with only three brackets and a top rate of 5.99% applicable to all taxable income over $125,000.

Of the three states with more progressive rate structures, New Jersey and New York have the highest top rates (8.97%), both applicable to taxable income over $500,000. Connecticut's top rate is 6.87%, applicable to taxable incomes over $500,000 for joint filers, $250,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, and $400,000 for heads of household. As of January 1, 2012, New York is scheduled to drop its two current top brackets and return to its flatter pre-2009 structure with a top rate of 6.85% applicable to taxable income over $40,000 for joint filers, $20,000 for singles and married couples filing separately, and $30,000 for heads of household.

Although Connecticut's new top rate (effective January 1, 2011) is lower than both New Jersey's and New York's current top rates, Connecticut's tax is the only one that phases out its lowest rate for higher-income taxpayers, resulting in more of their income being taxed at an initial marginal rate of 5% rather than 3%. Connecticut also requires taxpayers whose Connecticut adjusted gross income (CT AGI) exceeds certain thresholds to “recapture” or add back to their overall tax liability all or part of the benefits they receive from lower marginal rates on income not subject to the top rate. New York has a similar recapture requirement, but it is temporary and scheduled to end after the 2011 tax year.

For further details, read the full report.

The Supreme Court to Hear Health Care Reform Challenge

The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear challenges to President Obama’s 2010 health reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The case’s central issue is whether Congress exceeded its constitutional powers to regulate commerce and levy taxes when it enacted the so-called “individual mandate.” That provision would require almost all Americans to purchase health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty for failing to do so. If the Court strikes down the individual mandate, it will also have to decide which of the law’s other provisions fall as a result or which can be severed and saved. For complete coverage of the Court’s announcement, see these Kaiser Health News collections of articles.

November 18, 2011

Hot Report: A Guide to the State Income Tax

OLR Report 2011-R-0383 provides an overview of Connecticut's personal income tax, including the tax rates, exemptions, and credit amounts and thresholds in effect for the 2011 tax year (January 1 through December 31). It presents scenarios to illustrate how these tax features work.

The Connecticut income tax applies to full-time residents who meet specific income thresholds or conditions and part-time residents and non-residents with income derived from sources within the state. The starting point for calculating the tax is the amount of federal Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on a taxpayer's federal tax return. Taxpayers make several additions or subtractions to federal AGI to determine the portion of their income subject to Connecticut's income tax. For some filers, this amount is further reduced by a personal exemption. Taxpayers then apply tax rates that depend on the amount of taxable income and vary by filing status. Taxpayers with CT AGI over certain thresholds are also subject to a (1) phase-out of the lowest tax bracket and (2) “benefit recapture” which eliminates the benefits they receive from having a portion of their taxable income taxed at lower marginal rates.

The amount of tax a person actually pays may be offset by credits, including personal, property, and earned income tax credits that phase out at higher income levels.

The report goes on to explain:

• Who must file?

• How is the tax calculated?

and then gives four different scenarios and shows how the income tax is calculated in each case.

Read the report for more information.

Voting by Mail Won’t Save the Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) financial problems have prompted policymakers to consider any and all ideas for cutting costs and raising revenues. But election reformers hoping to save their neighborhood post offices by expanding voting by mail will be disappointed, according to a recent government report.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), conducting the 2008 presidential election completely by mail would have produced postal revenues ranging from $224 million to $415 million, less than 1% of the USPS’s FY 09 revenue ($68.1 billion). The memo noted that, assuming 190 million ballots were mailed (one for each registered voter) and 134 million returned (representing the number of ballots cast), the resulting total of 324 million mail pieces would represent only 0.2% of the USPS’s FY 09 mail volume of 177 billion pieces.

GAO did not analyze the revenue potential of state and local elections, but reported that it would likely be much lower than that of the presidential election. It further noted that election mail has a low profit margin, with USPS officials reporting that they make little, if any, profit on it. The Postal Service also stated that it considers delivering election mail to be a required public service rather than a revenue opportunity.

