March 30, 2012

Did You Work for Free on Leap Day?

You may have if you’re a salaried employee whose paycheck is based on a pro-rata basis of your annual salary. According to Daniel Schwartz at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, since these types of employees get paid an annual amount based on a 365 day year, regardless of the time they work each week, their paychecks probably didn’t reflect the extra day of work they put in on February 29th. Schwartz points out that employees paid on a bi-weekly basis will eventually make up the extra pay at some point, but there could be more of an impact for those paid on a monthly or semi-monthly basis.

March 29, 2012

Monroe Castle Redevelopment: Open Space Harmony Or Unwanted Development?

According to a recent CT Post article, a local developer has saved Monroe’s Castle at Marian Heights, a local landmark, from demolition. The Kimball Group, which has restored historic properties in the past, plans to purchase 16 acres of the property, including the castle. The company reached an agreement with the castle’s owner and is developing a formal contract to purchase it. It will also appear before Monroe’s Planning and Zoning Commission this week to discuss allowable uses for the property.

According to the article, not everyone is excited about the potential purchase. Conservationists hope the town will purchase the remaining 120 acres to preserve as open space. First Selectman Steve Vavrek states, “Not every part of Monroe needs to be developed… and this part of Monroe is really peaceful and serene.’"

March 28, 2012

Hot Report: Connecticut Regulation of Inland Wetlands and Watercourses

OLR Report 2012-R-0155 summarizes Connecticut's regulation of inland wetlands and watercourses, and  specifically as it pertains to the town of Orange.

Although the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) regulates activities in the state's inland wetlands and watercourses under the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act (hereafter, the Act), the Act requires municipalities to regulate activities in these areas when they are located within their boundaries. If a municipal inlands wetlands agency determines that a person is violating state law or a local ordinance, the agency may issue a cease and desist order, and either impose a fine or request the court to impose penalties.

A Connecticut court can likewise order a responsible party to correct the condition it created. Anyone willfully or knowingly violating the law is subject to criminal penalties including: (1) for the first offense, a fine of up to $1,000 a day, imprisonment for up to six months, or both and (2) for each subsequent offense, a fine of up to $2,000 a day, imprisonment for up to one year, or both.

In Orange, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission adopted the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Regulations in accordance with the Act. The commission enforces all provisions of these regulations and the Act, and is responsible for approving or denying permits for all regulated activities. A regulated activity includes removing or depositing material or any obstruction, construction, alteration, or pollution of such wetlands or watercourses.

Any citizen of a municipality may bring an activity believed to be improperly conducted to the attention of the inland wetlands agency by contacting the municipal wetlands agent. Likewise, any person owning or occupying land that abuts any portion of land within a radius of 90 feet of the inland wetland or watercourse may appeal any regulation, order, decision or action a municipal inland wetland and watercourse commission makes to the Superior Court.

According to Robert Gilmore of DEEP, under Section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act, any discharge of material into an inland wetland or watercourse also requires a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (33 USC § 1344).

For more information, read the full report.

Pain Killers Carry Heightened Risks for Veterans with PTSD

Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to be prescribed opioid pain killers than other veterans with pain problems and more likely to use the opioids in risky ways, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study also found that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans prescribed opioids—and particularly those with PTSD—had a higher prevalence of “adverse clinical outcomes,” like overdoses and self-inflicted injuries. The study raises new concerns that primary care doctors, the main prescribers of opioids to veteran, are not always following government guidelines intended to restrict opioid pain therapy for veterans with PTSD and other mental health diagnoses.

March 27, 2012

Proposed Guidelines for Automobile Manufacturers Encourage Limiting Driver Distraction

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 17% of police-reported crashes in 2010 involved distracted driving. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced proposed NHTSA guidelines for auto manufacturers to encourage limiting the distraction risk of in-vehicle electronic devices in certain vehicles. The proposed guidelines are nonbinding and voluntary, but would provide manufacturers with recommended criteria for electronic devices requiring a driver’s visual or manual operation that are unnecessary for safe vehicle operation. This includes communications, navigation, or entertainment devices. The proposed guidelines include recommendations to (1) reduce device complexity and task length; (2) limit device operation to one hand; (3) limit the number of required manual inputs; and (4) limit off-road glances to no more than two seconds, among other things.

