April 30, 2012

Veterans’ Mental Health a Focus

According to a recent NY Times article, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs “…plans to hire about 1,600 additional psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health clinicians in an effort to reduce long wait times for services at many veterans medical centers.”

It is not just recent war veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq who are in need of services, but also “…aging veterans from the Vietnam era,” according to the article.

“’As more veterans return home, we must ensure that all veterans have access to quality mental health care,’” states Eric K. Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, from an official statement.

The department has faced heavier criticism recently for delays in providing mental health service. But, it “…says that it has worked hard to keep pace with the tide of new veterans needing psychological care, increasing its mental health care budget by 39 percent since 2009 and hiring more than 3,500 mental health professionals.”

Here is more information about U.S. Veterans’ Affairs mental health services.

April 27, 2012

High-Tech Safety Features Take Time to Trickle Down

Don’t hold your breath waiting for your new car to have those cool crash avoidance features you see in commercials for high-end sedans.

A recent report by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows that it typically takes 30 years for a promising safety feature to migrate from top-end luxury cars to the rest of the vehicle fleet. “More precisely,” says a recent issue of Status Report, a newsletter published by HLDI and the insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “it will take at least that long before 95% of vehicles on the road could have a given feature.”

For example, the article says, 95% of all registered vehicles won’t have front airbags until 2016, even though manufacturers have been installing them in vehicles since the mid-1980s, and they have been required in most new passenger vehicles since 1999.

“New features that prove beneficial aren’t instantly available in all new models,” one of the report’s authors stated. “And once they are, not everyone rushes out to replace their old vehicle right away.”

April 26, 2012

Hot Report: State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs

OLR Report 2012-R-0171 describes other states' pharmaceutical assistance programs similar to ConnPACE.

ConnPACE is a state-funded pharmaceutical assistance program that helps eligible senior citizens and people with disabilities afford the cost of most prescription medicines, as well as insulin and insulin syringes. Eligibility for the program requires Connecticut residents to (1) be age 65 or older, or younger and have a permanent disability; (2) be ineligible for Medicare; and (3) have income under $26,000 if single and $35,000 if married.

Prior to 2011, ConnPACE was a “wraparound” program for individuals receiving Medicare Part D (pharmacy) benefits. Currently, ConnPACE eligibility is limited to those individuals who are ineligible for Medicare, thus the program provides benefits to a much smaller number of individuals. The state's Medicare beneficiaries now get “extra help” paying for prescriptions from the federal government. For a recent history of ConnPACE and changes related to Medicare Part D, see OLR Report 2011-R-0299.

When Medicare Part D was implemented in 2006, many states converted their pharmaceutical assistance programs to wraparound programs, which further limit the out-of-pocket expenses for Part D participants. In order to qualify for these wraparound programs, those eligible for Medicare must enroll in a Part D plan. Some states discontinued their pharmaceutical assistance programs altogether when the federal government began providing the extra help.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 other states currently have pharmaceutical assistance programs for seniors or people with disabilities. State programs vary with respect to eligibility, benefits, and co-payments or premium costs. Some states require enrollment in Medicare Part D and others require an application for the federal extra help (i.e., Low Income Subsidy (LIS)). Income limits for eligibility are typically tied to some percentage of the federal poverty level (FPL) (100% of the FPL for one person in 2012 is $11,170).

For more information, including a table showing plans from 17 states, read the full report.

Private Attorney Hired to Assist City is Entitled in Qualified Immunity in Section 1983 Case

In a recent case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a private attorney hired by a city to assist in an investigation was protected by qualified immunity.

In the case (Filarsky v. Delia), a firefighter, who was the subject of an internal affairs investigation, sued the city, the fire department, and various individuals under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the investigation violated his constitutional rights. (Section 1983 allows suits against those who deprive someone of federal rights “under color” of state law.) The appellate court had ruled that the private attorney was not entitled to immunity. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that “immunity under § 1983 should not vary depending on whether an individual working for the government does so as a full-time employee, or on some other basis.”