Massachusetts Affordable Housing Law Ducks A Repeal Bullet

Enacted in 1969, Massachusetts’ Comprehensive Permit Law makes it easier for developers to obtain local approvals for housing projects that include affordable units. The law allows them to apply for a single comprehensive zoning permit if they agree to make at least 20% of the units affordable to low- and moderate-income people and such units comprise less than 10% of the town’s housing stock.

The law has stirred up much controversy over its 40-year history because it allows developers to override stricter zoning bylaws such as large lot zoning and prohibitions on multifamily housing. (Does this sound familiar? It should. Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Procedure (PA 89-311, codified at CGS § 8-30g) was modeled on this Massachusetts law.) Last November, Massachusetts voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have repealed the law. In the final tally, 58% of the voters—about 1.2 million—rejected repeal.

The 2011 issue of Housing Trust Fund Project describes the Massachusetts law and the campaign to repeal it.

November 17, 2011

Officials Stress Chain Saw Safety

In the wake of October’s snow storm which damaged countless trees across the state, many residents are using chain saws to clean up the mess left behind. Of course, the saws can be very dangerous, especially for anyone not experienced with their use or who lacks proper protective equipment. In early November, the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection issued a press release with several tips regarding safe use of chain saws.

The tips include both big-picture warnings and specific recommendations for proper saw use. The first tip: if you lack experience using a chain saw, then hire a licensed professional for tree removal. Another basic, but essential, warning—before moving or cutting tree limbs, ensure there are no wires tangled in them.

Other tips concern safe fueling (e.g., don’t smoke during fueling; never attempt to fuel a running or hot saw) and operation (e.g., shut off the saw or engage the brake when carrying it on rough or uneven terrain).

A Seattle Start-Up Attempts to Eliminate “Food Deserts”

A recent New York Times blog describes the efforts of two Seattle M.B.A. students to address the problem of “food deserts.” Food deserts are low-income communities lacking access to healthy food. They are typically defined as low-income areas (1) more than one mile from a supermarket or (2) for rural areas, those more than 10 miles from a supermarket.

In July of 2011, former classmates, Carrie Ferrence and Jacqueline Gjurgevich, launched “Stockbox Grocers,” a start-up that converts reclaimed shipping containers into mini-grocery stores that are placed in parking lots of low-income communities. The store sells perishable, staple items like dairy, meat, and produce, which turnover quickly.

Stockbox Grocers completed an eight-week pilot on November 7th and expects to open two to four permanent stores in the spring of 2012. Its slogan is “Good food, where you live.”

This fall, OLR hosted a brownbag lunch discussion with local policy experts, legislators, and staff on “Access to Healthy Foods in Low-Income Communities.” An audio recording, transcript, and presentation materials are available on the OLR website’s Nutrition and Food Safety webpage.

Sometimes Clouds Have a Tax-Deductible Silver Lining

Even though Dr. Conrad Murray, recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of pop singer Michael Jackson, is facing a possible four-year prison sentence, he has at least one comfort. His legal fees in the case will almost certainly be tax deductible.

In a posting at, tax attorney Robert W. Woods says that, because the trial resulted from Dr. Murray’s medical treatment of Mr. Jackson and because Mr. Jackson was paying him for that treatment, Murray can deduct payments to his lawyers as a business expense.

The IRS requires tax-deductible business expenses to be both ordinary (“common and accepted in the person’s trade or business”) and necessary (“helpful and appropriate for the business”). But this standard is a low one, according to Woods. A person may face a criminal trial only once in a lifetime, but since legal fees are common and accepted in business, Murray’s are likely to qualify as “ordinary”. And it is hard to argue that Murray’s legal expenses in the case weren’t necessary. After all, he can’t continue his business in jail.

November 16, 2011

Birds and Glass Windows

The New York Times reports that San Francisco’s mayor has signed into law new bird-safe building standards. Chicago and Toronto have similar building standards for new construction and major renovations.