These guidelines are the first in a series of guidance documents NHTSA intends to issue addressing driver distraction. It is holding public hearings and accepting public comment on the guidelines.

March 26, 2012

Hot Reports: Competitive Bidding in Healthcare

OLR Report 2012-R-0156 gives an explanation of competitive bidding in Medicare.

For the vast majority of its covered services, Medicare currently uses an “administrative pricing” approach, in which the price of any service Medicare covers is calculated and set by the government. “Competitive bidding” is an alternative approach, in which health care providers bid for contracts to provide goods or services. Currently, Medicare uses competitive bidding on a limited basis for select medical equipment and devices. Evidence suggests that these limited experiments have been successful in lowering the price the government pays for these goods.

Recent health care proposals from both Democrats and Republicans have sought to expand the use of competitive bidding in Medicare. These range from small expansions of services that use competitive bidding to large overhauls of the entire Medicare system.

Those in favor of competitive bidding argue that increased competition would lower health care costs and shave billions of dollars off the federal deficit. Critics argue that the potential savings under such plans are unrealistic and would lead to reduced access for Medicare beneficiaries.

1,306 Guns found by Agents in Airports in 2011

In 2011, federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screeners found 1,306 guns in carry-on bags. In addition to guns, they found other prohibited items such as ceramic knives, spear guns, and double edged daggers.

The TSA spokesman, however, believes that very few passengers have any malicious intent when they bring these weapons to the airport.

March 23, 2012

Using Predictive Modeling to Detect Medicare Fraud

Since June 30, 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has been using a predictive analytics model to analyze Medicare fee-for-service claims to detect patterns highly associated with fraudulent activity. The technology allows CMS to conduct real-time, pre-payment claim analyses instead of a “pay and chase” approach that requires the agency to reimburse providers first and then attempt to recover overpayments after the fact.

Under the new model, all claims travel through the predictive modeling system, which uses the data to build profiles of providers, networks, billing patterns, and beneficiary utilization. These profiles enable CMS to create risk scores that (1) estimate the likelihood of fraud and (2) flag potentially fraudulent claims and billing patterns. The process is similar to the pre-payment analysis already done in the financial and credit card industries.

Risk scores enable CMS to quickly identify unusual billing activity and subject suspicious claims to more thorough review before making payment. The system automatically prioritizes claims, providers, beneficiaries, and networks that are generating the most alerts and highest risk scores Analysts review prioritized cases looking at claims histories, conducting interviews, and performing site visits as necessary. If an analyst finds only innocuous billing, the outcome is recorded directly into the predictive modeling system and the payment is released as usual. CMS reports that this feedback loop refines the predictive models and algorithms to better pinpoint fraudulent behavior.

March 22, 2012

Hot Report: Options for Implementing Revaluation

OLR Report 2012-R-0115 provides information on which states give municipalities options for implementing a property tax revaluation that captures increases in a property's fair market value.

Connecticut and Georgia allow municipalities to mitigate increases in property values that a revaluation captures. Connecticut allows them to phase in the increase over five years, while Georgia allows counties to freeze the pre-revaluation value for owner-occupied homes.

Five other states require municipalities to mitigate increases and specify how they must do so.
  1. Arkansas limits the increase to a specified percentage of pre- revaluation values and freezes the values for elderly homeowners and those with disabilities.
  2. Colorado requires municipalities to adjust the assessment ratio for residential property so that its share of the assessed value for all types of property is 45%. (The assessment ratio is the portion of a property's fair market value that is subject to the tax.)
  3. Maryland and Montana require municipalities to phase in the increase in assessed values over a specified time.
  4. Lastly, Delaware limits the extent to which counties can increase tax revenue after a revaluation.
Most states, including several listed above, attempt to mitigate annual increases in property taxes regardless of whether property was revalued by imposing annual limits on increases in assessed values (i.e., assessment limits), property tax rates (i.e., rate limits), or revenue collection (i.e., levy limits). Some impose a combination of these limits. As Attachment 1 shows, 19 states, including Maine, impose assessment limits; 31 states, including Massachusetts, impose rate limits; and 31 states, including Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, impose levy limits.