The court surveyed the history of private individuals assisting the government in various functions, noting that “examples of individuals receiving immunity for actions taken while engaged in public service on a temporary or occasional basis are as varied as the reach of government itself.”

The court also noted that denying immunity in such a situation would create a disparity between small municipalities and larger ones with greater resources to hire their own full-time staff:
New York City has a Department of Investigation staffed by full-time public employees who investigate city personnel, and the resources to pay for it. The City of Rialto [the city in this case] has neither, and so must rely on the occasional services of private individuals such as Mr. Filarsky. There is no reason Rialto’s internal affairs investigator should be denied the qualified immunity enjoyed by the ones who work for New York.

April 25, 2012

Carrying Handguns in Public Places

On October 10, 2011, California’s Governor Brown signed into law a bill prohibiting the open carrying of unloaded handguns in any public place or public street (AB 144). Current law prohibits the possession of loaded firearms except in certain unincorporated areas, but not unloaded firearms even if the individual is carrying ammunition along with the firearm.

April 24, 2012

OLR Bill Analyses

Are you looking for a plain language summary of a bill referred to the House or the Senate? Well, the Office of Legislative Research has what you need -- OLR Bill Analyses. They are designed to help the reader understand what the bill does and how it would change current law if it passed.

The page is sortable by bill number and committee. The BAs are available for easy viewing on the web and in PDF (which you might prefer when printing).

Seniors Struggle With Student Loan Debt

The growth in student loan debt has been well-publicized, but according to a recent a Washington Post article, large debt burdens are not limited to young adults. The Post cites data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that shows Americans 60 and older still have about $36 billion in student loan debt. The debt has forced some older Americans to continue working past their intended retirement date, while others have had wages and Social Security checks garnished.

The article reports that some seniors are still dealing with loans they took out to return to school mid-career. Others co-signed their children or grandchildren’s loans and were forced to make payments when the borrowers couldn’t find well-paying jobs.

April 23, 2012

CDC Reports Rise in Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 88 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This represents a 23% increase from the previous report in 2009, and a 78% increase from the 2007 report.

The finding is based on data collected in 14 areas of the country in 2008, comprising over 8% of the population of 8-year-olds.

Other findings in CDC’s report include:
  • ASDs are almost five times more common among boys than girls;
  • the largest increases were among Hispanic and black children; and
  • while a growing number of children are being diagnosed at earlier ages, most are not diagnosed until after they reach age 4.

April 20, 2012

Odd Tax Deductions Part 2: Pirate Ransoms

Following up an earlier post about underappreciated tax deductions that could come in handy, we note the following question addressed to the bloggers at Freakonomics: “Are pirate ransoms tax deductible?”
Yes. The federal tax code allows a tax deduction for losses from theft. According to the IRS, theft includes taking money or property by kidnapping for ransom. The taking must be illegal under the laws of the state where it occurred and must have been done with criminal intent.
The Freakonomics bloggers remind us that the IRS will require proof of loss, so they recommend filing a police report or getting a receipt (from the pirates, presumably).
What if the pirates beat the rap? “You do not need to show a conviction for theft,” the IRS says.

April 19, 2012

Connecticut Adds More Jobs

The Labor Department announced that Connecticut added 4,900 new jobs in February, which helped to push the unemployment rate down to 7.8%. This is the lowest state unemployment has been since March 2009.

So far the state has recovered 1/3 of the jobs lost in the Great Recession (March 2008- February 2010). The private sector is leading the way in the jobs recovery as it has regained 44% of the private sector jobs lost. The state lost a total of 117,500 jobs in the recession and so far has gained back 39,100.

