February 29, 2012

Hot Report: Property Tax Relief for Homeowners

OLR Rerport 2012-R-0104 (1) summarizes the different types of property tax relief for homeowners under Connecticut law and (2) examples of property tax relief offered in other states but not Connecticut.

Connecticut law requires municipalities to provide property tax relief mainly for specific groups of homeowners, including the disabled, the elderly, and veterans (i.e. mandatory programs). It also gives municipalities the option to provide additional relief to these groups and extend relief to firefighters and emergency personnel, surviving spouses of firefighters and police officers, and homeowners whose property taxes exceed 8% of income. Some homeowners are eligible for a state income tax credit for property tax paid.

Most of the other states also provide residential property tax relief to the elderly and veterans and some offer relief to other groups, such as low- and moderate-income homeowners. Most do so by using the same types of mechanisms as Connecticut. But, most also use a mechanism that Connecticut does not use.

The four types of mechanisms are: homestead exemptions and credits, circuit breakers, tax freezes, and tax deferrals. Connecticut does not provide any form of homestead relief. Homestead relief programs are the most widely used forms of property tax relief and operate by exempting a portion of a property's value from taxation or rebating a portion of the tax paid.

A “circuit breaker” program prevents the amount of property taxes a homeowner pays from exceeding a specified portion of income. The amount of relief depends on the property owner's income and marital status. Connecticut has a sliding scale circuit breaker program specifically for elderly homeowners, but other states have programs that target a broader group or use a threshold approach rather than a sliding scale approach.

A “tax freeze” program freezes property tax at a specific year. Some states freeze the property tax due, while others freeze the assessed value. Connecticut instituted a tax freeze program in 1965, but began to phase it out in 1979. Other states have active programs.

Tax deferral programs allow eligible homeowners to defer payment of property taxes until a specified date. Connecticut allows municipalities to defer property taxes, but other states require them to do so.

For more infomration, read the full report.

Wearable Police Cameras Raise Policy Questions

Increasingly, police officers nationwide are wearing cameras attached to their uniforms to record everything from traffic stops to crimes in progress. The expectation is that the cameras will capture police encounters with the public. According to an NPR report, unions generally want guarantees that superiors won’t be able to use the videos to monitor officers’ daily routine or monitor the videos for minor infractions. And police want to make sure they have access to their own tapes. Some people worry that the only ones with easy access to the videos will be authorities.

Obama Proposal Links Student Aid with Affordability

According to the New York Times, President Obama recently proposed several changes to federal higher education funding. Among other things, the proposal ties a university’s eligibility for federal student aid to its ability to keep tuition affordable. (It does not specify how affordability is measured). Similarly, it would require all colleges to use a “financial aid shopping sheet” to facilitate students’ and families’ ability to compare financial aid packages.

The proposal also calls for a $1 billion grant competition similar to the K-12 “Race to the Top” competition. According to the administration, it would reward those states that take steps to increase college affordability and completion rates.

The administration also proposes (1) canceling a scheduled increase in subsidized Stafford loan interest rates, (2) doubling the number of available work-study jobs, and (3) requiring all colleges and universities to collect earnings and employment information for their graduates. Under current law, the Stafford loan interest rates are scheduled to double, from 3.4 % to 6.8%, on July 1, 2012.

February 28, 2012

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.

Tax Increases in Store Next Door?

Rhode Island’s Governor Lincoln Chafee has proposed $93 million in tax rate increases and base expansions for FY 13. According to the governor’s budget overview, the proposals would:
  • Triple the tax on meals and beverages from 1% to 3%.
  • Extend the 13% lodging tax to vacation home rentals and small B&Bs (those with fewer than 3 bedrooms for rent).
  • Extend the state’s 7% sales tax to limousine and taxi rides, moving and storage, pet services, and car washes, among other services.
  • Eliminate a sales tax exemption for clothing and footwear costing more than $175 (currently all clothing and footwear is exempt regardless of cost).
  • Increase the cigarette tax from $3.46 to $3.50 per pack.
  • Double the maximum tax on premium cigars from 50 cents to $1.00.
The governor plans to earmark the $39.5 million in revenue from the higher meals and beverage tax for the state’s recently adopted school funding formula.

February 27, 2012

Hot Report: "Predictive Neglect" Cases Based on Parent's Mental Health

OLR Report 2012-R-0103 provides information on child neglect cases where Connecticut courts affirmed the use of the “predictive neglect” doctrine and removed a child from a parent's custody based on that parent's mental illness.

By law, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) can remove children from their parents' custody and move to terminate parental rights if it believes the children have been neglected. Predictive neglect is a common-law doctrine that the state's child welfare system uses to determine whether neglect has occurred on the basis of conditions that are “injurious to the child's well-being.” Under this doctrine, the child has not been harmed; rather, there is an allegation that the child could be harmed in the future. DCF has regularly relied on the predictive neglect doctrine to both (1) remove children from their parents' custody and (2) terminate parental rights.

DCF policy establishes factors that could constitute predictive neglect. Although the policy does not include a parent's unstable mental health as one such factor, DCF has routinely pointed to such as grounds for removing children from their parents' custody. Likewise, the courts have regularly affirmed these cases and have upheld DCF's removal. In these cases, the courts have insisted that the parties petitioning for removal meet a burden of proof threshold.

For more information on this, read the full report.

Municipal Budget Cuts Take a Toll on Services

The New York Times recently highlighted how San Jose, California is struggling to make do with fewer workers. Faced with declining tax revenues, escalating pension costs, and cuts in state aid, the city has had to cut more than a fifth of its employees (1,592 jobs) over the last four years to balance its budget.

The job cuts mean that the city has had to cut public services. This includes closing four of its libraries, reducing the number of firefighters that respond to calls, repaving roads less often, and reassigning police officers from special units to patrols.

