July 31, 2012

First Sustainable Olympic Games: London 2012

The 2012 London Olympic Games is being described as the first sustainable Olympics. A recent CNN article explains that the site of the London games (500 acres with new buildings and landscaping) was once a rundown and polluted section of the city. David Stubbs, the head of sustainability for the games, is quoted as saying sustainability was a key reason for London’s selection as the 2012 host city. He highlighted the emphasis on recycling and reuse. For example, many of the Olympic Park’s bridges were constructed with steel mesh filled with stones and rubble from the demolition of the site’s old buildings. Other examples of sustainability include the planting of thousands of new wetland plants, trees, and bulbs and using temporary seating and venues. The Olympic Stadium is also the lightest ever built using one- tenth of the steel needed to construct the previous summer Olympic stadium in Beijing. Part of the stadium’s roof was made with surplus gas pipelines. Other goals of the 2012 London Olympic Games, as described in its Pre-Games Sustainability Report, include (1) being the first zero waste-to-landfill games, (2) providing a “low-carbon” games, and (3) promoting sustainable living, among others. 

Summer Food Program Feeds Hungry Children

Stamford children under age 18 have access to free breakfasts and lunches at their local schools this summer thanks to the school district’s participation in the Seamless Summer Food Program. The program, which began in late June and ends August 10, provides children attending summer school or summer camp with free breakfasts and lunches. Other school children living in the community may also receive these free meals.

According to Rita Crocco, the Stamford school district’s Assistant Food Service Director, the program will likely exceed the 60,000 meals it served last summer.

Stamford is one of several school districts in the state offering summer meal programs to children in their community.

July 30, 2012

Wells Fargo to Pay $175 Million to Resolve Discrimination Allegations

On July 12, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Wells Fargo Bank will pay $175 million to settle allegations that it engaged in discriminatory lending practices. The settlement is the second largest fair lending settlement the DOJ has ever reached.

A DOJ and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency investigation revealed that Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending resulted in 34,000 African-American and Latino borrowers paying higher rates for loans than white borrowers and 4,000 African-American and Latino borrowers being steered into subprime mortgages.

The bank issued a statement claiming that it was settling the matter “solely for the purpose of avoiding contested litigation” with the DOJ.

The settlement awaits judicial approval.

Hot Report: Connecticut DUI Law

OLR Report 2012-R-0279 describes Connecticut laws on driving under the influence (DUI) and related offenses.

Connecticut's DUI law consists primarily of two statutes, CGS §§ 14-227a and -227b. The first prohibits a person from driving (1) while “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs or (2) with an “elevated” blood alcohol content (BAC). A person is under the influence if his ability to drive is affected to an appreciable degree. The maximum allowable BAC depends on the driver's age and the type of vehicle he or she is operating.

Under the second statute, CGS § 14-227b, motorists implicitly consent to be tested for drugs or alcohol when they drive. The law establishes administrative license suspension procedures for drivers who refuse to submit to a test or whose test results indicate an elevated BAC. (These provisions are called “implied consent” and “administrative per se,” respectively.)

Drivers over age 21 have an elevated BAC if it is found to be .08% or more. Drivers operating a commercial motor vehicle (e.g., a large truck) have an elevated BAC if it is .04% or more. Under CGS § 14-227g, people younger than 21 have an elevated BAC if it is found to be .02% or more.
The laws specify evidence admissibility criteria for alcohol and drug tests. They establish criminal penalties and driver's license suspension penalties for violations.

Connecticut law also provides for a Pretrial Alcohol Education Program under which certain eligible offenders charged with DUI may successfully complete an alcohol intervention or substance abuse treatment program, as appropriate, and have the DUI charges dismissed (CGS § 54-56g).

Criminal penalties for DUI include fines, prison terms, and license suspensions (see Table 1, below). By law, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) must impose 45-day license suspensions for drivers age 21 or older convicted of DUI. Once their licenses are reinstated, these offenders can drive only vehicles equipped with ignition interlock devices for specified periods of time.

First-time offenders can drive only interlock-equipped vehicles for one year after their license suspension ends; second-time offenders can drive only these vehicles for three years following a suspension. The law additionally requires second-time offenders, during the first year of the three-year interlock period, to drive these vehicles only to (1) work, (2) school, (3) a drug or alcohol treatment program, or (4) an interlock service center.

DMV must revoke the license of a driver convicted of DUI for a third time. By law, until January 1, 2013, a third-time offender may seek restoration of his or her license after six years. Once restored, he or she must drive only interlock-equipped vehicles for 10 years. Starting January 1, 2013, however, the law allows the (1) offender to seek restoration of his or her license after two years and (2) commissioner to restore it on the condition that the driver operate only interlock-equipped vehicles for as long as he or she drives. (After 15 years of driving these vehicles, the offender may ask that this condition be lifted, and the commissioner may do so after a hearing and for good cause.)

