January 31, 2012

U.S. Police Fatalities increase 13% in 2011; Firearms Leading Cause of Death

According to preliminary data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 173 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2011, up from 153 in 2010. This represents a 13% increase over 2010 and a 42% increase from 2009, when 122 officers were killed. Gunfire was the leading cause of death in 2011, claiming 68 lives, a near record high. Traffic-related accidents ranked second, claiming 64.

Unemployment Rates Vary by College Major, Report Finds

While the unemployment rate among college graduates is significantly lower than it is for those who lack a college degree, a new report finds different unemployment rates across majors. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, majors tied to stable or growing industries, such as education and health have lower unemployment rates (5.4% for both). Conversely, problems in the construction and home-building industries may explain why architecture majors, at 13.9%, had the highest unemployment rate in the study. Additionally, non-technical majors, such as arts (11.1%), humanities (9.4%) and social sciences (8.9%) also lagged relative to other fields.

January 30, 2012

Hot Report: Justice Department Report on Allegations of Discriminatory Policing by East haven Police Department

OLR Report 2012-R-0037 summarizes the U.S. Justice Department's (DOJ) report on the East Haven Police Department.

After a two-year investigation of the East Haven Police Department (EHPD), DOJ found that that EHPD engages in a “pattern or practice” of systematically discriminating against Latinos in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal law. It also found that “discriminatory policing” is deeply rooted in the department's culture and interferes with its ability to deliver services to the entire East Haven community (DOJ Report pp. 1 & 2).

The investigation sought to determine whether EHPD police officers systematically deprive individuals of their federally protected rights. It focused on whether EHPD police officers engage in discriminatory policing, use excessive force, and conduct unlawful searches and seizures in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

Specifically, DOJ found reasonable cause to believe that EHPD officers “intentionally target Latinos for disparate traffic enforcement and treatment because of their race, color, or national origin” (DOJ Report, p. 3).

DOJ based its conclusions on the following:

1. a statistical analysis of (a) traffic-stop data from 2009 and 2010 showing that EHPD police target Latino drivers for traffic stops and use non-standard and, in some cases, unacceptable, justifications for stopping them and (2) traffic incident reports showing that officers treat Latinos more punitively than non-Latinos after a traffic stop;

2. serious incidents of abuse of authority and retaliation against critics of the discriminatory treatment of Latinos;

3. failure to remedy a history of discrimination and a deliberate indifference to the rights of minorities, including failure to train, supervise, and discipline officers engaged in unlawful discrimination; and

4. significant deviations from standard police practices that result in covering up or exacerbating the disparate treatment of Latino drivers, including failure to (a) collect and report traffic-stop data required by state law, (b) implement anti-discrimination policies, (c) hold officers accountable through internal investigations, (d) provide limited-English proficient Latinos with appropriate language access, and (e) abide by individuals' consular rights by notifying arrested foreign nationals of their right to contact their consulates.

Although DOJ expressed serious concerns that EHPD engages in unlawful searches and seizures and the use of excessive force, it did not make a formal “pattern or practice finding” but is continuing to review these issues. It also expressed concern that EHPD created a hostile and intimidating environment for people who wished to provide information relevant to the investigation (id at p. 2).

The report includes many remedial measures EHPD must take to correct the deficiencies identified by DOJ. These measures, according to DOJ, will enable EHPD to ensure that it can fairly and effectively police the entire community. According to DOJ, given the longstanding and deeply-rooted nature of the violations, an effective and sustainable resolution will require a comprehensive, written agreement and federal judicial oversight. DOJ says that it will proceed with litigation or terminate certain federal funding if EHPD does not negotiate a judicially enforceable consent decree.

For more information, read the full report.

Options to Address Primary Care Workforce Shortage

A recent policy analysis by the National Institute for Health Care Reform (NIHCR) considers ways to address the shortage of primary care providers. There are an estimated 400,000 primary care providers in the country, including physicians, advanced practice nurses, and physician assistants. Estimates vary regarding the provider shortage, but most studies indicate there is a shortage, especially in certain areas and for certain segments of the population.

The federal health reform law includes provisions to address the shortage, but also will likely increase demand for primary care providers, by extending insurance coverage to more people. Some examples of provisions of the federal law that could address the shortage of primary care providers include (1) payment and care delivery reforms, (2) scholarships for students planning to practice primary care, and (3) loan forgiveness and other incentive for primary care providers.

The NIHCR analysis highlights two other policy options to expand primary care capacity. According to NIHCR, these options may have greater short-term impact that those described above. One option is to expand the scope of practice of non-physician primary care providers. For example, the analysis notes that two-thirds of states with a primary care physician shortage also have restrictive scope of practice laws.

Another option is to adopt payment policies that foster increased efficiency among primary care providers. For example, payment models that create incentives for the team-based provision of health care may allow providers to extend care to more patients, although there is uncertainty regarding this issue.

Federal Tax Gap Estimate is $385 billion

The IRS has released a new estimate of the total unpaid federal tax liability for 2006. Taxpayers owed an estimated $2.66 trillion in federal taxes for that year. Of this, $2.21 trillion was paid on time, for a voluntary compliance rate of 83.1%. The IRS collected an additional $65 million through enforcement actions, leaving a “tax gap” of $385 billion (14.1%) that will probably never be collected. Full compliance would have more than covered the $248.2 billion federal budget deficit for 2006.