According to San Francisco’s Planning Commission’s policy document for Section 139 of the Planning Code, “Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings,” research has documented that buildings and windows are the top killer of wild birds in North America. The two primary hazards of glass for birds are reflectivity and transparency. New construction must use bird-safe glazing techniques on the portions of buildings that are most susceptible to bird crashes (“the bird collision zone”) to reduce the impact of the glass on migrating birds. Builders are also encouraged to incorporate latticework, grilles, and other devices into glasswork.

A “Super-Regional” Power Grid

According to Hartford, the administrators of New England and New York’s regional power grids are working to better integrate the two systems so that they can move electricity more freely between them. Although ISO New England and New York ISO aren’t formerly merging, they are working on technical changes and software upgrades that will let utility companies in one region purchase power from generators in the other region more quickly. The ISO administrators believe that the changes will ultimately decrease power costs and increase the grid’s reliability.

November 15, 2011

Many Teens Endure Sexual Harassment

Education Week highlights a report examining the problem of sexual harrassment that students face in middle and high school. The report, released by the American Association of University Women, is the first study using a national sample of students in a decade and used students from grades 7 through 12.

Of the nearly 2,000 students surveyed, 48 percent of them had experienced verbal, physical, or online sexual harassment at school during the 2010-11 school year.
Students face physical harrassment, including groping and severe physical attacks but also gossip, teasing, and online harrassment.

The report also brought to light that students who are harrassed are more likely to become harrassers themselves.

The survey collected ideas from students about ways to fight the problem, which included:
  • designating a person they can talk to (39 percent),
  • providing online resources (22 percent),
  • holding in-class discussions (31 percent).
  • allowing students to anonymously report problems recommendation (57 percent), and 
  • enforcing sexual harassment policies (51 percent).

If You Could Choose Between a Lollipop and a Needle to Ward off Chicken Pox, Which Would You Pick?

Some parents are choosing the former. Many are so fearful of vaccines for their children that they have resorted to social networking to immunize their children, in this case, against chicken pox, by purchasing items infected with the virus. A Facebook group called “Find a Pox Party” offers a way for parents to obtain infected lollipops, spit, and Q-tips, reports CBS News.

The report goes on to say that a Nashville, Tennessee woman advertised lollipops that her infected children had licked as a way for other children to get immunized without the need for a shot. The U.S. attorney for that part of the state says the practice is illegal and that people found selling them could be prosecuted.

November 14, 2011

Beware of Unregistered Home Contractors

The Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) and the Attorney General’s Office highlight what consumers can do to protect themselves against unscrupulous home contractors.

Steps include:

• Research the job and thoroughly interview potential candidates. Don’t make a hasty decision, especially when someone comes to your door offering a special deal for that day only.

• Make sure whoever you hire is licensed by checking the DCP’s website. This will also allow you to see if the department has closed any complaints against the contractor.

• You have three days to cancel the contract after signing it. Make sure you don’t waive that right. It allows you to review the contract and change your mind, if necessary.

• Don’t pay the bulk of the bill up front and don’t pay in cash.

November 11, 2011

Reverse Boot Camp

According to an October 18, 2011, American Forces Press Service release, “the Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta visited Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki Oct. 17 to discuss ways to help separating service members and veterans prepare for and launch civilian careers.”

This was the latest in a series of quarterly meetings about how military members successfully transition to civilian life and careers. The article goes on to note that, “[President] Obama told the American Legion Convention in August that he had directed DOD [Department of Defense] and VA [Veterans Affairs] to create a ‘reverse boot camp’ to help the newest veterans prepare for civilian jobs and translate their military skills into industry-accepted licenses and credentials.”

Click on the following link to read the entire article:

The Outlook for Affordable Housing is Cloudy

“By most measures, buying or renting a home remained an expensive and, too often, unaffordable proposition for Connecticut residents over the last year, despite a downturn in sales, price, and demand,” reports the Partnership for Strong Communities, a Connecticut advocacy and research organization. Drops in these traditional housing indicators are not enough to close the gap between the money people make and their capacity to buy or rent a home.

Housing costs and income determine if a family can afford a home. According to the Partnership, personal income in the state grew 43.3% but the median sales price grew 49.1% since 2000. This and other trends might explain Connecticut’s four-year trend toward renting rather than owning.