For more information, read the full report.

Comparison of Connecticut and National Criminal Cases in Federal Courts

The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s website provides detailed statistics on criminal cases and sentencing by federal courts, broken down by state, district, and circuit. The Connecticut report shows that for the federal 2010 fiscal year, the most common primary offense category was drugs (58.2%). The next most common primary categories in Connecticut were fraud (13.8%), firearms (9.1%), and non-fraud white collar (8.2%). Nationally, the most common primary categories were immigration (34.4%), followed by drugs (28.9%), fraud (9.7%), and firearms (9.6%). In Connecticut, immigration was the primary offense category in 4.0% of cases.

Among other things, other reports on the website provide statistics on matters broken down by primary offense category, such as (1) guilty pleas and trials; (2) length of imprisonment; and (3) a comparison of sentences imposed to the federal guideline range.

March 21, 2012

Insurance Department Launches New Check-up Program

The February 13 edition of the Insurance Journal reported on a new “check-up” program recently unveiled by the Connecticut Insurance Department. Under the program, consumers can:

Ask a question or file a complaint online at the Connecticut Insurance Department’s website.

Request an external review in health insurance disputes.

Request arbitration in auto insurance claims disputes.

• Visit the department’s “Be Prepared” consumer advisory section that is updated with seasonal risks.

• Download consumer FAQs on health, homeowner and auto coverage.

• Sign up for e-alerts from the department to get the latest news, warnings and rate changes that may affect premiums.

The program also features a 60-second public service video announcement that will air on local stations and can be downloaded from the Department’s Web site and YouTube.

March 20, 2012

Hot Report: "Caylee's Law": Legislation in Other States

OLR Report 2012-R-0130  provides (1) a summary of passed or proposed legislation in other states in response to the result of the Caylee Anthony case and (2) policy arguments for and against these measures.

At least 35 states are considering or have considered legislation in response to the highly publicized death of Caylee Anthony, often called “Caylee's Law.” New Jersey so far is the only state to have enacted a version of “Caylee's Law.” The Florida legislature has recently passed legislation that is pending governor approval.

The model statute is named after Caylee Anthony, a Florida toddler whose death became nationwide news. Casey Anthony, Caylee's mother, failed to report her daughter missing for more than a month and the child's body was discovered near the Anthony home several months later. After giving several fabricated explanations, Ms. Anthony admitted that she had known about Caylee's death and disposed of the body. After a high-profile trial, Ms. Anthony was acquitted of 1st degree murder and related felony charges; she was convicted on four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to the police.

The “not guilty” verdict shocked and angered many who had been following the case and produced a groundswell of legislative proposals that would criminalize a parent's failure to report the disappearance or death of a child. The volume of bill filings is partly due to a well-organized, online petition campaign urging legislators to pass Caylee's Law. As of July 2011, it was reported that more than 1.5 million people had signed the petition.

Policymakers are divided in their support of such legislation. Proponents argue that the law is needed to make parents act more responsibly by holding them accountable for failing to report their child missing or dead. Some prosecutors have indicated that such laws would give them another tool to protect vulnerable children.

Opponents contend that the bill is unnecessary because a parent's failure to (1) act to protect the health and safety of his or her child and (2) notify the authorities about a death or the location of a dead body are already crimes in most states. Moreover, some members of law enforcement have warned that ill-considered laws on reporting missing children risk punishing the innocent and tying the police up with investigations of missing child cases where no foul play was suspected.

For more information including, a look at what other states have proposed, read the full report.