The law also requires use of an ignition interlock device for two years following the mandatory one-year license suspension following conviction for 2nd-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle (CGS § 53a-56b) or 2nd -degree assault with a motor vehicle (CGS § 53a-60d). These crimes apply to drivers who cause the death or serious injury of another person, respectively, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The court may also order an individual arrested for DUI, 2nd-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, or 2nd-degree assault with a motor vehicle to operate only motor vehicles equipped with ignition interlock devices as a condition of (1) release on bail, (2) probation, or (3) granting his or her application to take part in the Pretrial Alcohol Education Program (CGS § 14-227j (b)).

Someone who holds a commercial driver's license (CDL) faces disqualification from driving a commercial motor vehicle for one year if he or she is found to have: (1) a BAC of .04% or more while driving a commercial vehicle, (2) a BAC of .08% or more while driving any other type of vehicle, (3) refused a BAC test when driving any motor vehicle, or (4) been convicted of DUI. CDL holders who commit two or more of certain offenses, including DUI, face a lifetime ban on driving commercial motor vehicles, but may get their license back if they meet certain conditions.
Police must impound for 48 hours the motor vehicle of someone arrested for DUI who was driving while his license was under suspension or revoked. The owner may reclaim the vehicle after paying towing and storage costs (CGS § 14-227h).

In addition, people found to be “persistent operating under the influence felony offenders” are subject to an increased criminal penalty.

For more information, read the full report.

Using Behavioral Economics to Improve Student Performance

Can tangible rewards (money or trophies) improve student test scores?  Yes, if the rewards are properly structured, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Experiments in three low-performing school districts in Chicago and surrounding communities over a three-year period showed significantly improved test scores for elementary and high school students who received certain financial and nonfinancial incentives. 

Students were offered three types of rewards for better performance on low-stakes, computer-based, standardized diagnostic tests administered by school districts.  The tests lasted 15 to 60 minutes and the results were available immediately after the students completed the tests.  Among other things the researchers found:

  • Sufficiently high financial incentives make a big difference. A $20 payment improved scores more than a $10 payment.
  • Incentives are more effective when framed as losses.  It was better to give the student the trophy or money and tell him or her that he or she would lose it if the score didn’t improve.
  • Younger students respond better than older ones to nonfinancial incentives (trophies), boys respond to incentives better than girls, and rewards worked better for math than reading tests.
  • Delayed rewards have no effect.  Performance didn’t change when students were told they would get their reward a month after the test.
  • Students who received incentives continued to perform better on subsequent tests than those who did not, even when the rewards were discontinued.
The authors conclude that, in the absence of immediate incentives, students do not put much effort into standardized tests. “Low baseline effort among certain groups of students can create important biases in measures of student ability, teacher value added, school quality, and achievement gaps.”

“The Behavioralist Goes to School: Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Educational Performance,” Steven D. Levitt, John A. List, Susanne Neckermann, Sally Sadoff, NBER Working Paper 18165, June 2012

July 27, 2012

Federal Guidance on Use of Criminal History in Employment Decisions

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently updated its guidance document on the use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions.  The EEOC states that an employer’s use of criminal records may violate federal employment discrimination laws when the employer:

  1. treats criminal history information differently for different applicants or employees based on race or national origin or
  2. uses a neutral policy that (a) excludes all applicants based on criminal conduct but disproportionately impacts some individuals who are protected by federal anti-discrimination laws and (b) is not job related or consistent with a business necessity. 
The EEOC states that one way an employer’s criminal records screening can meet the job related and business purpose requirements is by considering the nature of the individual’s crime, the time elapsed since it was committed, and the nature of the job.  While the EEOC states that federal law does not require this individual assessment in all circumstances, a criminal records screen without the assessment is more likely to violate federal law.

Specialized Hospital Units for the Elderly May Save $6B in Healthcare Costs

According to a study published in a recent issue of Health Affairs, creating specialized units for the elderly with acute medical illness may reduce national healthcare costs by up to $6 billion annually. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco evaluated the “Acute Care for Elders” (ACE) program, which provides individualized care for seniors in specially designed hospital units. The ACE program is currently being piloted in 200 hospitals across the country.

Researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial of 1,632 elderly patients seen in either the ACE program or a traditional inpatient hospital setting between 1993 and 1997. Major findings include a shorter average length of stay for ACE patients of 6.7 days versus 7.3 days and an average savings of $974 per ACE patient. Applying these savings nationally may result in a 1% savings, or $6 billion, of all Medicare expenditures each year.

The ACE program creates an interdisciplinary team specializing in elder care. While the clinical staff to patient ratios are similar to traditional hospital units, patients are assessed daily by the team and nurses’ accountability and level of independence is increased. Researchers note certain barriers to implementing ACE on a larger scale, including the ability of clinicians to change work cultures and adjust schedules to meet and discuss patients. In addition, ACE programs are not beneficial in small, rural hospitals.

July 26, 2012

Hot Report: OLR Background: Juvenile Delinquency Procedure

OLR Report 2012-R-0289 explains the procedures in a juvenile delinquency case.

A child age 17 or under may be convicted as “delinquent” for violating most state or federal laws. The adjudication results from either the child's admission to allegations or the court's finding of guilt following a trial in juvenile court.

When a child is arrested for committing an alleged delinquent act, he or she may either be released or sent to detention. If sent to detention, the child has the right to a hearing on the next business day. A child may only be kept in detention after the hearing in limited circumstances. A child remanded to detention must have another hearing to re-evaluate the detention within 15 days.