February 24, 2012

Essential Health Benefits Package

The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires health plans that offer insurance coverage in the individual and small group markets to ensure that such coverage includes the essential health benefits package (EHB) for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2014. PPACA (1) directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary to define the EHB and (2) requires the EHB to include 10 specific benefit categories.

On December 16, 2011, HHS published a bulletin to provide information and solicit comments on the regulatory approach the department plans to propose for defining the EHB. HHS’ intended regulatory approach relies on states identifying a reference (benchmark) plan based on employer-sponsored coverage available in the marketplace today, supplemented as necessary to ensure that the plan covers the 10 statutory categories of benefits. Thus, HHS proposes that each state select a benchmark plan that will serve as the EHB in that state. HHS suggests the following four benchmark plan types, from which each state will select one:
  1. the largest plan by enrollment in any of the three largest small group insurance products in the state’s small group market,
  2. any of the three largest state employee health benefit plans by enrollment,
  3. any of the three largest national Federal Employees Health Benefit Program plan options by enrollment, or
  4. the largest insured commercial non-Medicaid health maintenance organization operating in the state.

If a state does not select one of these, the largest plan in the state’s small group market becomes the default benchmark plan, according to HHS.

For an overview of PPACA, see OLR Report 2010-R-0255. For more information on essential health benefits, see OLR Report 2012-R-0022.

Citizens United Redux?

According to this ABC News article, it’s possible. On February 17, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a recent Montana Supreme Court ruling that directly contradicts Citizens United by prohibiting campaign expenditures by corporations. The stay will remain in place pending further action of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Interestingly, in a statement attached to the upper court’s order Justice Ginsberg, joined by Justice Breyer, wrote:

Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption”…A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway. Because lower courts are bound to follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified, however…I vote to grant the stay.

So, where does the Montana case go from here? This Supreme Court blog article provides a thorough analysis of the options.

February 23, 2012

Child Care Assistance Harder to Come By in Challenging Economic Times

The National Women’s Law Center recently reported that families needing child care assistance in 37 states, including Connecticut, were worse off in 2011 than they were in 2010 because of state policy changes. These changes include lowering income eligibility limits, longer waiting lists, requiring copayments, lower reimbursement rates for child care providers, and limiting eligibility for parents searching for a job.

Twenty-two states reported waiting lists or a freeze on intake for families seeking child care assistance in 2011, up from 19 states in 2010. Connecticut currently has no waiting list, but is one of four states that lowered the child care assistance income eligibility limit. The eligibility for a family of three in Connecticut dropped from $61,556 in 2010 to $42,690 in 2011.

To Dredge or Not to Dredge? That is the Question

A project to expand the Panama Canal is scheduled to be completed in 2014, enabling larger cargo ships (with loads two or three times those on standard freighters) to travel to the East Coast. As reported by National Public Radio (NPR), cities such as Miami, New York, and Savannah are already competing for the added business by developing plans to deepen ports and expand facilities. Currently, only two ports, Norfolk and New York, are deep enough to accommodate the larger cargo ships but a bridge over New York’s port is 64 feet too low to allow these ships through. (Raising the bridge will cost more than $1 billion and take more than five years to finish.)

These dredging plans are not without controversy, however. Opponents to dredging are concerned about environmental impacts whereas proponents believe it is beneficial for business. For example, the bottom of Miami’s Biscayne Bay is limestone, and deepening the shipping channel requires underwater blasting. Environmentalists fear that sediment from the blasting will destroy the bay’s grass beds. Similar concerns were raised in Savannah.

February 22, 2012

Police Departments Using Unmanned Aerial Drones to Fight Crime

Law enforcement agencies have a new crime fighting tool—unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are lighter and cheaper than helicopters and equipped with high tech features. According to an article in Atlantic Cities, the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates U.S. air traffic, determines which law enforcement agencies can use UAVs. Residents in cities that have been testing them have voiced concerns about invasion of privacy.

Below is a YouTube video from one UAV manufacturer.

What States Can and Can’t Do To Create Jobs

Speaking of warfare, someone supposedly said “amateurs discuss tactics; experts discuss logistics.” A recent article in the National Conference of State Legislatures’ State Legislatures suggests a corollary economic development saying: amateurs chase smokestacks; experts improve the infrastructure—physical and human.

Smokestack chasing doesn’t help the nation, the article states. “Always controversial, such efforts not only have become more spendthrift than ever before, but are also damaging to the national economy since they merely shift employment and do nothing to create new jobs for the nation as a whole.” Using a military metaphor, Jon Shure of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities stated,

Many states still feel that, by offering lower taxes and higher subsidies, they can grow their economies. It is not a long term-strategy, but states still do it. And companies still play states off against each other, asking for the best deal and then leaving when they get a better one someplace else. It’s a sucker’s game for states…

But there are viable options, the article points out. These include:
  • Helping companies improve their workers’ skills and breaking into foreign markets.
  • Fostering economic growth by expediting development permits and vendor payments.
  • Paying partial unemployment benefits to those working reduced hours, thereby simultaneously lowering the unemployment rate and helping workers maintain their skills.
  • Not laying off government workers.
The other thing states can do is to meld liberal and conservative ideas into viable policy options. “Liberals can take comfort that smart investments in education, research and general infrastructure are important. Conservatives can relish that efforts to eliminate needless regulations and counterproductive tax policies can help.”

February 21, 2012

Minimizing Malware on your Computer

The Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) offers advice on how to minimize the effects of malware on your computer.

Malware is software that infects computers by copying and transmitting itself to other users, monitoring and logging user keystrokes, gathering personal data, or “hijacking” the computer processor. This poses a security risk for the information stored on the computer.