Federal Government Could Save Billions with Efficiency Improvements

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that efficiency improvements in several areas could produce significant cost-savings opportunities for the federal government. The report listed 51 issues across several different program areas, from defense and homeland security to revenue collection and currency production. GAO looked for areas of duplication, overlap, and fragmentation, as well as other cost savings and revenue enhancement opportunities. It estimated that improvements in these areas could save the government tens of billions of dollars annually.

March 19, 2012

Find Your Way to the Map Room

The Office of Legislative Research continues to add exciting and informattive maps to its Map Room page. Maps come from sources such as the federal and state government, nonprofit organizations, and media companies. Recent additions include:
  • on the Banks page, a map showing the number of foreclosures in each county in January 2012,
  • on the Higher Education and Employment Advancement page, a map showing the number of college graduates in each county across the country,
  • on the Public Health page, maps on each state's cancer profile and the the availability of primary care health professionals, and
  • on the Judiciary page, a map showing the percent of African-Americans imprisoned in each county.

Can A Family Afford A Home Or Apartment If It Costs No More Than 30% Of Its Income?

Maybe not. Families paying no more than 30% of their income on housing might have to weigh other costs, including the cost of traveling to work, school, stores, the dentist, and other essential locations. In fact, recent research by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) suggests the time-honored 30% rule may be obsolete.

The center, which favors locating new homes and apartments near trains, bus lines, stores, and other amenities, studied the location of Chicago-area housing developments and noticed that some provided easier access to public transportation or were located within walking or biking distance of grocery stores and shops. When the center tallied the cost of traveling between the developments and the amenities it found a difference of $3,000 between the least and most “location-efficient” communities.

Thanks to rising transportation and energy costs, “working- and middle-class families can find themselves in what the New American Foundation calls ‘the energy trap’—stuck with the high costs of car ownership and fuel. It’s a particular problem for families that have moved out to the exurbs in search of more affordable housing without considering how much more they’ll have to pay to reach their jobs or their grocery store.”

The center’s research suggests that policy makers must continually revaluate standards. “Instead of limiting housing costs to 30% of a household’s budget, CNT is recommending agencies limit total housing and transportation costs to 45%.”

March 16, 2012

Seven States Challenge Federal Health Reform Law’s Contraception Mandate

According to the Washington Post, seven states (Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas) recently filed a lawsuit challenging the federal health care reform law’s contraception mandate. The lawsuit, which was filed in a U.S. District Court in Nebraska, argues that this mandate impedes the First Amendment right to religious liberty and violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993.

According to the article, the RFRA allows religious institutions to challenge federal laws that place a “substantial burden on their ability to exercise a sincere religious belief.” If this substantial burden is proven, the government must demonstrate (1) the law achieves a compelling government interest and (2) that interest cannot be achieved in another way that would be less religiously restrictive.

The federal health reform law requires health plans to cover contraception, without cost sharing requirements, starting in August 2012. But, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship are exempt from this requirement. Other nonprofit religious employers who do not currently cover contraceptives in their insurance plans will be given until August 1, 2013 to comply.

March 15, 2012

Tax Foundation Releases its 2012 State Business Tax Climate Index

The Tax Foundation recently released its 2012 State Business Tax Climate Index which shows Connecticut holding steady at 40th. The index ranks the competitiveness of state tax systems by comparing 118 different variables in five tax areas: business income, personal income, sales, unemployment insurance, and property taxes.
The 10 highest ranked states in this year’s index are:

1. Wyoming
2. South Dakota
3. Nevada
4. Alaska
5. Florida
6. New Hampshire
7. Washington
8. Montana
9. Texas
10. Utah

The lowest ranked are:

41. Iowa
42. Maryland
43. Wisconsin
44. North Carolina
45. Minnesota
46. Rhode Island
47. Vermont
48. California
49. New York
50. New Jersey

So how does Connecticut compare to its neighbors? The following table shows how New England states fared in the index. Not surprisingly, New Hampshire, which has no broad-based income or sales tax, ranks as the 6th most competitive business tax climate in the country. Massachusetts ranks a few spots above Connecticut at 37th. Vermont ranks the lowest, 47th, among the six states.