A delinquency case may either be handled nonjudicially (outside of the courtroom) or judicially. In order to qualify for nonjudicial handling, among other things, the alleged act must not be a felony, the child must not have any previous delinquency convictions, and the child must admit to the allegations. At most, nonjudicial handling may result in probation for up to six months.

When a delinquency case is handled judicially, there is typically an initial plea hearing (arraignment), followed by a pretrial conference, and then either a trial or a plea canvass and dispositional hearing. If a child pleads guilty to a delinquent act or is found guilty as the result of a trial, he or she may be committed to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for up to 18 months (or up to four years for a serious juvenile offense).

When a child allegedly commits a felony, the case is either transferred to adult court automatically or may be transferred at the prosecutor's discretion, depending on the seriousness of the alleged act.

Typically, when a case is transferred to adult court, the child may be tried as a youthful offender (YO). Adjudication as a YO is not a criminal conviction, and thus the child can later truthfully deny having a criminal record based on the transferred charges. If the case does not qualify for YO handling, the case is transferred to the adult criminal docket. The child then stands trial and is sentenced, if convicted, as if he or she is an adult.

The law designates approximately 50 felonies, including murder, first- degree assault, and first degree burglary as serious juvenile offenses (SJOs). The penalties for SJO offenses are harsher than those for juvenile delinquency convictions and can result in up to four years in DCF commitment.

When a child reaches age 18, he or she may petition to have his or her police and juvenile court records erased. Provided the child meets certain criteria, the records are erased and, as a result, the child has no documented criminal history.

For more information, read the full report.

State-Run Retirement Plans for Private-Sector Employees

According to a recent article in Governing, proposals for state-run retirement plans for private–sector employees have been raised in at least 12 different states, including Connecticut. So far, only Massachusetts has enacted such a plan and it is limited to non-profit workers at companies with 20 or fewer employees. In general, the various proposals call for the state to administer a defined contribution plan (like a 401K) into which private-sector employees and employers could contribute. The states would not contribute any money into the retirement plans or assume any liability for benefits.

In Connecticut, this past session’s HB 5313 created a task force to explore and report on such a proposal. The bill passed the House but was never called in the Senate.

July 25, 2012

Department of Veterans Affairs Underreports Mental Health Care Wait Times for Veterans

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) overstated its success rates in  providing timely services to veterans needing mental health care, according to a new inspector general’s report. VA policy requires first-time patients referred to or seeking mental health services to receive an initial evaluation within 24 hours and a more comprehensive diagnostic and treatment planning evaluation within 14 days. In 2011, the VA reported in its Performance and Accountability Report that 95% of new patients wanting mental health services received full evaluations within the 14-day period. But according to the inspector general’s report, just 49% were seen in that time frame and most faced an average 50-day wait. Also, the VA reported that 95% began treatment within 14 days of their desired start date. But the inspector general found only 64% were able to do so and the average wait was closer to 40 days.

Hot Report: Funding Options for On-Site Generation at Public Schools

OLR Report 2012-R-0307 describes possible funding sources for on-site electric generation for public schools.
Possible funding sources include the zero- and low-emission renewable energy credit (ZREC and LREC) programs, under which electric companies must enter into long-term contracts with customers who install renewable on-site generation. Public schools are eligible to participate in these programs and at least one school submitted an application in the first round of the ZREC program.

The Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA) has several programs that could support generation projects at schools, including its Clean Energy Communities and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) programs. CEFIA is also developing a renewable energy and efficient energy finance program, which should begin operating by November 2012.
PA 12-148 requires the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to establish a grant and loan pilot program to support on-site electricity generation. The program will pay for the infrastructure needed to support the generation equipment but not for the equipment itself.

On-site generation equipment is generally not eligible for reimbursement under the school construction grant program if it is installed by itself, but may be eligible if the equipment is part of a new school or the expansion or renovation of an existing school.
As described in OLR Report 2012-R-0178, municipalities can also develop on-site renewable generation for their facilities, including schools, using performance contracting, under which a private party often provides the financing.

For more information, read the full report.

Will Bradley Expand?

The Hartford Courant recently reported on a plan to expand Bradley International Airport by constructing a new terminal and parking garage. According to the article, which cites to a report for Connecticut’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration, the project would almost double the number of gates available. In the short term, the phased project aims to demolish an old terminal and construct the parking garage. Constructing the new terminal would occur when the need arises based on passenger use. Other proposed improvements include a modified roadway system, new approach roadway alignments, and power generation. A July 2, 2012 DOT press release explains that the project’s Environmental Assessment/Environmental Impact Evaluation is currently available for public review and comment. The project is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act and the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act.  

