October 31, 2012

Easy Come, Easy Go: A Millionaire is a Sometime Thing

Once you become a millionaire, you’ve got it made, right? Not so fast.  The Tax Foundation, using 10 years of IRS data, found that the number of taxpayers reporting income of $1 million or more varies a lot from year-to-year and (no surprise) fluctuations in the number of millionaires corresponds to the business cycle. Between 2007 and 2009, for example, the number of millionaire tax returns fell from 392,200 to 236,883, a drop of 40%.

Not only that, but half of millionaire tax returns are never repeated, probably because they stem from one-time events, such as a stock or business sale. Only 6% of the millionaires filing returns in 2001 were still millionaires in 2009 (See Chart).

The millionaire data is part of the Tax Foundation’s new book of charts called Putting a Face on America’s Tax Returns.   The book also includes charts on income inequality, taxpayers’ ages and marital status, the income and education gap, changes in business structure and income, and other demographic and economic indicators based on data from the IRS, the Census, and the Congressional Budget Office, among other sources.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, What’s Wrong With My Job Skills?

There are job openings all over the United States. There are also people looking for jobs. It seems simple to match them up and the country will be working again. But, a new Brookings Institution study points out why the matchmaker’s job is a little more complicated than that.
The study found that the people living near the job openings don’t necessarily have the relevant education or training to get them. The report looks at education, job openings, and unemployment in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas over a six-year period. In these areas, 43% of job openings typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, but just 32% of adults age 25 and older have earned one.
The study found that unemployment in metropolitan areas is significantly worse when the workforce’s educational background does not match up with employers’ requirements.
On a scale where the higher the ranking the better off you are, Boston ranked 11,th fared best in New England.  The three Connecticut areas included were: Bridgeport-Stamford ranked 19th, New Haven ranked 26th, and Hartford ranked 43rd. Providence had the lowest New England ranking at 83rd.

October 26, 2012

What’s in that Fake Snow?

The upcoming 2012-2013 ski season will mark another “first” in snowmaking procedure; it will be the first season that a resort will use 100% sewage effluent to make artificial snow. According to a recent New York Times article, the Arizona Snowbowl will use the treated sewage effluent to make snow but opponents are concerned about the potential environmental and health effects.

Opponents include environmental groups and American Indian tribes. They are concerned about the impact on the alpine tundra, aquifer areas, and human health if skiers ingest the snow. The tribes also consider the land sacred and believe the wastewater will desecrate it.

Flagstaff conducted an independent test of the water and found endocrine disrupting chemicals such as hormones, antibiotics, and steroids, among others. Also, according to the scientist who studied the water, the effects of freezing, thawing, and UV light on the chemical compounds are unknown.

But the U.S. Forest Service owns the land and says the treated water meets the highest standards (just below drinking water) and is used for other purposes such as irrigating sports fields, parks, and golf courses. The Forest Service did not consider the chemicals in its assessment of the water but the law does not require it to do so to consider the water safe. According to the article, the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the chemicals and if they become regulated, both Flagstaff and the Snowbowl will adjust water treatment to accommodate the requirements.

The city benefits from the effluent snowmaking because the city has contracted with the Snowbowl to sell the water from its sewage treatment plant. Increased snowmaking also allows for a more consistent ski season which can draw more customers to the area for local businesses.

Furry Crab Found in Connecticut Fishway

The emerald ashborer is not the only invasive species confirmed this summer by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to have found its way into our state. In early August, the department announced that a juvenile Chinese mittencrab was found in the Mianus Pond fishway in Greenwich.
The mitten crab is native to eastern Asia but has spread to Europe and North America. It is known for its furry claws with whitish tips and it is the only crab that would be found in freshwater in the Northeast. In its press release, DEEP expressed some concern about the crab’s presence because these crabs can damage fishing gear, clog pumps and pipes, cause erosion through burrowing, and outcompete other species for food and habitat.
Citing to a DEEP marine biologist, an August 14 Hartford Courant article explained that the discovered mitten crab likely traveled from the Hudson River where these crabs have been seen since 2007. Quoting the marine biologist, the article explained that mitten crabs are catadromous – they live in freshwater but travel to salt water to spawn. Both the Courant article and DEEP’s press release stressed the importance of reporting mitten crab sightings to prevent their spread.