The tax gap estimate is divided among three factors: (1) failure to file required returns ($28 billion), (2) underreporting of liability ($376 billion), and (3) underpayment of tax due ($46 billion). Not surprisingly, the best tax compliance applies to wages and salaries, which are subject to substantial third-party information reporting and withholding requirements. An IRS map shows the gap for each federal tax.

There is no state tax gap estimate for Connecticut. In a 2006 report on Connecticut’s tax system, the Program Review and Investigations Committee noted that estimating the tax gap “is such a complicated process that few states, including Connecticut, regularly compute it.”

January 27, 2012

Seeking a Better Rate of Return for State Employee Pensions

In the last three years, nearly every state has either cut public pension benefits for new workers or required them to work longer for the same benefits to help reduce the money the states will owe to employees when they retire.

Stateline.org reports some state and local governments are changing the management structure of their pension plans as a way of increasing investment returns. Governments often spend millions on a private fund managers who invest the money for a set fee. Instead of this, some governments, like New York City, are creating an independent investment management company staffed by in-house advisers to govern the pension funds.

Could Smart Growth Development Expose People to More Air Pollution?

Yes, according to a recent analysis by Oakland’s Pacific Institute and a group of public health and air-quality advocates (known as the Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative) that emphasizes the relationship between urban planning and public health. But some land use experts have criticized the study for failing to consider the air-qualify benefits of creating dense and walkable developments in urban centers.

The study finds that California’s efforts to promote smart growth development in the Bay Area could unintentionally expose residents to sources of toxic pollutions. Its findings show that 25% of the land in targeted development areas is within an unsafe distance from freeways, rail yards, ports, and distribution centers that could pose a risk to “sensitive land uses” like housing. And only a third of the more suitable land for sensitive land uses is zoned residential or mixed residential/commercial.

January 26, 2012

Hot Report: Study of Deaths Related to the Use of Conducted Energy Devices

OLR Report 2012-R-0038, Summary of National Institute Justice: Study of Deaths Related to the Use of Conducted Energy Devices, summarizes the study about conducted energy devices, which include Tasers.

As of spring 2010, more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, including many in Connecticut, have acquired conducted energy devices (CEDs), and more than 260,000 have been issued to law enforcement officials nationwide, according to a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study. CEDs, such as Tasers, induce involuntary muscle contractions, temporarily incapacitating a person hit by the device. Law enforcement officers value CEDs as a highly effective alternative to deadly force (e.g., firearms). But several highly publicized deaths (including some in Connecticut) involving their use on subjects by law enforcement officials have fueled controversy over their safety.

An NIJ-sponsored panel of medical and other experts, which evaluated the safety and effectiveness of CEDs, reported in May 2011 that the devices, when used in accordance with national guidelines, are safe and create less risk of injury to officers and suspects than other methods involving use of force. According to the report, exposure to CEDs is not risk free, but there is no conclusive medical evidence that indicates a high risk of injury or death from their direct effects.

The study urges law enforcement officials to use the devices with caution and avoid using multiple or prolonged activations to subdue an individual because most CED-related deaths have involved multiple and prolonged discharges. It also recommends that law enforcement personnel (1) maintain an ongoing dialogue with medical examiners or coroners and emergency physicians about the effects of all use-of-force applications, including those involving CEDs, and (2) evaluate procedures involving life preservation, injury prevention, and evidence collection.

For more information, read the full report.

The Connecticut Clearinghouse Debuts

CTHealthChannel.org, also known as the Connecticut Clearinghouse, which allows people to learn about health insurance policies and health care plans, debuted this month.

Created by PA 10-4, the Connecticut Clearinghouse allows people and small employers to get information about health insurance policies and health care plans available in Connecticut, including HUSKY, Charter Oak, the Municipal Employee Health Insurance Plan, and any individual or small employer health insurance policies or health care plans an insurer or HMO chooses to list with the clearinghouse.

The law requires the Health Reinsurance Association to (1) administer the clearinghouse and (2) develop an interactive web site, telephone number, or other method for giving information on available plans that, based on a consumer's responses, may be appropriate for his or her circumstances.

Creative Government: Using Analytics to Go Beyond Performance Management

John Feinblatt, chief advisor for policy and strategic planning to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, posted an interesting article on GOVERNING.com. In it, Mr. Feinblatt discusses the power of analytics and how governments, particularly city governments, can use it as a tool to anticipate and stay ahead of issues facing their communities.

Analytics, commonly defined as “the method of logical analysis,” uses data from multiple sources and predictive analysis to find patterns of interest. Increasingly, large cities are creating dedicated data analytics teams to identify and prioritize high-risk areas and target scarce resources where they can be most effective.

For example, Mayor Bloomberg’s analytics team launched successful analytics programs in three areas: fire risk, prescription drug abuse, and mortgage fraud. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s technology and data team is using advanced analytics to identify progressions among 311 events within neighborhoods, allowing the city to develop tailored, proactive strategies to reduce costs and improve service delivery. And in Boston, the mayor’s analytics team is using several data sources (e.g., citizen complaints, code violations, and tax records) to predict where absentee landlords may be hurting neighborhoods with unmaintained properties.

This press release from Mayor Bloomberg’s office has more information on how cities are working together to share methodologies, challenges, and successes in implementing analytics programs.