The big gains in February 2012 came in the following sectors:
  • Health care and social assistance – 1,900
  • Retail trade – 1,600
  • Professional scientific and technical services – 900
  • Construction – 800
  • Wholesale trade – 600

April 18, 2012

Hot Report: NESAC Accreditation

OLR Report 2012-R-0168 answers a series of questions regarding New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation.
  • Is NEASC accreditation state or federally mandated?
  • Are there any worthy nonprofits other than NEASC that provide accreditation accepted at local, state or surrounding states' higher education institutions?
  • How many high schools in Connecticut pay the fee to earn neasc accreditation? How many school districts' fees, if any, are paid for by the state?
  • How many high schools in the state of Connecticut have lost their NEASC accreditation?
  • If there are schools that have lost accreditation, how has this specifically affected their students' ability to gain admittance into higher education institutions

 For the answer to these questions, read the report.

The Big-Boxalypse

Best Buy’s recent announcement that it will be closing 50 large stores and opening 100 smaller ones has prompted Bloomberg to proclaim that “the era of big-box retail dominance is coming to an end.”

Best Buy’s announcement came on the heels of reporting a $2.6 billion loss in late March, following five straight quarters of profit decline. Cautious consumers, higher gas prices, and a shift to online retailing put a dent in Best Buy’s profits. The result is a shift from the big-box model to smaller stores and internet sales.

Other big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Staples, and Sports Authority are also working on smaller stores in high-traffic urban settings as an alternative to their big-box stores. Wal-Mart, for instance, has plans to open a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in West Hartford in late 2012.

April 17, 2012

Severe Weather Has Home Insurers Rethinking Coverage

The April 2012 edition of InsuranceJournal.com notes that, as weather disasters occur more frequently, homeowners are often hit with the unexpected loss of homeowners insurance policies as insurance companies re-evaluate their financial liabilities.

Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group, observes that “last year (2011) was an extraordinary year for natural disasters; Insurers have taken a step back to assess whether or not they can absorb severe losses.”

Insurance companies have significantly and methodically decreased their financial responsibility for weather catastrophes like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods in recent years,” the Consumer Federation of America said in a statement after studying industry data.

April 16, 2012

“The Buyin Power Of The Proletariat’s Gone Down”

“Money’s getting shallow and weak,” wrote Bob Dylan in 2006, voicing people’s fears about losing jobs and making ends meet. Well it seems that Yale political science professor Jacob S. Hacker is trying to empirically measure these fears, which he labels “economic insecurity.” Economic insecurity is a feeling (“I feel insecure”) and a potential circumstance (“I have a real chance of experiencing economic losses for which I lack adequate protection”), Hacker explained.

Consequently, he uses opinion polls and economic data to gauge people’s insecurity and found that the “prevalence of insecurity has increased over the last generation and that this insecurity is associated with strong psychological responses to and substantial economic hardships.” Hacker Economic Insecurity Index melds income loss, out-of-pocket medical spending, and households’ financial safety net.

The index shows that economic insecurity gradually, but persistently rose from 1985 to 2007 across the economy’s ups and downs. According to Hacker, “In 1985, 12 percent of Americans were defined as insecure by the ESI. In 2010, the share was projected to hit 20.4 percent. The long-term trend has been upward. Unsurprisingly, economic security erodes during downturns, but between downturns, it does not bounce back.”

Hacker’s ESI is a first step toward measuring what Hacker sees as a “dominant motif in Americans’ economic lives. “There is still a pressing need for more research on the causes, consequences, and differential impact of economic insecurity and its effects on an increasingly broad swath of the U.S. population.”

April 13, 2012

Tips to Save Money at the Gas Pump

With rising gas prices, AAA has several tips on how drivers can save at the gas pump.

The tips include:
  1. checking that tires are properly inflated,
  2. braking smoothly,
  3. finding the lowest gas prices,
  4. driving at the speed limit,
  5. combining multiple tasks in one trip,
  6. “lightening the load” (heavier cars use more gas),
  7. finding discounts, and
  8. keeping the car properly maintained.

April 12, 2012

Hot Report: Child Sexual Abuse Prosecutions

OLR Report 2012-R-0136 summarizes the arguments raised during the floor debate on PA 02-138 for and against extending the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes with child victims. It also provides information on what the statutes of limitations are in other states.