Security measures to combat malware include firewalls and anti-virus, anti-spy, and anti-malware software.

Your computer may be infected if it:

1) works more slowly, frequently malfunctions, or displays repeated error messages;

2) won’t shut down or restart normally;

3) displays a lot of pop-up ads, or ads that appear even when you are not surfing the Internet;

4) displays web pagers or programs that you didn’t open, or sends emails that you didn’t write.

If you think you may have malware, stop online shopping, banking or other activity that involves user names, passwords, or other sensitive information.

In order to reduce the chances of malware, DCP suggests that you not click on, download, or install anything unless you know what it is. You should also routinely monitor your computer for any of the above behavior.

OnGuardOnline.gov also has more malware information.

Hot Report: Income Tax Refund Debit Cards

OLR Report 2012-R-0099 answers various questions regarding the Department of Revenue Services' (DRS) income tax refund debit cards.

The questions answered in the report include:
  • Is DRS or a contracted vendor issuing the debit cards?
  • Under what authority is DRS implementing the new debit card program?
  • Does JP Morgan Chase have any side agreements with People's Bank, Visa, or other institutions regarding the sharing of debit card fees?
  • What happens to unexpended money on the debit cards? How does this compare to an uncashed refund check?
For the answers to these questions, read the report.

UConn Issues New Child Abuse Reporting Policy

The UConn Board of Trustees recently adopted a new child abuse reporting policy. Under the new policy, any UConn employee who has reasonable cause to believe that a sexual assault has occurred, regardless of the victim’s age, must comply with the sexual assault policy that previously applied only to the sexual assault of UConn students. This means that the employee must report the incident, including the identities of the victim and perpetrator as soon as possible to any of the following: UConn’s (1) Title IX coordinator, (2) Office of Community Standards, (3) Office of Diversity and Equity, or (4) Health Center.

Additionally, the policy directs UConn employees who are mandated reporters of child abuse or neglect to comply with the state mandated reporter law. The policy also provides the statutory definition of child abuse and neglect, a link to the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) summary of the reporter law, and DCF’s 24-hour reporting hotline number.

Finally, it encourages UConn employees who are not mandated reporters also to report when they suspect child abuse or neglect, and mentions the law’s protections for good faith reporting when the abuse or neglect is not substantiated.

February 20, 2012

Connecticut To Receive $190 Million In Foreclosure Abuse Settlement

After 15 months of negotiations over mortgage and foreclosure abuses including robo-signing, the federal government and several state attorneys general, including Connecticut Attorney General Jepsen, reached a $25 billion settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers: Bank of America Corporation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup Inc., and Ally Financial Inc. (formerly GMAC). The Department of Justice recently released details of the largest joint federal-state legal settlement in history.
Connecticut will receive $190 million from the settlement, which will be distributed as follows:
  • Connecticut borrowers will receive approximately $119 million in benefits from loan term modifications and other direct relief.
  • Approximately 7,500 Connecticut borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011 and suffered servicing abuse will qualify for roughly $1,500 in cash payments to individual borrowers.
  • The value of refinanced loans to Connecticut’s underwater borrowers will be an estimated $36 million.
  • The state will receive a direct payment of approximately $27 million to help pay for local foreclosure prevention programs, HUD-approved housing counselors, the Judicial Branch’s foreclosure mediation program, non-profit legal aid groups that help homeowners facing foreclosure, and Connecticut Housing Finance Authority loan modification programs.

New Report Slams State Science-Education Standards

A new evaluation of state K-12 science education standards finds that most are “mediocre to awful.” The Thomas B. Fordham Institute evaluated each state’s standards for clarity, content completeness, and scientific accuracy. Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 75% were rated C or below. Only California and D.C. received A’s. Massachusetts received an A-; New York a B+; Connecticut and Vermont, C’s; and Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, D’s.
Evaluators made four general observations:
  • Anti-evolutionary pressures continue to “threaten and weaken standards in many states.”
  • Many standards are “so vague as to be meaningless.”
  • Standards place excessive focus on “inquiry-based learning,” which requires students to learn through “discovery” rather than direct instruction in specific content.
  • Although math is essential to science, few states link the two and many “avoid mathematical formulae and equations altogether.”
Evaluators found Connecticut’s standards generally well-written with few scientific errors. But, they note, “a significant amount of important material is missing.” The state’s 2010 standards “admirably expand some key concepts” but also “introduce a number of generalizations and errors.”

February 17, 2012

Pew Research Center Releases National Survey on Death Penalty Support

According to a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center, 62% favor the death penalty for murderers while 31% oppose it. Since the center began its survey in the mid-1990s, the highest support for the death penalty nationally was 78% in 1996. Support declined to 62% in 2005 and has remained near this level since (apparently dropping to 58% in October 2011).

Citing surveys conducted beginning in 1936 by Gallup, the report states that 1966 saw the all-time low in death penalty support. It was also the only year that more people opposed the death penalty (47%) than supported it (42%). Gallup’s surveys show support growing in the 1970s and 1980s and peaking in the mid-1990’s.

The report also breaks down its survey data by demographics and examines why people support or oppose the death penalty.

Hot Report: Use of Restraint and Seclusion in Connecticut Public Schools

OLR Report 2012-R-0084 summarizes state law and regulations governing restraint and seclusion of students in Connecticut public schools and to provide available information on the prevalence of these measures. Because state law addresses restraint and seclusion regarding special education students, the report focuses on that population.

State law prohibits the use of:
  1. physical restraint on public school students receiving or being evaluated for special education services (i.e., “special education student”) unless used in emergency situations to avoid imminent injury to the student or others, and
  2. seclusion on public school special education students unless used in emergency situations or if it is specified as an option in a student's special education individualized education program (IEP).