January 25, 2012

Mapping Greenhouse Gas Emitters

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently launched a new website to identify many large emitters of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. According to a recent EPA press release, the website allows the public to sort and view greenhouse gas data by location, industrial sector, facility, and emitted gas type. Communities can use this tool to identify nearby emitters and track emissions. The website identifies 42 reporting facilities in Connecticut including 18 power plants that total 8,044 kMT CO2e in 2010 greenhouse gas emissions. Other industry sectors listed for Connecticut include landfills, pulp and paper, government and commercial, and other industrial. Click here for information about EPA’s greenhouse gas reporting program.

CVS Caremark Settles Incorrect Prescription Drug Pricing Case

According to a recent New York Times article, CVS Caremark agreed to pay $5 million to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that the company misrepresented the price of certain Medicare prescription drugs. This caused the affected consumers to pay significantly higher prices than advertised.

The FTC also investigated CVS on antitrust issues, but did not find any violations.

CVS Caremark stated that the settlement related only to the practices of its subsidiary, RxAmerica, which inadvertently posted inaccurate prices for certain generic drugs on a website maintained by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The company corrected the website upon learning of the problem. The $5 million settlement will be used to reimburse consumers for the price difference.

January 24, 2012

State Resources Plan Anticipates Stable Electric Prices and Sufficient Resources

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) issued its draft integrated resources plan (IRP), which identifies future electric needs and ways to meet them through efficiency programs and generation.

In light of expected rate increases from 2017 to 2022, the plan recommends that the state pursue strategies that: (1) help customers reduce consumption and save money when cost factors pressure rates; (2) facilitate the development of low-cost, clean resources that are economic but may face implementation barriers; (3) find more effective ways to meet clean energy objectives without exposing customers to potentially excessive costs; and (4) support in-state jobs.

Specifically, the plan recommends that the state increase Conservation and Load Management budgets from $105 million annually under a business-as-usual budget to $206 million annually. The plan estimates that doing this would result in a net savings of $534 million per year by 2022 compared to a business-as-usual base case.

The plan also recommends that electric companies and competitive suppliers be given more flexibility in meeting the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in order to avoid having their customers paying large amounts of alternative compliance payments achieving the RPS. The plan recommends that (1) the savings attributable to new energy efficiency programs be allowed to count towards part of the RPS requirements and (2) policymakers consider allowing other resources, such as out-of-region large hydropower, to count towards the RPS requirements.

Hot Report: Plastics to Oil Technology and CRRA

OLR Report 2012-R-0025 discussion of technologies that convert plastics to oil or other fuels, and the potential carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions and other environmental benefits that would be derived if the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) were to use these technologies.

There are a variety of technologies that convert plastics to oil or other fuels using a process called pyrolysis. While there are commercial plastics-to-fuels (PTF) facilities around the world, the existing PTF facilities in the United States are pilot stage or smaller facilities.

CRRA recycles the plastics that come to its recycling facilities, such as soda bottles and milk jugs. CRRA sells these plastics under a contract that runs until 2018 with a firm that recycles them. As a result, CRRA has not considered PTF technologies to date. CRRA incinerates other plastics that are not recycled at its facilities to generate power.

It appears that PTF technologies could be a cost-effective complement to recycling, producing fuel at prices substantially below current fuel prices. The conversion process itself creates few emissions. However, the oil or other fuel produced by the PTF technology will produce substantial CO2 emissions when it is burned.

For more information, read the full report.

They Will Beat Swords Into Plowshares And Turn Brownfields Into Parks

Well, Isaiah didn’t really say turn brownfields into parks, but he could have if he were around today. Cities like Houston and Newark are changing the script for restoring polluted and blight property and reaping the economic benefits, according to a recent Planning article.

The conventional script calls for cleaning up an abandoned factory and turning it over to a private developer for redevelopment and reuse. The city or state recoups the cleanup cost by the tax revenue the restored property generates. Sounds pretty straightforward, but the possibility that the cleanup missed some of the contamination puts a dark cloud of future potential liability over the developer’s and its funders’ heads.

Consequently, “only brownfield property with extraordinary economic potential—minor contamination combined with a prime location…overcame developers’ liability concerns without government assistance.”

Ok, turning brownfields into parks helps appearances, but what does it do for local tax bases? A lot, at least in Houston. The city spent $182 million cleaning up the former industrial Gas Works Park and converting it into the 12-acre Discovery Green and generated $500 million in private investment along the park’s periphery.

Empirical research suggests that Houston’s experience is no fluke. Texas A&M University professor John Crompton “cites 25 studies that record increased property values around the perimeter of parks. In some cases, the economic impact can be measured as far as 2,000 feet away.”

Houston’s experience offers a deeper and broader lesson. Sometimes creativity lies not in finding new solutions to old problems but new ways to define those problems.

Source: “Turning Brownfields Into Parks,” Peter Harnik and Ryan Donahue, Planning, December 2011, available in the Legislative Library.

January 23, 2012

Who Got SNAP Benefits After The Recent Major Weather Events?

A new OLR Backgrounder (2011-R-0467) explains the different types of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that were available after Tropical Storm Irene and Winter Storm Alfred, including eligibility criteria and benefit amounts.

The report explains SNAP benefits available in Connecticut after Tropical Storm Irene and Winter Storm Alfred. This includes the federal Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP), which the Department of Social Services (DSS) administers in Connecticut. The report contrasts D-SNAP with the disaster-related benefits provided to state residents already receiving regular SNAP benefits.