July 24, 2012

New From the U.S. Census: Characteristics of Means-Tested Assistance Program Participants

The Census Bureau has calculated monthly participation rates for those who received benefits through 6 major means-tested federal programs (TANF (cash welfare), General Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP/Food Stamps), Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, and Housing Assistance) during calendar years 2004-2007 and 2009. During 2009:

  • Total population: an average 18.6% of the general population received benefits under one of the programs for during at least one month
  • Household Composition:  the averages were 46.3% for female-headed households, 26% for those headed by males, and 12.3% for those headed by married couples
  • Educational Attainment:  adults with (1) some college education, (2) high school diplomas, and (3) no diplomas averaged 7.8%, 17.8%, and 33.1%, respectively
It shows trends for people with selected characteristics:    

  • Those Living In Poverty:  rates decreased, from 72.1 to 64.8%, over the 2004-2007 period, and then increased to 70.7% in 2009
  • Age:  From 2004 to 2009, the participation rates for children increased 2.6 percent­age points, from 41.3 to 43.9%; for people ages 18 to 64, it rose 4.1 points from 15.6 to 19.7%; and held steady for seniors

More Women Owning Guns

According to the Hartford Courant, the Connecticut state police report the number of female gun owners is on the rise.  From January and June of this year, 3,584 gun permits were issued to women.  In 2002, there were a total of 625 new gun permits registered to women and it increased to 2,204 in 2007.

Additionally an October 2011 Gallup Poll reported 23% of women reported owning a gun.

According to the communications director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, female gun ownership is more than just for protection, it is also for target shooting, hunting, and competitions.  The organization reports a 51.5% increase in female participation in target shooting and a 41.8% increase in hunting.

July 23, 2012

State Judge Salaries Remain Largely Flat in 2011

According to the National Center for State Courts’ most recent Survey of Judicial Salaries, state judicial salaries nationwide increased by 0.6% on average in 2011.  This is similar to the national average in 2010 but below the average annual increase of 3.2% from 2003 through 2007.

For example, the 2011 average salary reported for Connecticut general jurisdiction trial judges was $146,780.  This was ranked 14th highest among the states in absolute terms, but 45th when adjusted for cost of living.  Illinois had the highest average salaries for trial court judges ($180,802) in both absolute terms and when adjusted for cost of living.

This session, the Connecticut general assembly passed a law (PA 12-93) creating a commission on judicial compensation to make recommendations on judicial salaries after considering various factors, such as the state economy and salary comparisons with other states.  The public act summary is available here. 

New Nonprofit Health Insurance Company in Connecticut

CT News Junkie and The Hartford Courant report that HealthyCT, a new nonprofit organization, will receive $75.8 million in federal funding to establish a nonprofit health insurance company in Connecticut under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  It will receive federal low-interest loans to create a Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (CO-OP), which will serve individual and small group markets.  HealthyCT will next need to obtain a license to offer health insurance from the Connecticut Insurance Department.  Contingent on state approval, HealthyCT is expected to begin issuing insurance in October 2013.

July 20, 2012

Hot Report: 2012 Regular and June Special Session Bill Tracking Report.

OLR Report 2012-R-0231 lists the bills considered during the General Assembly's 2012 regular session and June Special Session (JSS) whose provisions were enacted under another bill number.

The provisions of many bills that die in committee or on the calendar become law after the (1) original committee incorporates them in another bill that receives a favorable report or (2) concept is adopted as an amendment and incorporated in another bill. This report includes bills whose language may have changed in the final enactment from that of the original committee bill or file, but that represent the legislature's final action on the matter taken during one of the sessions referenced above.

During the two sessions, the content or concept of 92 bills and one resolution that started as separate legislation was later incorporated in other legislation that passed. Of those, the governor vetoed two, none of which were overridden. Table 1 lists the original bills in numeric order and shows the public act that included their provisions. Table 2 lists the bills by the committee of origin.

Montana’s Citizens United Challenge Summarily Reversed

A recent U.S Supreme Court decision removes any doubt that its Citizens United decision on independent election expenditures applies to state election laws. By a 5-4 vote, the Court summarily reversed (meaning it ruled on the merits without briefings or oral arguments) a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court that had upheld the state’s ban on independent expenditures by corporations.

The Montana court had held that the state, even in light of Citizens United, demonstrated a compelling interest in banning corporate election expenditures. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, writing that “the question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citi­zens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”

What Happens When Homes Become Institutions and Neighborhoods Become Projects

The film, Pruitt-Igoe Myth does more than tell the story of a famous post World War II St. Louis housing project; it chronicles the social changes and public policies that turned homes into high-rise institutional structures and neighborhoods into projects. Pruitt-Igoe was a 1956 57-acre public housing project consisting of 33 11-story apartments containing 2,870 units. The project was leveled 20 years later.
Ray Gindroz sees the film as a Greek tragedy, with mortals, actors, and a chorus of “erudite urban experts who describe what was happening to the economy of cities and the way in which public policy undermined the cities’ ability to function.” Well, policymakers didn’t set out to undermine cities. They were trying to create decent housing for factories’ poorest workers because the old neighborhoods next to the factories had turned into slums.  

It was a nice idea until the gods shifted the winds. Factories and jobs picked up and moved to the suburbs, leaving Pruitt-Igoe’s residents stranded in high rise towers away from the jobs and bus lines to take them there.

Not only were the jobs gone, but so were the neighborhoods. “Instead of the common ground of the street outside your door, there was a labyrinth of ‘common areas’ that had to be maintained and supervised. The neighborhood had been replaced by an institution.”