Among other things, PA 02-138 (An Act Concerning Sexual Assault of a Minor) extended Connecticut's statute of limitations for prosecuting sexually-based offenses with child victims from two to 30 years after the victim reaches age 18 but retained a requirement that the prosecution be within five years of the date he or she notifies any police officer or state's attorney of the crime. PA 02-138 passed both chambers without substantive debate on the pros and cons of passage. But legislators debating a similar bill in the 2001 session presented arguments for and against this change. The primary arguments in support were to protect innocent, young victims. The arguments against centered on a provision that would have applied the new period of limitations retroactively.

We examined the statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes in the New England states. This report focuses on the period of limitations for child sexual abuse, which includes such offenses as unlawful sexual contact, rape, child molestation, sexual assault, and the intent to commit any of these crimes against a child under age 18.

The limitations periods vary by state and within states based on a number of factors such as the victim's age, the relationship of the offender to the victim, whether the offender remains in the state, and when the crime is reported to the police. The periods ranges from six years after commission of sexual assault or abuse of a victim between ages 16 and 18 in Maine and Vermont to no period of limitation for rape, aggravated sexual assault, and sexual abuse of a child under age 16 in Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine, respectively. No period of limitations means the crime may be prosecuted at any time.

For more information, read the full report.

No (Shark Fin) Soup for You!

Shark fin soup may disappear from menus soon in New York. According to a February 21 New York Times article, legislation recently introduced in that state would prohibit the sale, trade, possession, or distribution of shark fins. It would allow the environmental conservation department to issue permits for possessing shark fins for bona fide scientific research or educational purposes. California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington have passed similar bans. The article reports that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for shark fin soup and some shark species face extinction. Shark fishing has also faced criticism for the practice of “finning” where a fisherman removes the shark’s fin but discards the rest of the body.

April 11, 2012

Can Pond Scum Save Us From $5 Gasoline?

According to a recent article on climatedesk.org (a collaboration between The Atlantic and Wired magazines and other sources), the short answer is no, at least in the short term. But, the U.S. Department of Energy is conducting research on converting algae to motor fuels or hydrogen in over 30 sites. Algae is ubiquitous and its lipid (oil) content ranges from 20% to 40% of its dry weight.

April 10, 2012

Hot Report: State Lyme Disease Studies

OLR Report 2012-R-0149 summarizes the Governor's Task Force on Lyme Disease in Virginia, including (1) how the task force was formed, (2) the task force members, and (3) what the task force recommended. You also asked about similar initiatives in other states.

In 2010, Virginia's governor and Health and Human Resources secretary convened a Lyme disease task force, in response to growing cases of Lyme disease and similar illnesses in the state. The task force consisted of stakeholders and experts from the public and private sectors. It made a number of recommendations involving how the state, localities, medical community, and public should approach Lyme disease and related illnesses.

Other states have dealt with the growing Lyme disease problem in a variety of ways. For example, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene formed a subcommittee on Lyme disease, which issued a 2007 report examining the problem of Lyme disease in the state and suggesting specific recommendations for state agencies, many of which have since been implemented. In Massachusetts, the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight issued a similar report in 2011, recommending creation of a special commission on Lyme disease. The state's FY 12 budget creates such a commission.

Several other states have proposed legislation calling for the creation of a Lyme disease task force, although none have yet passed. In Connecticut, the Public Health Committee favorably reported a bill (HB 5335) in March 2012 that would create a task force to study Lyme disease testing.

Below, we summarize the Virginia task force's report, which is also attached. We also summarize the Maryland and Massachusetts reports.

More information about Lyme disease is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) website. The website includes information on several topics, such as Lyme disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment; case statistics; and links to other resources.