October 25, 2012

What’s Israel’s Secret to Innovation?

Mandatory military service, according to Dan Senor and Saul Singer, authors of Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle (2009), an observation that seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. After all, people serving in active and reserve military units aren’t in school learning new skills or working in laboratories inventing new things. But the conventional wisdom overlooks a few things, at least when it comes to Israel.

First, the Israeli military isn’t a strictly top-down, command and control organization. Junior officers get little guidance from the top and “are expected to improvise, even if it means breaking some rules.” “High school stand-outs are recruited into elite military units and trained intensively, with an emphasis on technology.” In other words, the Israeli armed forces encouraged critical thinking.

The training and the contacts do not end when people complete active duty. Israeli’s mandatory military service also requires them to spend several weeks a year in the reserves, a time during which they renew contacts or establish new ones, thus creating or expanding social networks for potential innovators and entrepreneurs. This, coupled with Israeli’s relative small size and population, creates a condition where everyone knows everyone, at least casually.

Consequently, when someone serves in the reserves, “everything required to launch a start-up ‘will be a phone call away…Almost everyone can find some connection to whomever he or she needs to contact to get started.’”

Okay, but what does this mean for public policy? Should we require everyone to serve in the reserves? No. Here’s what it means: innovation takes more than new research facilities, venture capital funds, and tax credits for start-up investments. Innovation also depends on many intangible, unquantifiable factors, like the extent to which people with ideas, money, and entrepreneurial spirit bump into each other. Does public policy facilitate or inhibit those “collisions”?

Can’t Fix the School? Fix the Kid Instead

A recent New York Times story suggests that parents and doctors of poor children are pushing for the kids to be prescribed drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when the kids have not been diagnosed with the disorder. The reason is that these drugs, which are stimulants, can improve school performance. This, they say, is particularly helpful for kids attending schools that may not have the resources to provide extra supports a kid may need. A doctor who supports this approach asserts that many families cannot afford behavior-based therapies like tutoring and family counseling, and that taking these drugs, which state Medicaid programs typically cover, provide the same benefit.

This idea has its detractors. Some doctors are fearful of the drugs’ side effects, including the possibility of psychotic episodes. They also have longer-term concerns: dependency and the drugs’ effect on a child’s developing brain.

October 24, 2012

No Federal Health Insurance for Young Immigrants Having Their Deportation Delayed

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued a letter to state Medicaid directors informing them that certain individuals granted “deferred action” status by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will not qualify for Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) benefits.

In 2009, Congress passed a law giving newly arrived immigrant children and pregnant women who were in the country “lawfully” immediate access to health care rather than requiring them to wait the normal five years from entrance to the U.S., as is generally required for other public assistance benefits.

In June 2012, DHS offered undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children the opportunity to delay their deportation (“deferred action”) if they meet certain qualifications (e.g., under age 31 on June 15, 2012 and do not present a risk to national security).

The CMS letter states that because these immigrants would not be considered residing in the country lawfully, as defined by CMS in 2010, they would not be eligible for the federal benefits. Undocumented immigrants are eligible for emergency Medicaid.

First Niagara Receives Top Grades on Report Card

The City of New Haven and Yale Law School’s Community and Economic Development Clinic recently collaborated on a Community Impact Report Card (CIRC). The CIRC ranks New Haven banks on a 100 point scale in 30 different categories, from home loan applications accepted to overdraft fees. It was designed to help (1) consumers comparison-shop the different banks in their community, and (2) banks strengthen their product and service offerings.