Pruitt-Igoe didn’t pan out the way everyone hoped, but some folks learned from the experience. Planners and policy wonks figured out that a proposed development had to become a neighborhood instead of a low-income project. In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI housing program seeks to replace failed public housing projects with mixed income neighborhoods.

July 19, 2012

Supreme Court Rules on Affordable Care Act

The Supreme Court issued its ruling in the federal healthcare case on June 28, 2012.  According to SCOTUSblog: “The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters. Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn't comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.”

For additional reporting on the decision, see the New York Times.

Diesel Tax Increased July 1

As of July 1, 2012, the state’s diesel fuel tax rate increased to 51.2¢ per gallon, up 5¢ per gallon from the previous fiscal year. 

By law, the diesel fuel tax rate consists of a (1) base rate of 29 cents per gallon and (2) variable rate that resets each July 1, which the Department of Revenue Services commissioner calculates.  The commissioner annually, by June 15, calculates the variable rate by multiplying the (1) average wholesale price for diesel fuel during the 12 month period ending on the preceding March 31 and (2) petroleum products gross earnings tax rate in effect during the same 12 months, rounded to the nearest 10th of a cent.  The commissioner must use wholesale price information published by the Oil Price Information Service and average the price information for Hartford/Rocky Hill and New Haven.

July 18, 2012

Mapping Long Island Sound

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) recently reported on efforts to map the bottom of Long Island Sound this summer.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s (NOAA) Ship Thomas Jefferson was docked at Fort Trumbull State Park on June 15, 2012.  Public officials and scientists toured the research vessel, which will gather information about the seafloor to help guide future decisions about Long Island Sound. The project is a collaborative effort between the states of Connecticut and New York, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, and area universities, including the University of Connecticut, Wesleyan University, and the University of New Haven, among others.  According to DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty, the seafloor mapping project “will help us better understand the Sound’s resources and how we can best protect them.”

New Hampshire Reforms RGGI Participation

According to the Concord Monitor, New Hampshire recently enacted a law that significantly alters the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  The initiative works as a carbon dioxide cap and trade program for nine northeastern states, including Connecticut.  After flirting with withdrawal from RGGI last year, New Hampshire’s new law diverts RGGI revenues from the state’s Public Utilities Commission to utility-run energy efficiency programs and rate payer rebates.  It also commits the state to remaining in RGGI unless two other New England states, or a New England state with at least 10% of the region’s energy load, withdraw first.

July 17, 2012

Psychotherapy for Economic Development Officials

Well…maybe that’s a little over the top. Okay: How about cognitive therapy—which helps people understand how their thoughts affect their decisions and actions? Cognitive therapy could help them spot and correct “cognitive traps,” a term Jerome Groopman, MD coined in his best seller, How Doctors Think. Groopman distinguishes between medical mistakes and misdiagnosis, which provide a “window into the medical mind.” When he looked through that window, Groopman saw that doctors sometimes diagnosis patients based on their appearances and the feelings they evoked.

Just as doctors diagnose and treat a patient’s ills, economic development officials diagnose and treat the economy’s ills. Consequently, these officials too may be vulnerable to cognitive traps. No one has identified the traps that potentially affect them, but we might get an idea about such traps from U.C. Berkeley national security affairs professor Zachary Shore, whose book, Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions, identifies seven cognitive traps that have afflicted policy makers since ancient times. We describe each trap below and provide an example from Blunder. You can decide if each trap afflicts economic development decision making.    

Exposure Anxiety
Fearing others will see you as weak and indecisive
In 427 B.C., Cleon warned the Athenians that showing mercy to the rebellious Mytilenians would be a sign of weakness and encourage more rebellion. But Diodotus warned that annihilating these people would only encourage others to strengthen their cities or fight to the bitter end, thus prolonging a conflict. 
Misunderstanding the causes of complex events
The ancient Romans, believing that swamp odor cause intense fever, vomiting, and weakness (i.e., malaria or mala (bad) aria (air)), got rid of the odor by draining the swamps. The solution worked and the bad air theory persisted until someone discovered that water, not odor was the culprit.
Defining issues in either-or terms
Robert McNamara believed that North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh was just another communist leader pushing communism in the global battle between capitalists and communists. But McNamara ignored evidence that Ho was also a nationalist, seeking a unified and independent Vietnam.
Believing one theory or solution explains or solves all problems
“If any single cure-all has run rampant in America, privation is it,” Shore wrote. Because governments can successfully privatize some functions or services doesn’t mean they can do so for all services. For example, a private company running a prison makes money by “seeing the prison population rise.” Arguably, “a society should want to see its prison population fall…”
Hording or avoiding information
Because he feared his military, Saddam Hussein withheld vital information from his field commanders about the strength and location of different military units (i.e., “infomiser”). This proved fatal when the Gulf War broke out.