Overall Rank
Corporate Tax Index Rank
Personal Income Tax Index Rank
Sales Tax Index Rank
Unemployment Insurance Tax Index Rate
Property Tax Index Rank
New Hampshire
Rhode Island

March 14, 2012

Hot Report: Characteristics of Charter and Public School Students

OLR Report 2012-R-0131 examines the following statistics for each charter school and the school district in which it is located: (1) enrollment; (2) percentages of students (a) receiving special education services, (b) who are English language learners, or (c) who are eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches; and (3) student-teacher ratio.

The information appears in Table 1 in the report. All statistics, except the special education statistics, are for the 2010-11 school year, which is the most recent year for which data is available. The special education statistics are for 2009-10 because that is the most recent year for which special education prevalence rates for charter schools are available. The number of teachers used to calculate the student-teacher ratio is the sum of each school's and school district's general and special education teachers and instructional specialists. Special services staff, such as counselors and nurses, and administrators are not included.

For more information, read the full report.

Who Are Those People Who Help Keep Mom And Dad At Home?

Federal and state policymakers are making significant efforts to shift government-funded long-term care for seniors and younger disabled individuals away from institutional and more towards home- and community-based care. A new report by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute presents a comprehensive picture of just who the home care workforce is, including personal care assistants and home health aides. The report examines all facets of these employees, including their compensation, hours worked, training, and potential labor shortages.

March 13, 2012

Save the Sound Report Grades Efforts to Protect the Sound

On December 28, 2011, Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment, released its 2011 State of the Sound report. According to the news release, “The report assesses states' initiatives to implement the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound based on eight indicators — coastal habitat, beach litter, migratory habitat, low oxygen (hypoxia), raw sewage, stormwater runoff, toxic chemicals, and stewardship. Overall, the report gave an average grade of a C+ for Connecticut and New York efforts to protect and preserve Long Island Sound.”

March 12, 2012

Hot Report: Connecticut Penal Code-Updated and Revised

OLR Report 2012-R-0134 provides a breakdown of all crimes in the Connecticut Penal Code (Title 53a of the General Statutes). The report has a chart with information on penalties. This report updates OLR Report 2010-R-0240.

The report lists all of the crimes contained in the Penal Code. It updates previous reports to reflect changes from the 2011 session. Statutes with criminal penalties that are codified outside the Penal Code are not included in this report. OLR Report 2012-R-0062 lists all statutes with criminal penalties.

Criminal offenses in Connecticut are classified as felonies, which are punishable by imprisonment for over one year, and misdemeanors, which are punishable by imprisonment for not more than one year. In turn, felonies are classified according to severity as capital, class A, class B, class C, and class D. Misdemeanors are classified as class A, class B, and class C. There are unclassified felonies and misdemeanors which are punishable by imprisonment but not designated under one of the classes listed above.

Terms of imprisonment in Connecticut must be for specific periods of time. Judges set the specific sentence for each offender from a range of sentences and fines set out in the statutes. A judge may impose a fine, a term of imprisonment, or both.

This report focuses on prison sentences and does not include fines that apply to the crimes in the Penal Code, sex offender registry requirements, and other consequences of a conviction. We also exclude statutes that are punishable as infractions or by a fine only.

Table 1 in the report displays all of the crimes in the Penal Code arranged by classification. It displays the authorized prison sentences for each and any mandatory minimum sentence that applies.

In addition to the crimes contained in Table 1, the Penal Code also includes enhanced penalties for persistent offenders, acts of terrorism, and certain other types of offenders. These provisions are described below in Table 2 in the report.

For more information, read the full report.

Moving Energy Just as Contentious as Producing it?