“Those Who Cannot Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It”

George Santayana’s famous quote has become a cliché, but Derek Thompson’s recent Atlantic article about New England’s whaling industry suggests economic policy makers could learn from the past. Central to the industry’s rise and fall is technological change. New Englanders had an edge on the rest of the world thanks to bigger and better ships, more precise charts, iron toggle harpoons, more efficient winches, and wages based on the hunt’s success.

But nothing lasts forever, and in the whaling industry’s case, it wasn’t just the jump in petroleum production. “In the middle of the 19th century, whale oil prices increased, which should have led to more production. But output never recovered after the 1850s even as whaling continued to grow around the world. Why did Americans give up?” Relying on Leviathan, which chronicles the whaling industry, Thompson cited higher wages, foreign competition, and many entrepreneurial alternatives that “turned Americans toward the domestic economy.”

What can policy makers learn from the whaling industry? Although its life and death “might seem like a precious nostalgia trip…it’s really a modern story about innovation. It’s about how technology replaces workers and how opportunity costs influence investors and change economies.” The trick is spotting where change is heading.

That was the late Steve Jobs’ strategy when he took over a failing Apple in 1997 and steered it away from bankruptcy by simplifying its product line and waiting for the next big thing. Jobs “focused on the sources of and barriers to success in his industry—recognizing the next window of opportunity, the next set of forces he could harness to his advantage, and then having the quickness and cleverness to pounce on it quickly like a perfect predator” (Richard P. Rumelt, Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters, 2011).

April 9, 2012

Possible Link Between Breathing Smog in Pregnancy and Children’s Behavioral Problems

A recent Environmental Health Perspectives study found a correlation between a mother breathing smog during pregnancy and her child’s subsequent behavioral problems. The study followed 253 non-smoking, inner-city women who gave birth between 1999 and 2006. Researchers measured the concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a common air pollutant found in traffic emissions, in each mother’s environment for 48 hours during the second or third trimester. They also took blood samples from the mothers and the umbilical cords.

The study found a positive correlation between higher PAH exposure during pregnancy and the incidence of anxiety and depression in the children by around age 6.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York noted, “On one hand, I don’t think people will be surprised that pollution poses a potential risk. What is striking here is they have been able to document and quantify it.”

April 6, 2012

DSS Sued Over Slow Processing Of SNAP Applications

On March 5, 2012, Greater Hartford Legal Aid and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice filed a class action suit on behalf of SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) applicants in the U.S. District Court against DSS for an “ongoing and persistent” failure to process SNAP applications in a timely manner, resulting in the denial of benefits to needy individuals and families. The class includes all state residents who, since March 5, 2009, have applied, are applying, or will apply for SNAP.

Federal law requires the state agency administering the program (DSS in Connecticut) to provide benefits no later than 30 days from the application date. This deadline is earlier for those households with an “immediate need.”

The plaintiffs provided facts showing that the percentage of cases pending for more than 30 days has grown (36% in February 2012). DSS has acknowledged to the federal SNAP agency (USDA—Food and Nutrition Services) repeatedly that it has deficiencies processing applications timely.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to provide permanent injunctive relief and order DSS to meet its statutory obligations.

April 5, 2012

Bank of America Offers Mortgage Relief

Bank of America recently announced its commitment to reduce the mortgage principals for as many as 200,000 underwater homeowners.
Bank spokesman Richard Simon stated that the average reduction is expected to be more than $100,000 per underwater mortgage. To qualify, the loan must be owned by the Bank of America, Countrywide Financial Corporation (now owned by B of A), or private investors. Loans owned or backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs are ineligible.

Bank of America’s decision to reduce the mortgage loan amounts could reduce the $3.25 billion of penalties it faces from the government foreclosure settlement by $850 million.

Number of Federal Arrests Increasing

According to a recent report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of suspects arrested for a federal crime reached a record high of 183,986 in 2009. Federal arrests have more than doubled since 1995, but they amount to only 1% of all arrests made in the U.S.