The law requires districts to inform parents early in the special education evaluation process of their rights and the student's rights under state law regarding restraint and seclusion. It also requires local and regional school boards to notify a special education student's parents or guardian each time a student is placed in physical restraint or seclusion.

The boards also must keep records and compile annual reports of each instance and the nature of the underlying emergency that caused the use, and the State Board of Education (SBE) can review the annual compilation of each board of education and may produce an annual summary report on the frequency of use of restraint and seclusion on special education children.

The law also applies to regional education service center programs and private special education programs.

The law required the State Department of Education (SDE) to issue regulations, which became effective May 7, 2009, to further detail restraint and seclusion requirements.

Preliminary data collected by SDE the for the 2009-2010 school year shows there were 8,511 incidents of restraint and 9,823 of emergency seclusion in Connecticut. SDE officials note that SDE staff has not audited or reviewed this data. Furthermore, it was not reported in a consistent manner and as such it is difficult to draw conclusions. SDE indicated that school districts gave it reasons to believe there is over-reporting and under-reporting of incidents in the data. SDE is planning on revising the survey instrument to gain clearer and more consistent information in the future.

SDE estimates that for the 2010-11 school year there were 62,016 identified special education students in public schools and 68,165 special education student in all settings. All settings include children placed at regional education service center (RESC) programs and approved private special education programs (APSEP).

The report addresses the statutory and regulatory limits and requirements separately.
For more information, read the full report.

Raising the Eligibility Ages for Medicare and Social Security

A recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issue brief analyzes the effects of raising the eligibility ages for Medicare and Social Security benefits. Taking such action would reduce federal spending and increase federal revenue by causing some people to work longer. But, it would also reduce a person’s lifetime Social Security benefits and cause people who would have otherwise enrolled in Medicare to face higher health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care expenses.

The CBO found that raising the Social Security early eligibility age from 62 to 64 or the full retirement age from age 67 to 70 will increase the workforce and the economy by approximately one percent over the long-term. Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 66 will increase the workforce and the economy by a smaller amount.

February 16, 2012

North America’s Best Model for Smart Growth Planning

A recent article in The Atlantic highlights Ontario’s “Places to Grow” framework as North America’s best plan for managing growth and development. The province adopted the plan into law in 2005 and expects that when fully implemented it will: 
  • place special emphasis on development in downtowns, transit corridors, and major transit station areas;
  • allow municipalities to designate “greenfield” areas for development that must create “complete communities” (e.g., streets that support transit services, walking, biking, and parks); and
  • by 2015, have at least 25% of each municipalities new residential growth occur within existing or formerly developed land (e.g. building on vacant parcels and converting brownfields) rather than forest or farmland.
The article notes that the law requires local planning decisions to conform to policies in the regional plan and allows the provincial government, if discrepancies arise, to amend municipal decisions.


Union Membership Stops Falling

According to a recent USA Today article, nationwide union membership increased by nearly 50,000 in 2011, after falling by almost 1.4 million over the previous two years. While union membership grew by 110,000 in the private sector, these gains were offset by losses of 61,000 union members in government jobs. As a percentage of the overall workforce, union membership fell from 11.9% to 11.8%, which is the lowest percentage of union workers since the 1930s. Union membership peaked at about one-third of all workers in the 1950s. By state, Florida and Michigan saw the largest increase in union members, while New York, which is the most heavily unionized state in the nation, saw the largest drop.

February 15, 2012

Record Number of Homeless Veterans' Families in Connecticut in 2011

The New London Day reports 135 veterans' families sought help with housing from the Veterans Administration in Connecticut, up from just 15 families three years ago. This reflects the national trend, which is an 86% since 2009.

The nature of the homeless veteran is changing, too. Formerly, the typical homeless veteran was male and single and the those veterans are actually seeing a decrease in homelessness.

The article states returning veterans face a number of factors, including:
  • a tight economy
  • scarcity of transitional housing
  • health issues
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
In the article, Linda Schwartz, commissioner of the state Department of Veteran Affairs, explains the VA is moving toward expanding their services to focus more on women veterans, saying, "People in the business of providing for the homeless have known for a long time that women veterans with children are an underserved population. The difference is, there are many more of them than there were in the past, and it is growing every day."

Hot Report: Education Cost Sharing Formula

OLR Report 2012-R-0101 describes the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula including (1) the formula components and how they work and (2) a brief history of recent changes to it.

ECS aid is the major form of state education aid to Connecticut's towns. For FY 12, the current fiscal year, the state is distributing $1.89 billion in state ECS aid to towns (that equals 45.3% of all state education expenditures). The budget act (PA 11-6) passed last year overrode the statutory formula for calculating ECS grants and specified each town's ECS grant for FY 12 and FY 13. In doing so, it held funding at the current level, marking the fourth consecutive year that ECS funding was frozen.

The ECS formula is intended to equalize state education funding to towns by taking into account a town's wealth and ability to raise property taxes to pay for education. Poor towns receive more aid per student; affluent towns receive less aid per student. The components of the formula that drive this equalization will be discussed in more detail below.

The basic ECS formula multiplies the number of students in each school district (weighted for educational need) by the amount the state has determined a district should spend to provide an adequate education (the “foundation”) and by an aid percentage determined by the district's wealth. The result is the district's ECS grant. The law then imposes minimum or base aid for all towns and adds supplements for such things as students attending regional school districts.

The formula has rarely been fully funded in its 23-year history. Over the years there have been attempts to phase in full funding when state revenues were strong, but financial downturns and related budget issues have often led to interrupting the phase-in and freezing or reducing funding levels.