The interplay of housing costs and income are not the only forces at work. “Economists and experts largely agree that increasing fuel and energy costs, the difficulty in obtaining mortgages, the aging of the state’s population and other factors all add up to a market shift: larger homes and those far from transit with high energy or transportation costs may no longer have broad appeal.”

Partnership for Strong Communities, Housing In CT 2001

November 10, 2011

Hot Report: Massachusetts Law on Restoring Utility Service after Storms

OLR Report 2011-R-0385 explains the Massachusetts law that levies fines on utilities that do not restore service in a reasonable amount of time after a major outage event.

In 2009, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) investigated the extent to which Unitil (operating as Fitchburg Gas and Electric) properly prepared for and responded to a major ice storm in the winter of 2008. DPU found that Unitil had failed to restore service to customers in an efficient, effective, and timely manner and this constituted a failure to meet the company’s public service obligation to provide safe and reliable service. While DPU concluded that Unitil’s performance might warrant monetary penalties, it concluded that it did not have authority to fine the company.

In 2009, the Massachusetts legislature adopted an act that (1) required DPU to adopt rules and regulations to establish standards for emergency preparation and restoration of service for electric and gas companies and (2) establishes penalties for violation of these standards. It required each electric and gas company to file an annual emergency response plan with DPU for its review and approval. The plans must be designed for the reasonably prompt restoration of service after a storm or other emergency. The act authorizes the courts to appoint a receiver to take over operations of a small electric or gas company during an emergency if the court determines that the company (1) has materially violated DPU standards for responding to emergencies or (2) based on other compelling evidence will not be able to comply with such standards without a receivership. The act also expanded the powers of the DPU chairman regarding electric, gas, and water utilities during emergencies.

November 9, 2011

Colleges and Universities Increasingly Favor Merit Aid

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that colleges and universities, particularly private institutions, have increasingly used merit aid in an effort to attract students. According to the report, 44% of students in private non-profit four-year institutions received merit aid in 2007-08, compared with 24% in 1995-96. In four-year public institutions, the percentage of students receiving merit aid increased from 8% in 1995-96 to 18% in 2007-08.

In that same time span, the percentage of students receiving need-based aid was relatively flat: the percentage of four-year public students receiving need-based aid increased from 13% in 1995-96 to 16% in 2007-08, while in private non-profit four-year institutions, the percentage actually decreased, from 43% in 1995-96 to 42% in 2007-08.

The report also shows that merit aid awards from state governments are concentrated in the southeastern states. In 2007-08, 23.8% of students in the Southeast received state merit aid, compared with 3.4% in New England and a national average of 9.7%.

The FBI’s Vault

The FBI has launched a new electronic reading room with links to (1) files the bureau has already publicly released but never posted online; (2) records previously posted but removed when requests diminished; and (3) new, previously unreleased documents. One file documents a joint FBI, FCC, and Justice Department effort to determine whether the lyrics to the song “Louie, Louie” were indecent. (They dropped their investigation because they were unable to determine what the song’s actual lyrics were.)

Other noteworthy entries fall into categories such as “Unexplained Phenomena” (flying saucers); “Black Bag Jobs” (incidents where FBI agents illegally entered offices of targeted individuals and organizations to photograph files and install microphones), and “Jack the Ripper” (an agent’s efforts to create a psychological profile of the nineteenth-century killer).

Prepare yourself for a lot of redacted material.

Top Ten Excuses From Drivers Caught Using Cell Phones

In October, the Insurance Corporation of British Colombia released a list of the top excuses from local motorists caught using hand held cell phones while driving. Topping the list: “This is a bogus law.” The number two excuse: “It was my boss on the phone. I had to answer it.” The local police department, which initiated a month-long crackdown on distracted driving, helped the insurer compile the list. The police issued an estimated 3,500 during the month of September.