New USDA Data Shows another Jump in SNAP Enrollment

The federal agency has released data on SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) enrollment and benefit amounts for the 50 states. Not surprisingly, average monthly participation in the program rose in FFY 2011. Almost 45 million Americans were receiving SNAP benefits each month in FFY 2011 (estimated), a nearly 70% increase over FFY 2007 enrollment levels. Connecticut experienced an even greater increase (78%) than the national average during this time, with enrollee numbers rising from about 215,000 in FFY 07 to almost 380,000 in FFY 11.

When the USDA looked at average households participating, the increases were even greater. For all 50 states, the average number of households receiving benefits climbed 79% to over 21 million. And Connecticut saw almost 205,000 households participate in FFY 11, an 82% increase over FFY 07.

January 20, 2012

School Construction Project List for 2012

The latest priority list of local school construction projects and state grant reimbursements has been submitted for legislative approval during the 2012 session. It consists of 20 school projects costing a total of $546 million. Aggregate state grants for the projects are estimated to be $349 million, for an overall reimbursement rate of 64%.

Nine of the projects are additions to, or extensions of, existing schools and six are equipment purchases for vocational-agriculture centers. Only one is a brand new school, a new Guilford high school with an estimated cost of $92.2 million. Nine projects are in priority districts, three each in Hartford and Waterbury, two in Meriden, and one in Danbury.

School construction activity in Connecticut has fallen dramatically in the past decade. The 2012 list is less than one-fifth as long as the 2002 list and only one-tenth of the 2000 list. The 2002 priority list had 106 projects costing an estimated $1.63 billion, with projected state reimbursements totaling $1.03 billion.

The 2012 submission is a modest rebound from the last decade’s two school construction low points. The 2009 list was the decade’s shortest, with only 18 projects. The 2004 list was by far the cheapest, totaling an estimated $235.3 million in project costs and $177.6 million in state reimbursements.

January 19, 2012

Public Defender Programs in the States

According to a federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, every state except Maine has public defenders to provide legal representation for indigent defendants. Connecticut and 21 other states have a state public defender program while the other 28 states have county-based offices. In 2007, state programs spent more than $830 million representing indigent defendants. This accounted for about 14% of state spending on judicial and legal functions. The BJS report compares state programs, including their funding, number of employees and caseloads, agency oversight, and criteria for indigent representation.

Hot Report: Children of Detained, Undocumented Immigrants

OLR Report 2012-R-0007 explains what the Department of Children and Families' (DCF) policy is regarding minor children of detained, undocumented parents. Specifically, it explains (1) how DCF gets involved with these children and what actions they take and (2) if these children end up in foster care, whether federal Title IV-E money is available for foster care payments.

DCF does not have a written policy that directly addresses its interaction with children of detained, undocumented parents. The agency's involvement depends on a number of factors, including whether there are relatives in the area who may be able to care for the children and whether there also is a potential abuse or neglect situation (e.g., if the parent is involved in unlawful activity other than immigration status). The department's involvement typically begins once it is contacted by local law enforcement or immigration officials.

When DCF is contacted, and assuming there is no concern that the children are being abused or neglected, it will meet with the detained parent to determine if there are local relatives, documented or not, willing to watch the children during the detention period. If so, DCF will place the children with them and DCF's involvement generally ends there. But if there are no relatives, and DCF is concerned for the children's safety given the absence of a supervising adult, DCF will ask the court for temporary custody of the children and place them in a licensed foster home.

If DCF places the children in a licensed foster home, the foster care payments are generally eligible for Title IV-E reimbursement from the federal government. However, if the children are not in the country legally DCF will not claim the federal reimbursement. (Alternatively, a child's guardianship could be transferred to a relative and that relative, documented or not, could potentially obtain a child-only cash assistance benefit from the Department of Social Services to pay for the child's care while the parent is detained.)

If DCF learns that a parent will be deported to his or her country of origin, it will work with the family and that country to return the children to the parents, assuming there are no concerns about the children's safety.

For more information, read the full report.

All The Single (Old) Ladies

According to a recent New York Times blog, if you’re a single woman complaining about the disproportionately low number of single men, just wait until you reach age 90. A new U.S. Census Bureau report found that the number of Americans aged 90 and older tripled over the last twenty years and is expected to quadruple over the next 40 years. Women aged 90 and older outnumber men of the same age nearly three to one. Moreover, over 80% of these women are widowed, while more than 40% of these men are married. The report notes that the growth of this population group has a significant impact on societal and family resources such as pension and retirement income, healthcare costs, and intergenerational relationships.

January 18, 2012

Restoration and Transformation of Blighted Property

Affordable senior rental housing to replace a long time blighted property in Berlin? It is a possibility, as the town is considering a proposal from Farmington-based Metro Realty Group LTD for the adaptive re-use of the former Kensington Grammar School located on Alling Street, according to a January 4 article at Berlin.Patch.com.

The former school is on the state registry of historic places and the company is attempting to have it certified as an historic structure recognized on both the state and federal registers, “…proposing to preserve the important historic qualities of the building and to renovate it in conformance with the rigorous U. S. Department of Interior standards.”

The project, if it moves forward, would include nine small buildings that are intended to take advantage of the “transit oriented” location, “…attempt[ing] to reinforce the town’s initiative to redevelop the area of the train station to create a mixed use village that will attract young people and other members of the workforce who can use the planned commuter rail service on the New Haven, Hartford, Springfield line,” according to the article.

It goes on to state that the developer has proposed 34 market rate apartments for the same site.