In addition to significantly revamping the formula in 1995 and 2007, the legislature has made some adjustment to it nearly every year since it was created. While its primary components remain intact, the cumulative effects of previous aid caps, minimum aid amounts, and out-of-date data elements continue to affect the funds' distribution.

ECS funding was frozen at the FY 09 level in FY 10 and FY 11. The current state budget calls for ECS funding to continue at the FY 09 level through FY 13.

For a summary of the formula's components and a table showing each town's ECS grant amounts for FY 12 and 13, see the full report.

Will Expanded Waistlines Decrease Ferry Transport?

On December 1, 2011, a new requirement took effect increasing the Assumed Average Weight Per Person (AAWPP) for calculating vessel capacity. The AAWPP increased to 185 pounds from the previous average of 160. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the change was made to more accurately reflect the current average weight and maintain safety aboard these vessels. The new AAWPP was calculated using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And a recent Associated Press article published in the Seattle Times reported that the Washington state ferry service has reduced its listed ferry capacities to comply with the new AAWPP. It reports that passenger capacity on these ferries, on average, has been reduced by about 250 passengers, from 2,000 to 1,750. One concern about the reduced capacity is whether it will result in a revenue loss and, in turn, produce higher fares. The Washington state ferry service is the nation’s largest ferry system, carrying over 22 million passengers each year.

February 14, 2012

Malloy proposals target future power outages

Governor Malloy recently made several proposals to try to ensure the state is better prepared for future power outages. These proposals include performance standards for power companies, a pilot program for electrical micro-grids, and a major disaster drill.

As a result of Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm, two separate studies on emergency preparedness and response were completed. The governor relied on these studies when putting together these proposals.

Disease Management and Care Coordination: Lessons From Medicare Demonstration Projects

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report last month that surprised many who follow the federal Medicare program’s twists and turns. Health policy experts have contended for years that covering disease management and coordinated care services has the potential to both improve care quality and reduce Medicare expenditures, particularly for people with chronic conditions such as coronary artery disease or diabetes. But, the CBO’s financial analysis of the six major Medicare demonstration programs providing such coverage found this to be untrue.

The service delivery models the demonstration programs were testing had already been identified as “best practices” and in most cases, the participating providers were experienced organizations that were selected in part based on their likelihood of success. Nevertheless, after accounting for fees Medicare paid the programs, Medicare spending was either unchanged or increased in nearly all programs.

The CBO calculated that, to offset the fees charged to the Medicare program, a demonstration would have to reduce regular Medicare expenditures (i.e., expenditures before accounting for program fees) an average of 11%. And while programs with risk-based payment structures had a greater financial incentive to reduce Medicare expenditures than did those providing services on a no-risk basis, these differences had little or no effect on the number of hospital admissions or regular Medicare expenditures. Click here for additional information.

February 13, 2012

State Supreme Court Ruling on Discovery Misconduct and Motion for New Trial

In Duart vs. Department of Correction, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision that someone seeking a new trial due to the opposing party’s alleged discovery misconduct must show, among other things, a reasonable probability that the result of a new trial would be different than the first trial.

In the case, a Department of Correction (DOC) employee brought discrimination claims against DOC. After the jury issued a verdict denying the employee’s claims, she filed a motion for a new trial because of DOC’s failure to disclose certain documents during the discovery process. The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court in denying the plaintiff’s request for a new trial.

In its discussion, the majority noted that “requiring a showing of a different result serves as a means of differentiating those cases in which the nonmoving party’s alleged misconduct materially affected the resolution of the underlying case—and in which, accordingly, the increased burden and expense is thereby warranted—from those cases in which relitigation would be a pointless exercise.”

In a dissent, Justice Eveleigh, joined by Justice Vertefeuille, proposed an alternative burden-shifting framework in which the non-compliant party would “bear the burden of rebutting the presumption that its substantial noncompliance with the movant’s discovery requests was material to the issues at trial.”

More Kids with Insurance, More Cash for Connecticut

In December 2011, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported that the number of children with health insurance has continued to climb since the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in February 2009.

In 2008, prior to the reauthorization of CHIP, 91% of all children had health insurance coverage. This number increased to nearly 93% in the first half of 2011, corresponding to an additional 1.2 million children with insurance. This increase has been entirely due to greater enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP.

Since CHIP’s creation in 1997, the percentage of children ages 0-17 with health insurance has increased from 86% to 93%.

In December 2011, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services awarded 23 states, including Connecticut, approximately $296 million in bonuses for increasing the number of children enrolled in health insurance programs.

February 10, 2012

Student Loans the Next “Debt Bomb” to Detonate?

College students borrowed more than $100 billion last year, the first time that’s happened, pushing total student debt to more than $1 trillion, according to recent report released by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

The report highlights the following facts:
  • 2010 college graduates did so with an average debt-load of $25,250, which is up 5% over 2009 grads.
  • People in the 35 to 49 age group have seen their debt skyrocket – it’s up 47%.
  • Loans to students’ parents are also way up – 75% increase since ’05-’06.
  • The 17% of parents who took out a loan have an average debt of $34,000, which the report says equates to $50,000 over a 10-year term of the loan.
  • The college class of 2005 is not doing well paying off their loans. One analyst said 25% became delinquent at some point and 15% defaulted. The Chronicle of Higher Education puts the default rate on government loans at 20%.
The report states, “This concern is echoed by bankruptcy attorneys from across the country who report that what they are seeing at the ground level feels too much like what they saw before the foreclosure crisis crashed onto the national scene: more and consumers seeking their help with unmanageable student loan debt, and with no relief available.”

Did Smart Growth Cause the Housing Bust?