According to the CIRC, “the central motivating principle behind the project is the belief that providing consumers with basic information about banking products and services will encourage banks to be more responsive to community needs.”

First Niagara ranked number 1 out of the 11 banks evaluated with a score of 74. First Niagara also received the highest point total in the home loan category. The report cited possible areas of improvement as well, such as extending branch hours beyond 6 pm on weeknights and offering student discounts.

The other 10 banks received the following scores, in descending order:
  1. Bank of America (73)
  2. People’s United Bank (68)
  3. JPMorgan Chase Bank (66)
  4. Bank of Southern CT (63)
  5. Webster Bank (61)
  6. RBS Citizens (tied-59)
  7. TD Bank (tied-59)
  8. Citibank (tied-56)
  9. Sovereign Bank New England (tied-56)
  10. Wells Fargo Bank (53)

October 23, 2012

Hot Report: School Physical Education Requirements

OLR Report 2012-R-0272 summarizes what the state requirements are for physical education classes or activity in public schools.
There is no statutory or regulatory requirement for public schools to provide a set amount of time for physical education in any grade. New legislation enacted in 2012 requires each school district to include a total of 20 minutes of “physical exercise” in each regular school day for students in kindergarten through grade five (K-5). This requirement took effect July 1, 2012.
State Department of Education (SDE) physical education curriculum guidelines recommend that school districts offer physical education in all grades, including minimum recommended durations. But school districts are not required to follow state curricula and the SDE guidelines are voluntary.
Districts and schools must report on students' physical fitness in their annual strategic school profiles. To implement this requirement, SDE requires districts to give fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth-graders an annual state physical fitness test designed to measure their flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and strength, among other things.
There is no statutory or regulatory requirement for public schools to provide a set amount of time for physical education in any grade. New legislation enacted in 2012 requires each school district to include a total of 20 minutes of “physical exercise” in each regular school day for students in kindergarten through grade five (K-5). This requirement took effect July 1, 2012.
State Department of Education (SDE) physical education curriculum guidelines recommend that school districts offer physical education in all grades, including minimum recommended durations. But school districts are not required to follow state curricula and the SDE guidelines are voluntary.
Districts and schools must report on students' physical fitness in their annual strategic school profiles. To implement this requirement, SDE requires districts to give fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth-graders an annual state physical fitness test designed to measure their flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and strength, among other things.
For more information, read the full report.

Violent Crime in Households with Children

According to a U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study, one measure of the number of children living in households that experienced violent crime declined from 1993 to 2010.

Using data from the BJS National Crime Victimization Survey, researchers looked at the number of children age 17 or younger who live in households where someone age 12 or older was the victim of a violent crime.  In 2010, about 2.8 million children or 3.9% of all children age 17 or younger lived in such households.  In 1993, an estimated 8.7 million children, or 12.6%, did so. The researchers found that this corresponds with the decline in overall violent victimizations during this period. 

October 22, 2012

HUD Announces Grants To Help Seniors “Age In Place”

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced $31.3 million in grants to help seniors and individuals with disabilities receive health care, meals, and other supportive services that allow them to remain in their own homes (i.e., “age in place”).

The grants are issued through HUD’s Multifamily Housing Service Coordinator program. Funds are awarded to eligible owners of HUD low-income housing developments for the elderly or disabled and may be used to hire and support a service coordinator. Service coordinators help residents access appropriate home- and community-based services, preventing or delaying the need for institutionalization.

Connecticut received five grants totaling $1,442,129.   

Hot Report: Liability for Dog Bites

OLR Report 2012-R-0459 provides a brief overview of Connecticut law on liability for dog bites. Please note that the Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to provide legal opinions and this report should not be construed as such.

Subject to certain exceptions, Connecticut's dog bite statute (CGS § 22-357) makes a dog's owner or keeper liable for injuries caused by the dog to someone else's person or property. This is a strict liability statute – in other words, it does not require the victim to prove that the dog's owner or keeper (1) knew that the dog was vicious or (2) was otherwise negligent.