DOL Introduces “Step-Up” Program to Encourage New Hiring

The state’s Department of Labor has begun publicizing its new “Step-Up” program to encourage small businesses and small manufacturers to hire new employees. Created during the General Assembly’s October Special Session, the program provides grants to help subsidize a portion of an eligible employee's costs of employment, including training, during the first six months of his or her employment.

Under the program, eligible small businesses can receive a grant of 100% of an eligible new employee's training and compensation costs, up to a maximum of $20 an hour, during the employee’s first month of employment. The percentage of covered training and compensation costs subsequently phases out over the employee's next five months of employment. A grant for training and compensating a newly hired employee at an eligible small manufacturer can be up to $12,500 for six months, with a fixed monthly limit that phases out over that period.

January 17, 2012

Post 9/11 Veterans: Feel Stressed When Driving? New Studies and Programs Aim to Help

A January 10, 2012 NY Times article looks at an issue facing many veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq:

“For thousands of combat veterans, driving has become an ordeal. Once their problems were viewed mainly as a form of road rage or thrill seeking. But increasingly, erratic driving by returning troops is being identified as a symptom of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD — and coming under greater scrutiny amid concerns about higher accident rates among veterans.”
Additionally, one does not have to suffer from PTSD for a veteran’s war experience to affect driving. “In some cases, returning troops may be reflexively applying driving techniques taught in Iraq during the height of the insurgency — for example, speeding up at intersections to avoid gunfire or scanning the roadside for danger instead of watching the road ahead.”

According to the article, the “…Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs are also supporting several new studies into potential links between deployment and dangerously aggressive or overly defensive driving. The Veterans Affairs health center in Albany last year started a seven-session program to help veterans identify how war experiences might trigger negative reactions during driving.”

It goes to say that “…researchers in Palo Alto are developing therapies — which they hope to translate into iPhone apps — for people with PTSD who are frequently angry or anxious behind the wheel.”

Hot Report: Death Row Inmates

OLR Report 2012-R-0020 provides information on each death row inmate including the crimes they committed, their offense and sentencing dates, and the status of their appeals and habeas corpus petitions.

Eleven inmates are currently sentenced to death. Robert Breton, first sentenced to death in 1989, has been on death row the longest. Although the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned his sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing, Breton remained on death row and was again sentenced to death in 1998. Joshua Komisarjevsky is the most recent person sentenced to death (2011).

The cases for seven of the 11 inmates have not completed the initial appellate review by the Connecticut Supreme Court (including Komisarjevsky's, where the sentencing process is not yet complete). The remaining four have finished their direct appeals to the Connecticut Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court denied their petition for review. All four of these inmates filed state habeas corpus petitions which were denied by the Superior Court. All four are appealing the Superior Court's decision.

A table in the report provides, for each of the 11 inmates sentenced to death, a brief description of their crimes, offense and sentencing dates, and the status of direct appeals and habeas petitions. It is in order of the offense dates from earliest to latest.

In addition to the habeas petitions listed in the table, most death row inmates and some others are part of a habeas proceeding consolidating all racial disparity claims by inmates sentenced to death. The trial in the Superior Court on the habeas petition is scheduled for June 2012 (In re: Racial Disparity et al. v. Commissioner of Correction).

For more information, read full report.

Quebec’s Winter Tire Law (Loi de pneus d'hiver du Qu├ębec)

In 2008, Quebec enacted a law requiring all passenger cars and taxis registered in Quebec to have winter tires on their vehicles from December 15 until March 15. (It also applies to mopeds, motorized scooters, and motorcycles). Fines for disobeying the law are 200 to 300 Canadian dollars. Drivers with cars registered in the United States are exempt. Under certain circumstances, drivers can also obtain a permit that allows them to drive in the province for 7 days during the restriction period.

A New York Times (NYT) post summarized a recent Quebec Ministry of Transport study which found that in the years after the law’s enactment, winter car accidents have declined. The ministry claims that a net accident reduction of 5 percent is credited to the winter tire law. According to the NYT, the winter-tire law is popular partly because it does not affect many drivers – prior to the law’s enactment, 90 percent of drivers used winter tires.

January 16, 2012

What Do Massachusetts Casinos Mean For Connecticut?

The Massachusetts Legislature, on October 13, gave final legislative approval to a casino gambling bill. Some industry analysts suggest that Connecticut stands to lose significant revenue from this development because of the number of Massachusetts residents who gamble at the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos. In 2010, approximately 1 million Massachusetts residents visited Foxwoods and 638,000 visited the Mohegan Sun, according to the Center for Policy Analysis at Dartmouth. And, according to some estimates, Massachusetts residents spend almost $1 billion annually at the casinos. A decline in casino revenue has implications for the state and towns. The state gets 25% of the casinos’ gross slot machine revenue, which goes into the state general fund, with a portion awarded to towns.

CMS Plans to Publicly Disclose Financial Dealings between Doctors and Drug and Medical Device Manufacturers

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have issued a proposed rule requiring drug and device manufacturers that participate in Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP to disclose financial relationships with participating health care providers. CMS will collect the information and make it publicly available starting in September 2013.

CMS asserts that such disclosures lessen the chances that a provider’s clinical judgments will be inappropriately influenced by personal financial interests. By law, those who fail to report are subject to annual fines of up to $150,000; the fine is $1,000,000 for those whose conduct is intentional.