In the 1820, Vietnamese Emperor Gia Long’s deep distrust of foreign emissaries kept him from meeting with them and learning things about them he could have used to prevent them from dominating his country. Siam’s (now Thailand) King Mongkut met with Western emissaries, studied their ways, and used that information to play them against each other 
Mirror Imaging
Assuming that everyone (maybe every life form) thinks and acts like us
Animal science professor Temple Grandin did what many animal handlers fail to do—look at things from the animal’s perspective—and saw how they could save money and time by designing structures and processes consistent with animal behavior.
Static Cling
Refusing to recognize or accept changes
IBM saw its market share shrink in the 1990s to smaller more dynamic computer companies because it wouldn’t recognize that things had changed. “For upper management on down, IBM employees had been lulled into complacency, believing that IBM’s dominant position simply existed as part of the natural order of things.”

Ohio Law Will Hold Back Some Third Graders If They Cannot Read

More states are passing laws that make it harder for third graders to move up to fourth grade if they don’t pass a standardized reading test. Most recently Ohio joined Florida and Indiana by enacting such a law.

“If you can’t read you might as well forget it,” said Ohio Governor John Kasich when on June 25 he signed a bill into law that includes a requirement that some third graders be held back if they cannot read at grade level.  Kasich cited research that shows children who cannot read at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school before 12th grade.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the bill was a compromise between the Republican governor and the Republican-led Senate. Kasich wanted a stricter bill that would hold back all students who could not read at the proficient level, but some GOP legislators thought it was too onerous.

Senate leaders and the governor agreed on a lower threshold that gradually steps up the level of reading required for a child to be promoted to fourth grade as other measures are put in place such as improved teaching standards, more reading intervention, and summer programs.

Since 2003, Florida law requires third graders to pass the state reading test before moving up to fourth grade. So far the data shows third graders are scoring better on reading tests, but the needle has not moved for eighth graders and reading during the same period.

July 16, 2012

Foster Care Rates—Latest National Figures

The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a national child welfare information clearinghouse, recently published its annual national statistical estimates for the number of children and youth in foster care during FFY 10. The data includes earlier (2000) data that allow for trend estimates.

The data show that there were approximately 408,000 children in foster care (defined as 24-hour substitute care for children outside their homes) on September 30, 2010. A little more than a quarter were living in relative care, while almost half were in non-relative foster family homes. The data show that on a given date both the number of children who were in foster care, as well as those who entered and exited foster care during 2010, decreased when compared to 2000. The types of placements did not change much over time.

During this same 10-year period, a smaller number of children who exited foster care were reunited with their families, while there was an increase in children exiting foster care who were adopted, became emancipated, or lived with a guardian.

The report also provides information on average length of stay in foster care, and the age, race, ethnicity, and gender of these children.

The data used to compile the report show that in Connecticut in FFY 2010, 2,483 children entered foster care and 2,652 exited care, while 4,462 children were in foster care on September 30, 2010.

Customers Confused About Bank Overdraft Fees

In August 2010, the Federal Reserve issued new rules requiring customers to consent to overdraft coverage on their debit and ATM cards. But, according to a survey commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts, most people who were charged fees did not know they were enrolled in an overdraft program. The survey found that young cardholders and those with an income less than $30,000 were twice as likely to be charged fees as those who were older and wealthier.

According to Pew, the median overdraft fee is $35.

July 13, 2012

Consumer Protection Department to Implement Medical Marijuana Program

The state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) will begin implementing the state’s new medical marijuana program starting this fall.

The program, passed by the legislature in the 2012 session and signed into law on May 31, requires DCP to issue temporary patient registration certificates for the palliative use of marijuana starting October 1, 2012.

The department has added an FAQ page on in its website to help people better understand the law. Among the questions it answers are:

·         Who is eligible to use medical marijuana?
·         How will doctors certify the use of medical marijuana for a patient?
·         Who will grow the marijuana?
·         Who will dispense the marijuana?
·         Does the law require health insurers to cover medical marijuana?
OLR has summarized of the new law (PA 12-55).

From Crabgrass to Main Street: Infill Housing Development

According to this USAToday article, the building industry that once created “massive communities of cookie-cutter homes, cul-de-sacs and McMansions in far-flung suburbs” is doing an about-face and building “smaller neighborhoods in and close to cities on land more likely to be near a train station than a pig farm.” In response to changing market demand, the industry is rethinking what type of housing to build and where to build it.
More and more homebuyers (especially younger millennials and older baby boomers) are favoring urban living and its amenities to traditional suburban life. They want shorter commutes and walkable, vibrant town centers with proximity to shops, parks, and schools.
As a result, builders are moving from developing wide-open "greenfields" to compact "infill" housing in already-developed urban settings.” And the nation’s development pattern—from California to Ohio to Florida—is shifting “from the old crabgrass frontier to the new Main Street."

July 12, 2012

Suicides Increase Among Active Duty Military

The Associated Press (AP) reported June 8 that suicides have increased greatly for U.S. military members this year with an alarming average of nearly one per day.
The AP articles states, “[t]he 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan — about 50 percent more — according to Pentagon statistics.”

The article notes that the reason for the increase in suicides is not fully understood but then explores the issue in depth.

State’s Teen Drivers Engaged in Risky Business

According to a 2011 state Department of Public Health (DPH) survey, the results of which were released this June, more than half (53%) of the students polled admitted to driving while talking on a cell phone at least once in the month before taking the survey. About half (51%) admitted having texted or emailed while driving during that time.