A person injured by a dog bite could also proceed under a common law negligence theory. To succeed in such a case, the injured person must prove that the defendant knew or should have known that the dog was vicious. Under the common law, unlike cases brought under the statute, someone other than a dog's owner or keeper could be liable for a dog bite in certain circumstances. For example, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently held that a landlord could be liable for a bite by a tenant's dog if the landlord was aware of the dog's vicious tendencies and did not adequately act to alleviate the known danger.

Unemployment Loans’ Catch-22

In the wake of the 2008 recession, 34 states had to borrow from the federal government to keep their unemployment systems solvent.  And 22 of them, including Connecticut, still owe a combined $30 billion that they will have to pay back.  Although the loans helped the states and their constituents weather the recession, a recent Stateline article examines how they may also be hampering their recovery. 

According to the article, employers, who fund unemployment systems through unemployment taxes, are now paying higher unemployment taxes in order to repay the loans, which could prevent some from hiring.  Also, some debtor states have responded by reducing unemployment benefits, although critics argue that this hampers recovery by reducing the money flowing through local economies.  A few states have issued bonds to pay off their debts, but although they may be able to get a lower interest rate than the 4% imposed by the federal government, they will still have to pay it back.  And to make matters worse, the burden of repaying the debt is keeping states from building up the reserves that could otherwise help them avoid borrowing again.

October 19, 2012

Hot Report: Stun Guns and Firearms

OLR Report 2012-R-0463 explains why state law prohibits the carrying of electronic defense weapons but not handguns.

Under state law, electronic defense weapons, such as stun guns, are classified as dangerous or deadly weapons. With limited exceptions, the law prohibits people from carrying these weapons on their person or in motor vehicles (CGS §§ 53-206 & 29-38). On the other hand, handguns are not classified as dangerous or deadly and anyone who meets criteria specified in law can obtain a permit to carry them.

Nothing in the legislative history of PA 86-827, which added electronic defense weapons to the list of dangerous weapons, or PA 99-212, which banned the carrying of such weapons, indicates why the legislature thought that these weapons should be more stringently regulated than handguns. But part of the explanation may be that, under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, firearms have a degree of constitutional protection, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has not ruled on whether stun guns are entitled to the same degree of constitutional protection as firearms. And we are not aware of any Connecticut court that has considered this issue. But the Michigan Court of Appeals, in a case not binding on Connecticut, has ruled that both the U.S. Constitution and Michigan Constitution protect a citizen's right to possess and carry stun guns for self-defense and the state may not completely prohibit their use by private citizens (Mich. Ct. App. June 26, 2012 (Docket No. 304293)).

For more information, read the full report.

Check Out OLR’s Map Room!

Have you visited our Map Room recently? With links to scores of maps, there are maps relating to every committee, from a map on the Aging page showing the poverty rate for seniors by county nationwide to a map on the Veterans page showing the veteran population in each state.

The map added most recently links aerial photos of Connecticut from 1934 to current Google Map images of the same location and was produced by the University of Connecticut’s Map and Geographic Information Center. It’s a fascinating way to examine neighborhood change. For example, in 1934 the Park River was still above ground in Hartford and flowed through Bushnell Park.

October 18, 2012

Bracing for Impact

Last spring, Discovery TV staged a Boeing 727 plane crash in Mexico’s Sonoran desert to test the effects of a “belly-flop” plane crash on passengers. The test crash, reported about recently by ABC News, found that bracing for impact (placing one’s head down towards the legs and putting hands over one’s head) could help a passenger survive a crash. According to ABC News, a review of the crash test dummies in the plane revealed such things as:

• the front rows held the “fatal” seats;
• dummies not in the braced position incurred spinal injuries from jerking forward;
• sitting upright subjects passengers to flying debris; and
• sitting within five rows of an exit increased the chance of survival.