It depends on how you slice the data. This was the point of a June 14, 2011 Wall Street Journal article after it summarized Wendell Cox’s 2011 empirical study on the topic. Smart growth refers to land use regulations that try to check “suburban sprawl” and vehicle travel by steering new development away from farms, forests, and open spaces to already developed places where people can get around easily on riding bikes, buses, and trains. Cox calls places with smart growth regulations “prescriptive areas” and those with looser regulations, “responsive” areas.

Because prescriptive areas drive up housing costs by limiting the amount land for new development, it follows that these areas bore a disproportionate share of the drop in home values. According to Cox, the 11 heavily regulated metropolitan markets accounted for over 73% of the aggregate home-value losses, with an average loss of $175,000 per house.

But the Urban Land Institute’s Patrick Phillips countered that Phoenix, Arizona and Central Florida aren’t known for restrictive land use regulations and still suffered during the housing bust. When it comes to slicing the data, it’s a mistake to treat individual markets as either highly regulated or not because land use regulations might make it easy to build in one neighborhood but not another. For Phillips, an unfounded faith that real estate prices couldn’t fall caused the bust, not land use regulations.

February 9, 2012

Pennsylvania Releases Largest Autism Needs Assessment in the Nation

Pennsylvania’s Public Welfare department recently released the largest statewide autism needs assessment conducted in the country. The study, which surveyed 3,500 caregivers and adults with autism, collected information on (1) service needs, (2) barriers and limitations to accessing services, (3) diagnosis and family impact, (4) employment challenges, and (5) unwanted outcomes, such as police involvement and urgent hospital care.

The study identified social skills training as the most unmet need for both children and adults with autism. It also found more than two-thirds of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed because they lack the social skills to find or maintain employment.

Hot Report: Two-Storm Panel Report on 2011 Outages

OLR Report 2012-R-0053 provides a summary of the Two-Storm Panel's report to the governor, with a particular emphasis on any issues and recommendations that fall under the Energy & Technology Committee's jurisdiction.

In the wake of 2011's Tropical Storm Irene and October Nor'easter, Governor Malloy tasked the “Two-Storm Panel” with evaluating the state's preparation and response to the storms and making recommendations for ways to improve future disaster preparedness and response. The panel issued its report on January 9, 2012.

The report contains 82 recommendations on subjects and issues that fall within the jurisdictions of several legislative committees. This report focuses on those recommendations which could concern the Energy & Technology Committee. Many of these issues could require legislative action by the committee, while others could be addressed through administrative action by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), or the Connecticut Siting Council. Recommendations that could fall under the committee's jurisdiction involved the utility companies, tree trimming, infrastructure hardening, general state issues, communication and information sharing, municipal issues, geographical information systems, and climate change and rising sea levels.

For more details, read the full report.

What Will a Casino in Massachusetts Cost Connecticut?

About $95 million a year, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis. OFA estimates that casinos built in Massachusetts similar to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun resorts will result in a loss of up to 25% of Connecticut’s Indian gaming payments.

OFA based its estimates in part on data from the Center for Policy Analysis at UMASS Dartmouth, which has been studying casino gaming since 2004.

February 8, 2012

The Challenges of Weekend Elections

Moving elections to the weekend is often proposed as way of increasing voting turnout. However, a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified several problems with this idea.

For instance, several of the election officials interviewed in the study said that it would likely be more difficult to find poll workers for a weekend election. Additionally, officials noted that some of the polling places used in Tuesday elections (particularly churches and synagogues) would not be available on weekends, and that locating alternative sites would be difficult. Another challenge involves securing ballots and voting equipment over a Saturday night (the study examined holding elections over a two-day period).

Election officials also noted that, to compensate for lost revenue from weekend events, polling places may charge higher rental fees than they would for a Tuesday election. Similarly, costs may increase because of the need to open facilities that are normally closed on weekends.

GAO reported that it could not assess the effect of turnout of moving elections to the weekend, but noted that, in general, alternative voting methods do not have large effects on turnout.

Your Receipt May be Tainted with BPA

The New York Times reports that bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical compound used in making plastic products and in the lining of tin cans, is now showing up in thermal receipt paper. Thermal receipts are routinely given out by stores. BPA can be absorbed into human skin through handling of receipts. Laboratory animal studies have found BPA to have harmful effects on reproduction and development.

Public Act 11-222 prohibits the manufacture, sale, offer for sale, or distribution of thermal receipt or cash register receipt paper containing BPA in Connecticut. The prohibition takes effect October 1, 2013 if the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies a safe, commercially available alternative to using BPA in these papers by June 30, 2013. Otherwise, it takes effect July 1, 2015. The act defines these papers as any paper a commercial entity uses to issue a mechanically produced record of a consumer transaction.

February 7, 2012

DEEP Hires New Procurement Manager

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) recently announced the hiring of Jeffrey Gaudiosi as the state’s first procurement manager. Created by PA 11-80, the position’s responsibilities include developing a plan to procure power contracts for the standard service electricity that Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) and United Illuminating (UI) provide to small and medium size customers who do not purchase their electricity from a competitive supplier. While CL&P and UI were previously responsible for developing the standard service procurement plan, the new position was created with hopes of a more efficient purchase of electric power and reduced electric rates.

Gaudiosi’s credentials include being vice president of the Manufacturing Alliance of Connecticut, vice-chair and chairman of the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, and vice-chair and chairman of the Connecticut Energy Advisory Board.

Hot Report: Essential Health Benefits Package

OLR Report 2012-R-0022 gives information on the “essential health benefits package” required by the 2010 federal health care reform act, including recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on certain benchmark plans. It also explains if the state's mandated insurance benefits will be included in the benefit package.

The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires health plans that offer insurance coverage in the individual and small group markets to ensure that such coverage includes the essential health benefits package (EHB) for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2014. PPACA (1) directs the HHS secretary to define the EHB and (2) requires the EHB to include 10 specific benefit categories. (For an overview of PPACA, see OLR Report 2010-R-0255.)