January 13, 2012

Study Suggests People May Struggle to Differentiate Knowing Conduct from Reckless

A recent article in the New York University Law Review argues that people may have a difficult time distinguishing between knowing and reckless conduct. The authors sought to ascertain how well jurors can distinguish between the four culpable mental states set out in the Model Penal Code and followed to varying degrees by most states: conduct that is purposeful (or intentional), knowing, reckless, or negligent. They conducted experiments in which people read short scenarios involving protagonists causing harm. The test subjects then had to assign punishment rankings for the behavior in the scenarios. Some test subjects were given jury instructions with the definitions of the various mental states, while others were not.

The authors found that test subjects were generally able to distinguish between the mental states appropriately (in other words, they punished purposeful conduct more than negligent conduct, and negligent conduct more than blameless conduct, etc). However, the authors found that test subjects struggled to differentiate between knowing and reckless conduct, even when given jury instructions explaining the difference.

The authors concluded that if their results can be confirmed in subsequent studies, possible reforms could include (1) improving jury instructions or (2) abandoning the distinction between knowing and reckless crimes, at least for those crimes where the distinction has a large difference in possible sentencing, such as homicide.

Hot Report: Proposed New Electric Transmission Line

OLR Report 2012-R-0028 summarizes the proposal by Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P) to build a new transmission line in northeastern Connecticut and the alternatives CL&P considered in developing this proposal.

In December 2011, CL&P submitted an application to the Connecticut Siting Council for a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need to build a new 345-kilovolt (kV) overhead transmission line. The line would extend between CL&P's Card Street substation in Lebanon and the Rhode Island border in Thompson, approximately 36.8 miles long. It would pass through the towns of Brooklyn, Chaplin, Columbia, Coventry, Hampton, Killingly, Lebanon, Mansfield, Pomfret, Putnam, and Thompson. The project would also involve modifications to the Card Street and Killingly substations and the Lake Road switching station. The proposal is part of the larger Interstate Reliability Project, which calls for the construction of new 345 kV lines in northern Rhode Island and south central Massachusetts.

The vast majority of the proposed line would be adjacent to an existing 345 kV line within CL&P's existing right of way (ROW). Most of the structures supporting the line would be 85 feet tall, somewhat taller than structures on the existing line. The estimated capital cost for the project (including substation and station costs) is $218 million, assuming that CL&P's baseline design is used throughout. Over its 35-year life, the project would have a total cost (including interest and operating and maintenance costs) of $319 million.

Among the alternatives CL&P considered in making its application were (1) taking no action, (2) meeting reliability needs by additional generation or demand-side (conservation) measures, and (3) using highway or other existing ROWs for the transmission line, CL&P believes that these alternatives are either infeasible, more expensive, or more environmentally harmful than its proposal. The application presents six alternative transmission options involving overhead and underground lines, which CL&P believes are feasible, although less desirable based on cost and other grounds, than its preferred alternative.

For more information, read the full report.

OPM Raises Concern about Health Insurance Pooling

Legislation passed last session opened up the state employee health insurance pool to municipal employees. However, the December 21st edition of HartfordBusiness.com cites an Associated Press report that state Office of Policy and Management director Benjamin Barnes has written to Comptroller Kevin Lembo that he's worried the state could face financial exposure if only small groups of city and town workers are pooled into the self-insured, state employee and retiree health insurance system.

Barnes' main concern, according to the report, is that collective bargaining rules will prevent most municipal employees from joining the state insurance pool, which could leave Connecticut adding only a small group of older, sicker municipal workers that will drive up costs through higher utilization rates.

Barnes said he wants a closer analysis of the risk involved before the state moves forward with the pooling concept. The state plan is scheduled to be opened to municipal workers next month.

January 12, 2012

Montana’s Corporate Election Expenditure Ban Upheld By Its Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision appeared to foreclose the possibility of states banning independent election expenditures by corporations and unions. Montana, however, opted to defend its ban on corporate election spending in court, and the state’s Supreme Court, reversing a lower court decision, ruled that the ban was constitutional.

The court held that Montana, even in light of Citizens United, demonstrated a compelling interest in banning corporate election expenditures. It pointed to the state’s unique history with corporate spending, where extensive corruption during the “Copper King” era prompted a voter initiative in 1912 that instituted the ban. The court also noted that the state, more so than others, remains particularly susceptible to corporate spending in state elections, asking “when in the last 99 years did Montana lose the power or interest to support the statute, if it ever did.”

The case will now likely be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Suburban Decline? The More Things Stay the Same, The More They Change

Boarded up homes, cracked sidewalks, pot-holed streets, litter blowing across unkept yards - the symptoms of urban decline, right? As it turns out, these symptoms are popping up in the suburbs as the fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis sets in. And there’s empirical data supporting this diagnosis.

The data comes from the United States Postal Service (USPS), which tracks occupied homes and apartments by zip codes. USPS considers a unit vacant when no one receives mail at that address. If the unit is still vacant after 90 days, it is considered inactive.

When researchers grouped the data into urban, suburban, and rural areas, they found that the suburbs had more declining zip codes between 2002 and 2006 than the other areas. They “found more new declining zip codes in all suburban regions during the recent recession than in the previous period and determined that outer ring suburbs sustained the largest increase of new zip codes with a net decline in housing occupancy. In contrast, the total number of declining zip codes in central cities decreased.”

These trends add up to this: “Places that had prospered in more recent times, including Sunbelt cities and remote suburbs, have begun to see declines in occupied housing stock as well and were, in fact, the places hit hardest by the subprime lending crisis” (Hollander, Polsky, Runfola, “The New American Ghost Towns,” Land Lines, April 2011).