Immigration enforcement is a significant factor in the increase in federal arrests. Five judicial districts along the Mexican border accounted for 56% of federal arrests in 2009. And immigration offenses were the most common reason for a federal arrest. Forty-six percent of federal arrests were for immigration enforcement. The other most common offenses were drug offenses (17% of arrests) and supervision violations (13% of arrests).

The report contains more information about the types of offenses, suspects’ characteristics, case outcomes, sentencing and community supervision, and appeals.

Read the full report, Federal Justice Statistics 2009, at:


April 4, 2012

Hot Report: Timeline of Bridgeport Board of Education Takeover

OLR Report 2012-R-0135 provides a timeline detailing the State Board of Education's takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

In 2001, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), requiring states to implement accountability measures in public schools. In response, Connecticut adopted several educational reforms, including expanding the state's power to intervene in low performing local school districts. In 2009, President Obama initiated the Race to the Top program, which rewarded states that scored highly on federal evaluations. After Connecticut failed to qualify for Race to the Top funding, the legislature implemented further educational reforms, including granting the State Board of Education (SBE) the power to authorize the education commissioner to reconstitute a local board of education.

The Bridgeport school district has been designated as “in need of improvement” under Connecticut's law for at least seven consecutive years and students in the district have consistently shown low test scores and high dropout rates. The school district also faces budgetary problems, with the board of education failing to pass a budget for the 2011-2012 school year.

On July 5, 2011, the Bridgeport Board of Education passed a resolution (on a 6-3 vote) (1) stating that the board was unable to function and (2) asking the SBE to reconstitute it, terminating the sitting members and replacing them with candidates chosen by the education commissioner. The next day, the SBE voted to accept the board's request and Bridgeport's board members were later replaced.

Shortly thereafter, the Bridgeport board members who had voted against the resolution filed lawsuits claiming that the state's takeover of the board was illegal because the state had failed to require statutorily mandated training of the Bridgeport board members before taking action. Candidates who were planning to run for the board and Bridgeport parents filed similar suits. These lawsuits were consolidated into a single case that was referred directly to the state Supreme Court.

On February 28, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the takeover was illegal and ordered the board members whose terms had not yet expired to be reinstated after a special election is held to fill the seats of those board members whose terms expired during the period between the takeover and the court's decision. Parties on both sides have since filed motions asking the Supreme Court to clarify its decision and provide the specifics of the required special election.

For more detailed information, read the full report.

Study Shows High Turnover for New School Principals

More than 20% of newly appointed school principals leave their schools within two years, according to a recently published Rand Corporation study of 519 first-year principals in six urban districts: Memphis; Chicago; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; and Oakland, California. Those appointed to low-achieving or struggling schools are most likely to leave sooner, possibly reflecting district concerns about their effectiveness. But Rand also found that getting rid of the principal did little to help matters since the schools they headed continued to struggle after they left. As one of the report’s authors told Education Week, “Churn is not good.”

The study also found that effective new principals rapidly improve teacher capacity and staff cohesiveness, two of the keys to turning around low-performing schools. The authors conclude that districts should pay more attention to principal placement to ensure a good “fit” between a school and its leader.

April 2, 2012

2010 Census Shows U.S. Population Aging

According to a 2010 U.S. Census bureau brief (The Older Population: 2010), at 40.3 million, the elderly population (people age 65 or older) is larger than it has ever been, accounting for 13% of the U.S. population. The 15.1% growth rate of the elderly population since the 2000 census was faster than the U.S. population growth rate of 9.7%.

While elderly females continue to outnumber elderly males, elderly males are closing the gap by increasing at a faster rate than elderly females. In 1990, there were 82.7 men age 65 or older for every 100 women in this age group. This compares to 90.5 men per 100 women, as of 2010. From 2000 to 2010, the number of elderly males rose by 3 million, to 17.4 million, while the number of elderly females increased by 2.3 million, to 22.9 million.

The bureau advises “that as larger numbers of males and females reach age 65 years and over, it becomes increasingly important to understand this population as well as the implications population aging has for various family, social, and economic aspects of society.”

See the Census Bureau brief for more information.