A recent article in the New York Times points out that while most people are aware of continuing debates over energy sources, some of the most controversial energy issues involve how we transport our energy, regardless of the source. Whether it’s traditional fossil fuels like coal and oil, cleaner fuels like natural gas, or “green” fuels like wind and solar power, the resources for large-scale energy producing projects are typically located in remote locations and have to be transported to the populated areas that use the most energy.

While the recently nixed Keystone XL pipeline brought issues with natural gas transmission to national awareness, transmitting wind or solar energy from production facilities offshore, the middle of the plains states, or the middle of the desert can pose its own set of controversies. The article cites green power projects in Texas, California, and New York that have all hit significant delays over constructing new transmission lines to connect renewable power resources with urban centers. It points out that no matter what the energy source, in an increasingly power hungry world we may all have to accept the possibility of an energy highway traversing our backyard.

March 9, 2012

Forget Low Tech; Concentrate on High Tech…

and watch your economy slide. That’s the point MIT robotics professor Rodney Brooks makes in the October 2011 Technology Review. Finding something only we can make and ceding the rest to China exemplifies “the wrongheaded thinking that pervades discussions about the role of manufacturing in America’s future.” It also reflects the false idea that high tech manufacturing techniques can be used only to make high tech products, such as lasers and jet engines, that only big companies buy.

High tech machines and techniques can be used to make sneakers and tooth brushes. Some ignore this point, arguing, let the Chinese make this stuff and we’ll design it. After all, high-end work is the kind we excel at. But not for long, Brooks argued. People who make things eventually figure out how to improve them. “Once we outsource to manufacturers in China, they soon offer us design, too, since they are the ones who can most easily change existing product lines or introduce new ones.”

Chinese manufacturers will parley the knowledge and experience they gain by making things into new ideas. “The contractor soon becomes an innovator in its own right, recruiting local designers to work with its now expert manufacturing engineers and get results faster than any U.S.-based design team” (emphasis added).

Advantage goes to the company that can adapt faster than its competitors. The key, according to Brooks, is to democratize the shop floor the same way computers democratize the office. “We can create tools for ordinary workers, with intuitive interfaces, extensive use of vision and other sensors, and even the Web-based distribution mechanisms of the IT industry.

March 8, 2012

Hey Education Reformers – Lighten Up!!

What’s so funny about teaching? Well, according to educator and journalist Mark Phillips not enough. He writes in his Edutopia blog that while teachers need to take themselves and their job seriously, they shouldn’t take it too seriously.

He writes,

“By a sense of humor, I don't mean the ability to tell jokes or include humorous anecdotes in one's lessons. That's not a bad thing and makes for a more entertaining class (particularly if they're funny!). But I know some great joke tellers who are also pretty humorless. What I mean by a sense of humor is an ability to see absurdity in the class, school meetings and in oneself, and an ability to laugh at it.

“Schools and classrooms are rife with absurdity,” he continues. “Think about the crazily optimistic idea that a high school teacher can reach each of 100-plus students every day, despite the fact that each student is totally different. Elementary teachers continually function in a surreal Lewis Carroll-like scenario in which they're expected to be experts in four or five different subjects, as well as child psychologists, on a salary that is less than what most waitresses earn.”

To cope, he suggests teachers keep a caring, yet detached attitude that enables them to find humor in otherwise emotionally charged situations.

Hot Report: State Gasoline and Diesel Excise Tax Rates

OLR Report 2012-R-0128 shows the current per-gallon excise tax rates on gasoline and diesel fuel in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

To see table with all the rates, read the report.

March 7, 2012

Child Abuse and Neglect Cost the US $124 Billion

So suggest the authors of a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The researchers looked at 1,740 fatal and 579,000 non-fatal confirmed child maltreatment (neglect and physical, sexual, and psychological abuse) cases for a 12-month period and determined that the lifetime cost for each victim who lived was about $210,000. This was higher than such other costly health conditions as stroke and Type-2 diabetes.