January 11, 2012

ACIP Recommends Routine HPV Vaccination For Boys

In October 2011, the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) expanded its vaccine recommendations to include the routine HPV vaccination of boys ages 11 and 12 and a catch-up dose for males ages 13 to 21 who have not been previously vaccinated. It also supports the permissive use of the vaccine in men ages 22 to 26. Previous guidance issued in 2009 recommended against such routine vaccination to prevent genital warts in males, instead supporting the permissive use of the vaccine.

ACIP already recommends the routine vaccination of girls ages 11 and 12 with the HPV vaccine, and a “catch-up” vaccination for females 13 to 26 years of age who have not been previously vaccinated.

ACIP advises the federal Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccine policies.

For more information on HPV vaccinations and reporting, see OLR Report 2011-R-0358.

The 2011 Tax Year in Review

2011 was a busy year in state and federal tax news. This Tax Briefing from the CCH Group summarizes the year in federal tax news, including the:
  • extension of the payroll tax cut for the first two months of 2012;
  • expiration of various tax incentives, including deductions for state and local sales tax, higher education tuition, and teacher’s classroom expenses; and
  • expansion of tax credits for employers that hire veterans who have been looking for employment for more than six months.
You can also read OLR’s 2011 Acts Affecting Taxes to review the key state tax law changes.

January 10, 2012

Are Extreme Weather Events the New Normal?

In mid-November 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report examining the link between extreme weather events and climate change. Forbes reports the panel found that climate change is responsible for the increased frequency of extreme weather events. Already, 2011 has been one of the most costly years on record for extreme weather events in the United States with more billion-dollar events than ever before. According to the Insurance Information Institute, insured catastrophe losses in the United States totaled $27 billion during the first half of 2011, and that does not include the impact of Hurricane Irene. For a related article, see the Hartford Courant.

Hot Report: OLR Backgrounder: State-Mandated Health Insurance Benefits

OLR Report 2011-R-0504 explains what private health insurance benefits must be provided.

Here's a list from the report of the new mandates added in 2011 that became effective January 1, 2012.

In 2011, the legislature enacted numerous revisions to Connecticut's health insurance mandates. Effective January 1, 2012, health insurance policies must:
  1. cover newborns for 61 days, up from 31 days (PA 11-171);
  2. not impose out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary early intervention services, unless the policy is a high-deductible health plan (PA 11-44);
  3. if a group policy, provide children with autism spectrum disorder coverage for medically necessary early intervention services of at least $50,000 per child annually, up to $150,000 per child over three years (PA 11-44);
  4. cover medically necessary prostate cancer treatment in accordance with guidelines established by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, American Cancer Society, or American Society of Clinical Oncology (PA 11-225);
  5. not require an insured person to use an alternative brand name prescription or over-the-counter drug before using a brand name prescription drug prescribed by a licensed physician for pain management (PA 11-169);
  6. cover at least $2,500 (up from $1,000) per year for medically necessary ostomy-related appliances and supplies, if the policy covers ostomy surgery (PA 11-204);
  7. not impose out-of-pocket expenses for an additional colonoscopy a physician orders for an insured person in a policy year, unless the policy is a high deductible health plan (PA 11-83);
  8. cover magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of a woman's breasts if a mammogram shows she has dense breast tissue or she is at increased breast cancer risk (PA 11-67);
  9. cover MRIs in accordance with guidelines established by the American Cancer Society or American College of Radiology (PA 11-171);
  10. cover routine patient costs related to disabling or life-threatening chronic diseases (PA 11-172); and
  11. cover bone marrow testing for people who join the National Marrow Donor Program (PA 11-88).
For the entire list of mandated benefits, see the full report.

Analytics and Higher Education

Amazon.com and other commerce websites often suggest additional items for purchase based on a customer’s past purchases, search histories, and other data points. According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, colleges and universities are increasingly using similar techniques, known as analytics, for a wide variety of purposes, including in-class uses, course and major selection, and even enrollment decisions. For instance, programs can project a student’s expected grade in the class early in the semester, allowing the professor to identify students who need additional help.

Analytics also uses outcome data from former students to inform current students’ decision-making. For example, programs can recommend courses or majors for a student based on outcome data from former students with similar profiles. For students whose major is a bad fit, analytics can suggest viable alternatives.

At the admissions stage, programs uses dozens of data points from high school students in an attempt to match them with schools and programs that provide the best fit. They do the reverse for colleges and universities, helping them to identify promising applicants.

January 6, 2012

Kids in Foster Care Prescribed Psychotropic Drugs at Higher Rates than Other Kids

So concludes a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that, for five states (FL, MA, MI, OR, TX), (1) compared rates of Medicaid-funded psychotropic prescriptions for foster and non-foster children and (2) examined federal and state oversight of these types of prescriptions through October 2011.

The authors found that in those states (chosen for geographic diversity and size of their foster care populations) foster children were prescribed such drugs at higher rates than non-foster children.

While acknowledging that foster children may have greater mental health care needs, the authors suggest that the science does not support children taking five or more of such drugs. Yet in all of the states, this practice was occurring for all children, not just those in foster care.

Despite these phenomena, the authors suggest that the states’ programs for monitoring psychotropic drugs prescribed for foster children fell short of best practice guidelines and recommended that states look to federal guidance to close any oversight gaps.

Pre-K and Kindergarten: Looking for the Right Mix

When it comes to public education, pre-k is important and so is kindergarten. But how much of each? Is all-day kindergarten more important than pre-k?