In addition, 25% said they had recently been in a car driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol, and 7% said they had themselves driven after drinking in the previous month.

The survey, which DPH has given to state middle and high school students since 2005, looks at both teen behavior and tobacco use.

July 11, 2012

Debate Continues Over Taser Risks

A 2011 study by the National Institute of Justice (Study of Deaths Following Electro Muscular Disruption (pdf, 74 pages)) concluded that there was no evidence that Tasers posed a significant risk of cardiac arrest “when deployed reasonably.”

But as the debate over the safety of Tasers continues, a new study reports that Taser shocks can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden deaths. The new report published in the scientific journal Circulation, analyzed detailed records from cases involving eight people who suffered cardiac arrest after being shocked with a Taser X26. Seven of the people in the study died; one survived.

July 10, 2012

Congress Postpones Student Loan Interest Rate Increase

Undergraduates who borrow federally subsidized student loans received a one-year reprieve from an upcoming interest rate hike, thanks to last-minute action by Congress. The increase, from 3.4% to 6.8%, was scheduled to take effect for loans issued on or after July 1, 2012, but the interest rate will now remain at 3.4% for the 2012-2013 school year. The delay was included in the recently-passed federal transportation bill.

Delaying the rate hike will cost the federal government $6 billion, and the cost will be funded in part by tightening eligibility for the subsidized loans. The legislation limits eligibility for the subsidy to 150% of a program’s standard completion time (e.g., a student in a four-year program will be limited to six years of subsidized loans).

Declining Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students

In June, the Department of Public Health announced that the 2011 Connecticut School Health Survey showed declining rates of tobacco use among middle and high school students.  The survey showed that
4.6% of middle school students and 19.9% of high school students used some form of tobacco in the month before taking the survey.  The rates in 2000 were 13.1% and 32.4%, respectively.

Among students who reported tobacco use, cigarettes were the most common form used, with 2.9% of middle school students and 14% of high school students reporting that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days.

The survey also showed that approximately 30% of middle and high school students reported regular exposure to secondhand smoke.

July 9, 2012

Roll-Your-Own (RYO) Cigarettes Tapped for Federal Highway Revenue

Section 100112 of the new federal highway bill may look familiar to Connecticut legislators.  Part of the $120 billion cost of the recently passed bill, known as MAP-21, will be funded by revenue from roll-your-own cigarettes.

The new law extends the federal definition of a “tobacco products manufacturer” to anyone who makes a RYO cigarette machine available for commercial purposes.  As a result, RYO shops will either have to pay federal cigarette taxes and license fees or shut down their RYO machines. The Connecticut General Assembly enacted an almost identical change as part of the 2012 budget implementation act (PA 12-1, June 12 Sp. Session, § 123).  The state provision is intended to protect the state’s cigarette tax revenue stream.

The Joint Committee on Taxation projects the provision will increase federal cigarette tax revenue by a total of $94 million over 10 years and $12 million in FFY 13, the first full fiscal year it will be in effect. The Office of Fiscal Analysis projects the state change will yield an additional $3.1 million in state revenue on an annualized basis.

Hot Report: Penalties for Computer Hacking

OLR Report 2012-R-0254 explains the penalties under state law for computer hacking (accessing someone's computer without authorization).

Someone who hacks into another person's computer could be punished by a number of different crimes, depending on the circumstances. The law punishes hacking under the computer crime statutes. These crimes carry penalties ranging from a class B misdemeanor (punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both) to a class B felony (punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both). The law also punishes unauthorized access to a computer or computer network, with penalties ranging from a class B misdemeanor to a class D felony (punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both).

A number of generally applicable crimes could also apply. For example, hacking could be done to commit identity theft or larceny and it could be punished under those generally applicable crimes.

In addition to criminal penalties, the law specifically authorizes someone harmed by a computer or unauthorized use crime to bring a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. These civil actions are in addition to any other grounds for a civil action that the injured party may have.

For more detailed information, read the full report.

July 6, 2012

Bicyclists Behaving Badly = No Bike Lanes?

During an NPR news piece on the debate over bike lanes, NPR quoted Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What is Says About Us, as saying that statistics show that bike lanes improve a street’s safety record for all who use the street. But NPR explained that one big obstacle to more bike lanes may be cyclists themselves. Citing to an article in Bicycling magazine, the news piece stated that cyclists are often considered rude and dismissive of road laws. But the article’s authors maintain that cyclists may not be the worst offenders. They claim that both cyclists and motor vehicle drivers break the law with similar frequency but cyclists are more visible than drivers when they do.

For more information about Connecticut’s bicycle and pedestrian laws, the Department of Transportation provides a list of related statutes.

Hypertension Tops Pre-Existing Conditions in Adults

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis of 2009 data, hypertension was the most commonly reported medical condition among adults that could result in a health insurer denying coverage, requiring higher-than-average premiums, or restricting coverage. GAO’s analysis found that about 33.2 million adults age 19-64 years old, or about 18%, reported hypertension in 2009. Mental health disorders and diabetes were the second and third most commonly reported conditions among adults. GAO found that between 36 million and 122 million adults reported medical conditions that could result in a health insurer restricting coverage. This represents between 20% and 66% of the adult population, with a midpoint estimate of about 32%.