The costs for each victim of non-fatal maltreatment included about $33,000 in childhood healthcare costs, $10,500 in adult medical costs, $144,360 in productivity losses, nearly $8,000 in child welfare costs, and $15,000 combined in special education and criminal justice costs. The costs were even higher when the maltreatment victims died.

March 6, 2012

Hot Report: Milestones in Connecticut Education -- 1912 to 2012

OLR Report 2012-R-0094 summarizes the highlights in state education policy in the last 100 years.

For example,
  • statewide standardized testing dates to 1920,
  • schools started to be built in the 1920s,
  • education inequality was first studied in 1927,
  • homework started being used seriously only the late 1950s and early 1960s, and
  • 1966's Project Concern was an attempt to racially desegregate schools
For more information on these items plus many other highlights, read the full report.

Mortgage Forbearance for Unemployed Homeowners

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently extended their forbearance programs to give short-term aid to unemployed homeowners. In these programs, lenders typically allow a borrower to skip or reduce payments for a period of time. But they often come with terms and conditions, and delaying payments increases the unpaid balance.

The number of homeowners completing forbearance and repayment plans remains high. At Fannie Mae, 26,801 homeowners completed plans in the first nine months of 2011. This was 13% more than the same period in 2010. In all of 2008, 7,892 homeowners completed these plans.

Information on other federal government mortgage assistance programs is available here.

The Connecticut Department of Banking also has information on various programs available to homeowners.

March 5, 2012

State AG Looking into Seattle Firm’s Mailings

The state attorney general’s office is investigating a recent mass mailing by a Seattle firm offering to help some state property owners reduce their property taxes.

Attorney General George Jepsen said his office has asked ValueAppeal LLC about a mailing it sent to residents of Wethersfield, New Britain, and Middletown offering to “Lower [their] taxes for $99.”

“This information is important to help my office evaluate whether Connecticut residents are being offered valid business services for the fees charged, or, instead, are being deceived,” Jepsen told the Hartford Courant.

New Britain mayor Timothy O’Brien asked Jepsen’s office to investigate the mailings, concerned they were “misleading and deceptive.”

According to the Courant, ValueAppeal’s CEO says the mailings are legitimate, and part of his firm’s nationwide expansion. CEO Eric Brown told the Courant his firm provides services similar to those of an accountant, and that it advises about 75% of its potential clients not to appeal their assessments.

March 2, 2012

25% of the State’s Working Households Spend Half Their Income on Housing

The Center for Housing Policy recently released its Housing Landscape 2012 report indicating an increase in the housing cost burden for the country’s working households, both owners and renters. The report, which used American Community Survey data, defined “working households” as those that worked at least an average of 20 hours per week and had a household income of no more than 120% of the median area income.
The report found the percentage of working households that spent more than half their income on housing costs (including utilities) rose from 21.8% in 2008 to 23.6% in 2010. Connecticut was one of five states (also California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Rhode Island) whose percentage of working households with a severe housing cost burden remained steady, but at 25% or more, exceeded the national average.

CT Mirror has more information.

Connecticut Based Company Announces Major Initiative To Hire Veterans

According to a recent Connecticut Post article, Fairfield-based General Electric recently committed to hiring 5,000 veterans over the next five years. The article supports this action, stating that “if any class of potential employee is deserving of special attention, it is veterans, the men and women who have actually gone into harm's way to defend the American way of life.” It also notes the current availability of federal and state tax incentives to hire veterans. For additional information on these incentives, see OLR Report 2012-R-0079.

March 1, 2012

Juvenile Justice Guidebook for Legislators

The National Conference of State Legislatures and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have jointly released a primer for legislators interested in cutting-edge juvenile justice issues. It addresses such timely topics as (1) adolescent development and competency, (2) delinquency prevention and intervention, (4) the mental health needs of juvenile offenders, (5) the overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice system, (6) reentry programs, and (7) cost-benefit analyses.

In addition to identifying key issues legislatures across the nation are grappling with, the publication highlights significant research, program approaches, and model statutory language.

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

A federal study of low-cost “curbside” interstate bus lines 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.”