A new Center for Public Education report looks at the various combinations of pre-k and kindergarten on third grade reading skills in order to provide important information to educators and policymakers. Some of the report’s findings are striking. It found that students who attend pre-k and half day kindergarten are more likely to have higher third grade reading skills than students who attend full-day kindergarten alone. Also, the impact of pre-K and half day kindergarten was the greatest on minority children, English language learners, and children from low-income families.

January 5, 2012

Bank Use and Fees

According to a Pew report, 5.3% of Connecticut households in 2009 did not have a checking or savings account, compared to 7.7% nationally. Of all Connecticut households, 13.8% were “underbanked,” or had a checking or savings account but relied on alternative financial services. Nationally, 17.9% of households were “underbanked.” This data, based on a 2009 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, also showed that 31% of U.S. households that dropped a bank account did so because of service charges, minimum balance requirements, or overdraft fees.

Pew also studied checking account fees and requirements around the country by surveying the nation’s 10 largest banks in October 2010, which accounted for almost 60% of the nation’s deposits. Seven of these banks had branches in Connecticut that accounted for 43% of all deposits in the state. Based on this data, Connecticut had the same median monthly checking account fee as the nation as a whole ($8.95), a lower median monthly combined balance to waive the fee ($1,500 compared to $2,500), and the same median overdraft penalty ($35) and median overdraft transfer fee ($10).

The Pew report provides data on each state, including Connecticut.

FTC and Connecticut Sue State-based Operation

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Connecticut are seeking to shut down a Connecticut-based operation that allegedly used fake news websites to promote its products and made deceptive weigh-loss claims.

The FTC and state filed a lawsuit in federal court in November seeking to end the operation’s illegal conduct. In the meantime the parties have agreed to a court order temporarily halting the illegal conduct of Boris Mizhen, LeanSpa LLC, and two other companies Mizhen controls; continuing an asset freeze; appointing a temporary receiver; and giving the receiver, the FTC, and the state access to the business premises.

The 34-page complaint alleges, among other things, that the defendants told consumers they could receive free trials of acai berry and “colon cleanse” products for only the cost of shipping and handling, but that many consumers wound up paying $79.99 for the trial period and receiving recurring monthly product shipments that were hard to cancel. The defendants allegedly collected more than $25 million from U.S. consumers.

January 4, 2012

U.S. DOJ reverses position on Internet Gambling

Just before Christmas, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) changed its position on Internet gambling. The DOJ sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Jon Kyl along with a DOJ Office of Legal Counsel opinion that concluded the Wire Act (18 USC § 1084) only applies to sports betting.

The DOJ previously interpreted the Wire Act to prohibit all internet gambling, but this opinion specifies it only applies to sports betting.

Even though the opinion specifically answers Illinois and New York’s question on the legality of online lottery ticket sales, the conclusion will also allow other forms of intrastate online gambling, including poker.

Help for Homeless Veterans

In their second annual Veteran’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report, the departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced modest progress in the effort to house homeless veterans. A count of people living in shelters and on the street in 400 communities on a single January night in 2011 found 12 percent fewer veterans than at the same time the previous year—67,495, compared with 76,329 in 2010. The percentage of veterans living in shelters and transitional housing was also up by two percent. The VA and HUD are making a major effort to permanently house veterans and also stabilize the lives of others in danger of losing their homes. The VA announced that it will make $100 million in grants available through FY 12 to community agencies to put veterans in permanent supportive housing. The complete 2011 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report will be available in 2012.

January 3, 2012

When Is Research Too Risky to Publish?

A federal biosecurity panel’s non-binding recommendation that two controversial research papers be published only in abbreviated form pits biosecurity concerns against traditional First Amendment notions of academic and scientific freedom. The papers in question report on experiments involving bird flu, a virus that only rarely infects people, but has a 60% mortality rate when it does. Public health officials are tracking outbreaks and developing plans to handle a bird flu pandemic.

The manuscripts describe the steps the researchers took to create a mutant strain of the virus that is both contagious to mammals (in this case, ferrets) and easily transmitted through the air. The experiments were designed to pinpoint specific genetic changes that would make the flu virus more transmissible; researchers and clinicians could use the findings to improve detection and treatment.

In an unprecedented move, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has asked that the papers be redacted to omit experimental details that terrorists might use as a recipe for turning the virus into a bioweapon. Although the outcome of the dispute remains uncertain, it has been suggested that the authors and publishers may agree to censor the papers voluntarily if the federal government issues a written, transparent plan to ensure that all of information be made available to researchers for use in their legitimate efforts to improve public health and safety.

Story reported in the L.A. Times.

Story reported in the NYT.

“Curbside” Bus Carriers Have Higher Fatality Rates than Traditional Interstate Bus Lines

A federal study of low-cost “curbside” interstate bus lines has found they had seven times the rate of fatal accidents between January 2005 and March 2011 as conventional bus lines that depart from terminals.

The curbside companies, which charge very low fares and leave from curbsides or parking lots, are particularly popular with students and low-budget travelers.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report, released in late October, was prompted by a March 12, 2011 Bronx crash that killed 15 passengers returning from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.

According to the report, “although accidents among all types of interstate motorcoach carriers (including…the curbside…model) are infrequent, curbside carriers have higher fatal accident and death rates and higher out-of-service rates resulting from driver violations (specifically, fatigued driving and driver fitness violations) compared with conventional carriers.”

The New York Times reported on the findings.