On December 16, 2011, HHS published a bulletin to provide information and solicit comments on the regulatory approach the department plans to propose for defining the EHB. HHS' intended regulatory approach relies on states identifying a reference (benchmark) plan based on employer-sponsored coverage available in the marketplace today, supplemented as necessary to ensure that the plan covers the 10 statutory categories of benefits. Thus, HHS proposes that each state select a benchmark plan that will serve as the EHB in that state. HHS suggests the following four benchmark plan types, from which each state will select one:

1. the largest plan by enrollment in any of the three largest small group insurance products in the state's small group market,

2. any of the three largest state employee health benefit plans by enrollment,

3. any of the three largest national Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) plan options by enrollment, or

4. the largest insured commercial non-Medicaid health maintenance organization (HMO) operating in the state.

If a state does not select one of these, the largest plan in the state's small group market becomes the default benchmark plan, according to HHS.

Depending on the plan selected as a benchmark, current state mandated insurance benefits (e.g., mammograms, autism spectrum disorders, etc.) may be considered part of the EHB. We discuss this in more detail below. (For a list of state mandated health insurance benefits, see OLR Report 2011-R-0504.)

We have identified the largest state employee health plans and national FEHBP plan options, as described below. We are unable to determine the largest small group plan or HMO in the state at this time. The Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange Board of Directors has proposed establishing a multi-agency task force to identify, compare, and contrast the four benchmark plans that may be chosen as the EHB for Connecticut. According to the board's proposal, the task force would likely include the Health Insurance Exchange, Connecticut Insurance Department, Health Care Advocate, executive and legislative leaders, and key stakeholders. According to the Insurance Department, it has offered to help the Exchange gather the necessary information from insurance carriers to inform the board's work.

Some Good News About Manufacturing

Nationally, things are brightening up for this major sector, according to economists at HIS Global Insight and Moody’s Analytics. They expect manufacturers to add about 330,000 more jobs this year, which admittedly won’t make up for the 6 million jobs the nation lost since 1997. The numbers would be higher were it not for automation and other productivity-boosting changes. But they would also be lower were it not for the fact that it costs more to make things in China and ship them back here.

That’s why Caterpillar chose to build a $120 million excavator manufacturing plant in Victoria, Texas instead of Japan. Consequently, “North American customers will get faster deliveries, and the Japan plan can devote more capacity to the booming Asian market,” reports a recent Wall Street Journal article. Why Victoria? “In return for creating 500 jobs in Texas, Caterpillar also got incentives from state and local authorities, including tax breaks and 320 acres of free land,” the article stated.

But the news isn’t all good. Although computer-controlled machines and other technologies cut into job growth, manufacturers might have a hard time finding people to fill the jobs they create. First, the share of skilled workers nearing retirement is swelling, according to Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work. Second, unlike other businesses, manufacturers are less likely to involve employees in day-to-day decisions.

February 6, 2012

Teacher Layoffs Loomed, But Mostly Didn’t Happen

Since the 2008-09 recession, the possibility of massive teacher layoffs has been loomed over the nation's schools. The federal government has repeatedly come to the rescue providing funds first in the form of stimulus dollars, followed by last year's EduJobs. But a recent study shows the drastic layoff scenario never materialized.

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) surveyed 78 large urban school districts across the country, including Hartford, to determine whether large scale layoffs took place. The results from the 74 districts that responded indicate that about 2.5% of the teachers in these districts were actually laid off (or were probationary teachers who were non-renewed for budgetary reasons). Hartford came in near the study average, laying off 2.2% of its teachers heading into the 2011-12 school year. Some districts, especially in California, laid off as many as 20% of their teachers, but overall school districts found other ways instead of layoffs to tighten the belt. These included using EduJobs money, cutting positions through attrition, freezing teacher cost of living adjustments, and dismissing teachers without proper certification.

HHS Issues New Poverty Guidelines

The 2012 federal poverty guidelines (called the federal poverty level (FPL) in Connecticut) have been published and they are about 2½ % higher than the 2011 levels. Many state and federal assistance programs base their eligibility on some percentage of the FPL. For example, the HUSKY A program, which provides Medicaid-funded health insurance, is available to children and their caretaker relatives if family income is under 185% of the FPL, or $35,316 under the new guidelines.

February 3, 2012

Connecticut’s Subprime Loans

According to the Mortgage Banker’s National Delinquency Survey, in the third quarter of 2011, there were 51,904 single family subprime loans in Connecticut. This amounts to 9.8% of the total (527,826) single family loans of all types in Connecticut.

Because the survey covers about 88% of first lien single family mortgages in the state, the actual number of subprime loans may be higher. Governor Rell’s 2007 Subprime Mortgage Task Force used this survey and purchased additional data from First American Loan Performance. While the survey reported 66,860 subprime loans in the 2nd quarter of 2007, the task force used the purchased data to report just over 71,000 subprime loans as of May 2007, or about 13% of all active loans in Connecticut.

Hot Report: Gun Violence Reduction in Small U.S. Cities

OLR Report 2012-R-0061 gives examples of U.S. cities similar in population to New Haven (pop. 129,779) that have reduced gun violence and their methods for achieving that reduction.

Many cities across the United States have made efforts to reduce gun violence, with initiatives at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Project Exile is a federally initiated program in Richmond, Virginia that sought to incapacitate chronic gun offenders and deter potential offenders by prosecuting gun crimes in the federal, rather than state, system. The program has been widely hailed as a success, although reports differ on whether those accolades are deserved. A statewide program in Virginia, hoping to duplicate Richmond's success, has not succeeded in reducing gun violence.