November 8, 2011

CDC Reports Increase in Youth Athletes Treated for Traumatic Brain Injuries

There has been a 60% increase in emergency department visits from 2001 to 2009 for children and teens being treated for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) related to sports and other recreational activities. This is according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the study, the number of TBIs in this age group rose from over 153,000 in 2001 to over 248,000 in 2009. 71% of the emergency room visits involved male patients. For children nine years old or younger, the most common activities leading to TBIs were playground activities and bicycling. For males ages 10-19, injuries occurred most often from football or bicycling; for females in this age group, the most common causes were soccer, basketball, and bicycling.

A CDC expert believes that one reason for the increase in emergency department visits "may be a result of the growing awareness among parents and coaches, and the public as a whole, about the need for individuals with a suspected TBI to be seen by a health care professional."

November 7, 2011

A New Guide to Breastfeeding in the Workplace

Connecticut employment law blogger Daniel Schwartz writes about the state’s new Guide to Breastfeeding in the Workplace. The document, a joint effort of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the Public Health and Labor departments, explains the state and federal breastfeeding in the workplace laws and how they interact.

The federal and state laws overall are similar, but they also have what appear to be significant differences. The state law requires employers to make a reasonable effort to accommodate an employee who wishes to breastfeed or express milk at work, while the federal law only seems to address expressing milk (to give to a baby later). Federal law also guarantees a break for most employees (those covered by federal minimum wage and overtime law) to breastfeed or express milk, something not required under state law (only that an employee may use meal or break time). So in this regard the federal law is more generous to the employee.

Schwartz writes that while the guide is useful for employers and employees, it also can be confusing when it doesn’t clearly distinguish between what businesses need to do to accommodate breast-feeding mothers who are customers and what businesses need to do to accommodate their workers.

Hot Report: Special Taxing Districts

OLR Report 2011-R-0347 explains the different types of special taxing districts and the process for establishing them. It also gives (1) examples of tax districts established to maintain a lake, pond, or other watercourse and (2) a description of their functions.

The statutes authorize two types of local districts that can provide public services and levy property taxes to pay for them – special taxing districts and special services districts (SSDs). They specify their powers and duties, governance structure, and the process for creating and dissolving them. The property taxes both levy are in addition to those levied by their respective municipalities. The residents of an area within a town can form a special taxing district to perform a number of services, including provide police and fire protection, maintain roads, operate recreational facilities, provide street lighting, collect garbage, control flooding and soil erosion, provide water services, regulate land uses, and enforce the building code (CGS §§ 7-324 to 7-329).

Municipalities can also create SSDs on behalf of the property owners of an area (CGS §§ 7-339m to 7-339t). SSDs, also referred to as business improvement districts, have been most commonly used by larger cities to provide special services desired by specific areas, such as merchants desiring extra street cleaning, lighting, or trash pickup in a downtown shopping district.

The statutes specify the process for creating both types of districts. The process for forming a special taxing district begins with residents specifying its boundaries and petitioning the town to convene a meeting of voters in the proposed district. The residents may establish the district either at a special meeting called for that purpose or through a referendum. In either case, the district is formed if two-thirds of the people voting approve its petition (CGS § 7-325).

The process to form an SSD, on the other hand, formally begins when a town adopts an ordinance establishing the district. However, the initiative usually comes from property owners who desire extra public services and are willing to pay for them through extra property taxes. The ordinance takes effect only if the affected property owners vote within 60 days to approve it (CGS § 7-339p). The voting process varies depending on how the district is configured.

Lake associations organized as special taxing districts maintain lakes and provide other services to people who own property around the lake. We examined the charters and by-laws of six lake association districts. We can provide copies of these documents at your request. To varying degrees, all of them perform the following functions in their districts:

1. maintain and regulate the lake, beaches, swimming areas, and recreational facilities;

2. construct and maintain roads;

3. provide fire, police, or security protection; and

4. maintain flood or erosion control systems (e.g., dams, ditches, retaining walls, and waterfronts).

Most of the districts also perform a range of other functions. This includes (1) regulating parking, boating, and fishing; (2) lighting streets; (3) collecting garbage; (4) enforcing health regulations; and (5) abating nuisances (e.g., noise, roaming animals, and litter).

For more information, read the full report.