July 5, 2012

Hot Report: Determinants of Home Heating Oil Prices

OLR Report 2012-R-0249 explains what determines the price of home heating oil and why its price closely tracks that of diesel fuel when there are additives in diesel fuel and the two fuels are subject to different taxes.
The primary determinant of the price of both home heating oil and diesel fuel is the price of crude oil. Nationally, the Energy Information Administration (EIA), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, estimates that the cost of crude oil accounts for 63% of the retail price of home heating oil. The other components are refining costs (13%), distribution and marketing costs (12%), and taxes (12%). For diesel fuel, the cost of crude oil accounts for 61% of the retail price. The other components are refining costs (11%), distribution and marketing costs (16%), and taxes (12%). These proportions vary geographically.
The retail price of home heating oil closely tracks that of diesel fuel. Table 1 compares the average retail prices of the two products in New England from October 2011 through March 2012 using EIA data (Connecticut data are not readily available). During the past heating season, diesel fuel was consistently more expensive than home heating oil, but the difference was less than 5%, ranging from 6.2¢ to 16.9¢ per gallon.
For more information, including a table comparing diesel and home heating oil prices across New England, read the full report.

Controversial ‘Cocaine’ Energy Drink Back in Connecticut

A controversial energy drink, named “Cocaine,” has made it back onto retailers’ shelves in Connecticut.  This drink has been marketed as the “The Legal Alternative,” “Speed in a Can,” “Liquid Cocaine,” and “Cocaine – Instant Rush.”

In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looked unfavorably on the company's method of marketing the product and issued a warning statement.  Redux Beverages LLC, the company that produces the drink has since changed its marketing and believes it has satisfied the FDA’s objections.

“Cocaine” contains 280 milligrams of caffeine, which is higher than most other U.S. energy drinks (Red Bull contains 80 milligrams).

July 4, 2012

2012 Hurricane Season Prediction

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecasts that the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1st, will be near-normal. The center predicts that there is a 70% chance of nine to 15 named storms (with top wind speeds of at least 39 mph), of which between four and eight will become hurricanes (with top wind speeds of at least 74 mph). Only one to three hurricanes are predicted to become major hurricanes (i.e., category 3, 4, or 5 with top wind speeds of at least 111 mph).

This projection is based on atmospheric and oceanic conditions. According to NOAA, factors that could limit storm development include strong wind shear, cooler sea surface temperatures in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean, and El NiƱo.

But NOAA’s seasonal prediction does not predict how many storms will come ashore. NOAA’s National Hurricane Center forecasts individual storms and their paths. It uses tools such as satellites, computer models, hurricane hunter aircraft, radar, and buoys to monitor and track storm development.

July 3, 2012

Connecticut Gross Domestic Product Grew in 2011 (But Is the Indicator Real?)

Economists, like doctors, create instruments to measure our well being. One way the economists at the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) track our national economic health is to tally the total dollar value of all goods and services produced during a specific period and measure how much it changes compared with an earlier period. (Stay awake: this gets better.)

According to BEA, the nation’s GDP increased 2.6% between 2009 and 2010 and Connecticut’s increased 3.1% during that period.  Because GDP measures the value of output, the increase suggests that insurers are writing more policies and factories are producing more jet engines.  In fact, the finance and insurance, durable goods, and retail sectors put numbers on the board for Connecticut.

If GDP is picking up, then the economy is improving, no? We would all like to think so, but The Atlantic Monthly’s business and economics editor Megan McArdle warned that GDP may be a misleading indicator, especially for those who believe it gages our well being. GDP “counts the dollar value of our output, but not the actual improvement in our lives or even in our economic condition,” she wrote.

For example, “GDP does not, and cannot reflect the waste of enormous effort, and precious natural resources, that went into building something that suddenly no one wants. Moreover, it misses many other aspects of our existence. Strip mining a picturesque mountaintop, or clear-cutting a primeval forest, shows up in GDP only as a boost to output.” In other words, GDP may not capture the downside of economic growth.

Hot Report: Reverse Annuity Mortgages

OLR Report 2012-R-0277 updates OLR Report 2004-R-0007 on reverse annuity mortgages and where to get one.
A reverse annuity mortgage (RAM) is a loan aimed at senior citizens who have paid off their houses but cannot afford to stay there or need extra money for home repair, long-term care, medical treatment, or other purposes. It allows a homeowner to convert into cash some of the equity he or she has built up in the home. The loan proceeds are tax-free and there are no minimum income requirements for most private RAMs. The loans are usually paid to the borrower monthly, instead of in one lump sum, and repaid when the borrower sells the home, moves out, or dies.
The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) offers RAMs to homeowners of single family houses or condos who are at least 70 years old if (1) at least one borrower needs long-term health care or supportive services and (2) household income does not exceed $81,000 per year. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and several private lenders also offer RAMs to qualifying homeowners.
A number of private lenders also offer reverse mortgages in Connecticut.

A fact sheet on RAMs from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is available at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/homes/rea13.pdf.