Operation SNUG ("Guns" backward) is a state initiated program targeting various cities in New York. The program employs ex-gang members as case workers and deploys them in high-risk areas to act as mentors and interveners. In-depth reports of the program's results have not been published, but published information suggests the program was successful in certain cities. The state has extended its funding for those programs considered most successful.

Project Safe Neighborhoods is a federally initiated program targeting cities and regions throughout the country. Its core strategy for the program is increased federal prosecution, similar to Project Exile, but with an emphasis on partnerships between federal, state and local officials and tailoring its program methods to the specific problems of a target city or region. A report on the program in 2009 found that the program overall had been successful in reducing violent crime in target areas. Case studies of participating cities also showed promising results.

For more information, read the full report.

FDA Announces Recall of Popular Over-the-Counter Drugs

Norvartis Consumer Health, Inc. announced on January 8th that it is voluntarily recalling certain packages of Excedrin and NoDoz products with expiration dates of December 20, 2014 or earlier. It is also recalling Buffering and Gas-X Prevention products with expiration dates of December 20, 2013 or earlier, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA said Novartis is recalling the products because they may contain stray tablets, capsules, or caplets from other Novartis products, or contain broken or chipped tablets. The products were distributed nationwide.

Consumers who have the recalled products should not use them and contact the Novartis Consumer Relationship Center at 1-888-477-2403 to learn how to return the products and receive a full refund.

February 2, 2012

Incentives for Connecticut Businesses to Hire Veterans

With the Iraq war’s final withdrawal of troops in December 2011, the timetable for combat ending in Afghanistan pushed up to 2013, and the recent Department of Defense announcement that it would downsize by about 50,000 Army soldiers and 20,000 Marines in the coming years, veterans’ unemployment, which already has been a problem, could see an increase. In fact, a recent Connecticut Post article cited a Congressional report that found the rate of Connecticut veterans’ unemployment was nearly twice that of non-veterans, around 15% compared to between 8-9% for non-veterans.

So, what programs exist in Connecticut to encourage businesses to hire veterans? In late 2011, both Congress and Connecticut’s legislature enacted laws to expand or create tax credits for businesses that hire veterans. The federal law provides a tax credit for businesses that hire veterans who have been unemployed for at least four weeks or who are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. A larger credit is given to businesses that hire veterans who are unemployed for six months or longer or have a service-connected disability. The state law provides a tax credit (sections 19-22 of the new law) for businesses who hire an unemployed veteran.

Since 2005, the Connecticut Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Office for Veterans Workforce Development has been responsible for assisting Connecticut veterans and businesses to connect on the job front, including administering grant programs for businesses that hire veterans (including grants covering 50% of training costs to businesses that hire veterans).

More information is available at DOL’s website  or by visiting: http://www.ctvets.org/

Smoke-Free Public Housing?

It’s a possibility. In 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued notices urging public housing authorities (PHAs) and owners and management agents of HUD multi-family housing rental assistance programs (e.g., Section 8), respectively, to implement non-smoking policies in some or all of their public housing units or properties (see NOTICE: PIH-2009- 21 (HA) and NOTICE: H 2010-21). HUD’s notices cite the adverse effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke.

Toward that end, several cities, including Boston, Detroit, Portland, San Antonio, and Seattle, have adopted or are considering partial or complete public housing non-smoking policies. A complete ban went into effect in Milford in November 2010. And New Haven may also be moving closer to a smoke-free policy. According to a recent article in the New Haven Independent, the city’s public health director is in conversations with the PHA to promote non-smoking policies in its properties.

Like smoking bans in other public places, such as parks and beaches, public housing bans often ignite controversy. Proponents often argue a ban protects non-smoking residents’ health and that without one; they would have to go to extreme measures, like relocating, to avoid second-hand smoke. Opponents often argue that bans infringe on individual liberties and that residents should have the freedom to smoke in their own apartment.

February 1, 2012

Fewest Traffic Fatalities since 1949; Connecticut Bucks Trend

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 32,885 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2010, the fewest fatalities since 1949, when 30,246 people died.

Unfortunately, Connecticut did not participate in that trend. According to NHTSA, Connecticut led the 50 states with the greatest increase in fatalities, going from 224 in 2009 to 319 in 2010, a 42% jump. The report did not cite reasons for the increase.

According to NHTSA, the national figures represent a 2.9% drop from the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009, and a drop in the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010 to a historic low of 1.10. But there was a 4.2% increase in the number of pedestrians killed, up from 4,109 in 2009 to 4,280 in 2010, and a 19% increase in the number of pedestrians injured, up from 59,000 to 70,000.

The federal agency also found that alcohol-impaired driving deaths declined by 4.9% in 2010 and accounted for 31% of motor vehicle fatalities nationally.

NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System is a census of all crashes of motor vehicles traveling on public roadways in which a person died within 30 days of the crash. The report, also includes data on crash types and location, seat belt use, and fatal crashes involving large trucks.

Revisiting Grandparent Visitation Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to revisit the scope of grandparents’ rights to stay in contact with their grandkids when the child’s parent or parents deny them access. State courts and legislatures have been struggling for years to fashion standards that comport with the uncertain legacy of the Court’s fractured plurality opinion in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).

If the Court agrees to review an Alabama Supreme Court decision interpreting that state’s grandparent visitation law, it could answer a key question it sidestepped in Troxel: whether grandparents are entitled to court-ordered visitation only if they can prove some compelling circumstance, such as parental unfitness or prevention of actual harm to the child. Nineteen states, including Connecticut, have answered this question in the affirmative, but 18 others have concluded that constitutional standards are met by statutes that create a presumption in favor of parents’ wishes and impose on grandparents the burden of proving that visitation is in the child’s best interest.

The Court is likely to decide sometime this month if it will take up the case.