DRS Extending Deadlines Due to Storm Alfred

Due to the recent storm and the extraordinary power outages, DRS has extended tax filing and payments originally due on or after October 30, 2011 to November 15, 2011. The extension applies not only to Connecticut-based taxpayers, but also to those in surrounding states affected by the storm.

Some of the tax types impacted are:

• CT-1040 personal income tax series,

• CT-1120 Connecticut corporation business tax series,

• Monthly and quarterly sales and use tax,

• Alcoholic beverage tax,

• Admissions and dues tax,

• Weekly and quarterly income tax withholding, and

• Gift and estate tax.

November 4, 2011

When and Where will the Japan Tsunami Debris make Landfall?

As the March 2011 tsunami that struck Japan receded from land, it took with it debris and materials that are currently part of a massive debris field in the Pacific Ocean. Models run by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) indicate that debris could wash ashore or pass by the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in spring 2012, near the United States’ western coastline in 2013, and return to Hawaii between 2014 and 2016. The exact location and date of landfall is unknown as there are many variables affecting the debris’ movement such as ocean currents and winds. The map below shows the IPRC’s model of Japan tsunami debris movement over time.
source: IPRC
According to NOAA, the debris field will likely break up and disperse as it moves with the ocean currents. Pieces of debris may also break off or sink. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also monitoring radioactivity from the tsunami and earthquake.

Watch out for Government Grant Telephone Scam

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning people to be on the look out for phone calls from people claiming to represent a government agency or some other organization with an official sounding name. The callers generally claim you qualify for some sort of grant and then ask for your bank information.

An example would be: “Because you pay your income taxes on time, you have been awarded a $12,500 government grant! To get your free grant, simply give us your checking account information, and we will deposit the grant into your bank account!”

The FTC gives these tips:

1. don’t pay money for a “free” government grant,

2. check the correct names of governmental agencies,

3. take your time and don’t feel rushed, and

4. keep your bank information to yourself.

November 3, 2011

Hot Report: Tree Trimming Laws and Programs

OLR Report 2011-R-0330 examines tree trimming laws and programs in Connecticut in relation to power lines.

The law generally requires the electric companies to get the consent of the adjoining property owner before trimming any tree that is on or hangs over a highway or public property, but provides mechanisms for trimming if the owner does not consent. The law also requires the electric companies to submit annual plans to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP, formerly the Department of Public Utility Control) for maintaining their systems, which include tree-trimming programs.

This report describes Connecticut Light and Power's (CL&P) plan and programs. The tree trimming programs are found in Appendix 3. United Illuminating has a similar plan and programs.

Under CL&P's programs, trees near distribution lines are normally trimmed every five years. Trees are trimmed to clear eight feet on sides of the line, 10 feet below the line, and 15 feet above it. Trees in areas subject to frequent outages are trimmed to greater clearance.

For more information, read the full report.

Most People Claim the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit for Two Years or Less

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is highlighting new research on the federal earned income tax credit (EITC) showing that the credit serves most recipients as a short-term safety net rather than a long-term income support.

The federal EITC goes to working people with incomes under $50,000, with the exact credit amount varying according to family size and annual earned income. The new study looked at EITC usage and participation patterns from 1989 to 2006. Among its conclusions:

• About 50% of all taxpayers with children used the credit during the 18-year period.

• 61% of those who claimed the credit did so for two years or less (42% for only one year).

• Only 20% of EITC claimants used the credit for five years or more.

• EITC use is highest when children are young, which also tends to be when parents’ wages are lower.

Income Mobility and the Earned Income Tax Credit” appears in the September 2011 issue of Public Finance Review.

In 2011, Connecticut adopted a state EITC for low-income people and families. The new credit against the state income tax is equal to 30% of the federal EITC amount the person claims.

November 2, 2011

Visit OLR's Map Room

Visit the newly redesigned Map Room section of the Office of Legislative Research's website. The Map Room features links to maps covering all of the committees. For instance, in the Finance, Revenue and Bonding section, there's a map that shows the comparative tax burden of each state while the Public Safety page has links to maps about federal disaster declarations and national crime statistics. There's guaranteed to be something that piques your interest.

What Panama Could Do for Connecticut

The Panama Canal, that is. In 2014, the canal will have a new lane open to ships triple the size of its current capacity, reports the Hartford Business Journal. Because ocean shipping is the cheapest form of transportation, an enhanced canal means suppliers don’t have to unload goods at West Cost ports and ship them across county by truck or rail. Connecticut, like the other East Cost states, stands to benefit from this traffic, but whether it does so depends on the state of its ports.

The article states that currently, “no Connecticut port is deep enough with adequate facilities to handle a container ship, nor is any set up to handle the larger volumes.” The Connecticut Maritime Coalition believes, however, that “with the right infrastructure improvements to Connecticut’s ports, the $5-billion state maritime industry could see a 50 percent increase in business by 2020.” The coalition believes a state port authority would be best suited to oversee those improvements.

November 1, 2011

Hot Report: Undergrounding Electric Lines

OLR Report 2011-R-0338, written after Irene hit Connecticut, answers questions about putting power lines underground.

The report summarizes recent reports on undergrounding electric distribution lines prepared by public utility commissions in several states and a national study prepared by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade group of investor-owned electric utilities.

The primary benefits of placing new or existing distribution lines underground are that it reduces:

• the frequency of outages, particularly those caused by storms;
• the costs of post-storm restoration of the electric system;
• revenue losses for electric utilities resulting from these outages;
• the costs of tree trimming and other vegetation management and damages to electric facilities caused by vehicle crashes;
• the risk of the public coming in contact with live wires; and
• visual clutter.

The report points out that undergrounding is expensive. According to EEI, building a new overhead distribution line costs between $136,000 and $197,000 per mile, depending on several factors including population density of the area served (urban areas being the most expensive). The cost of new underground lines ranges between $409,000 and $559,000 per mile. The Virginia commission estimated the cost of new underground lines to be four to six times more expensive than new overhead lines. Undergrounding existing overhead facilities is even more expensive.

The Virginia commission found that “the relocation of currently existing overhead lines would result in tremendous costs and significant disruptions… [and] could take decades to complete.” It estimated that the cost of placing all existing electric distribution lines in the state underground would be about $83 billion or about $3,000 per customer per year. Undergrounding telecommunications lines statewide would cost an additional $11 billion. The Florida, Oklahoma, and North Carolina commissions made similar findings.

Several disadvantages to undergrounding besides costs are brought to light by the report. While underground lines experience fewer outages than overhead lines, it is more difficult to find faults on them than overhead lines and they take longer to repair. Underground lines are less capable of dealing with overloads and are more complicated to upgrade or modify.

Undergrounding in urban areas has several additional barriers. Underground lines need boxes for switches and other equipment. These boxes, which are located above ground, are typically six feet long, eight feet wide, and four feet high. In densely populated urban areas, there may be insufficient room in the existing utility easement for the boxes.

For more information, read the full report.

U.S. Offers To Waive Federal Education Law

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will waive key aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law (also known as the ESEA) for states that meet specified criteria. Waivers will apply to several NCLB provisions, including the 2014 deadline for 100% of students to achieve academic proficiency in reading and math, and a requirement that schools and school districts make adequate yearly progress toward that goal or suffer sanctions. In return, states must meet several conditions, including:

• adopting college and career-ready academic standards;
• implementing aggressive turnaround interventions for the lowest-performing 5% of their schools (“priority schools”);
• publicly identifying the next-lowest performing 10% of schools (“focus schools”) and implementing programs, such as additional tutoring and public school choice, at those schools; and
• establishing teacher and principal evaluation programs that (a) have at least three levels of performance, (b) include student achievement as a significant factor, (c) provide clear and timely feedback, and (d) are used in making personnel decisions.

States receiving waivers will still have to disaggregate test data by student subgroup and set “ambitious but achievable” performance targets for every school and each identifiable student subgroup.

States may apply for waivers by November 14 for December review or by mid-February 2012 for spring review. As of October 13, 2011, 41 states, including Connecticut, had notified the US DOE that they will seek the waivers.