The chances of being in such a crash aren’t high, though. The article cites a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that found the chance of dying on a scheduled flight in developed nations was one in 14 million.

Hot Report: Summary of Connecticut Case on Eyewitness Identifications

OLR Report 2012-R-0415 summarizes the Connecticut Supreme Court decision allowing experts to testify about factors that may affect the reliability of eyewitness identifications (State v. Guilbert, 306 Conn. 218, 2012 WL 3629569, September 4, 2012).

In State v. Guilbert, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that experts could testify about the fallibility of eyewitness identifications in appropriate cases. The existing rule generally prohibited its use because (1) the average juror was already familiar with the factors that affected the reliability of eyewitness identifications and (2) it impermissibly interfered with the jury's fact-finding role.

Guilbert involved a criminal defendant's claim that five eyewitnesses misidentified him. The trial court applied the existing rule and denied defense counsel's request to present scientific testimony pinpointing factors known to adversely affect the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.

The strength of the scientific findings and bases for other courts rulings allowed the court to reach conclusions on the admissibility of evidence concerning a number of factors.

For more information, including a summary of the majority opinion, read the full report.

Empire State shooting sparks questions on police shot accuracy

In the recent shooting near the Empire State Building in New York City, police officers fired 16 shots in a gunfire exchange with the shooter.  Of those 16 shots, 10 of them hit the shooter.  This “hit ratio” was almost twice as good as the department’s average.

According to a 2008 analysis of NYPD firearms discharge data, officers hit their intended target about 34% of the time.

There have been other studies conducted on police marksmanship.  However, one critic notes that these studies often fail to account for real life factors such as light, distance, and whether the target is moving.

October 17, 2012

New Online Judge Evaluation System

Starting next March, the Judicial Branch will expand its current system of lawyers’ evaluation of judges, by introducing an online component.

As explained in the September 10, 2012 edition of the Connecticut Law Tribune, the current evaluation system involves paper questionnaires given to attorneys who (1) go to trial or (2) are involved in hearings lasting at least an hour.  The new electronic questionnaires will supplement the current system.  The online questionnaires will be given in certain high-volume courts (such as those handling arraignments), to attorneys who (1) handle at least three matters to disposition before the same judge during a six-month period or (2) make an appearance in a case with a judgment after trial.  

The current questionnaires ask attorneys to rate judges on 13 criteria, such as their impartiality and knowledge of the substantive law.  Two new questions are being added: one on the judge’s ability to settle before trial, and one on the judge’s fairness and equity to people based on their gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

According to the article, one of the goals of the expansion is to increase participation in the evaluation process; the paper evaluations’ response rate is 50% to 65%

The full article is available in the Legislative Library. 

Medicaid Audit Cost Five Times More Than It Recovered

Over the past five years, a federal program to fight Medicaid fraud has cost the U.S. at least $102 million in auditing fees while identifying less than $20 million in overpayments, Government Accountability Office investigators have found.  The majority of the audits conducted by the National Medicaid Audit Program’s Medicaid Integrity Group were discontinued, produced low or no findings, or were put on hold. More than 2/3 of 1,550 audits of state records since fiscal year 2008 identified $7.4 million in possible Medicaid overpayments.   

Audits of state Medicaid records were stopped in February 2011. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has reportedly reassigned the auditors to work collaboratively with states’ own audit activities.  This arrangement requires state Medicaid officials to identify health providers or industries they think federal auditors should target.  There are reportedly 137 collaborative audits underway.

October 16, 2012

Hot Report: Siting Correctional Facilities

OLR Report 2012-R-0453 summarizes the laws regarding siting prisons and other correctional facilities. While there is no specific statutory process, there are some requirements that apply to particular types of facilities or locations. For example, 2010 legislation required the Department of Correction (DOC) and the Judicial Branch's Court Support Services Division to establish site evaluation criteria for evaluating proposals for a facility housing beds for sex offenders returning to the community. Another statute (CGS § 18-87l) bars the New Haven Armory from being used to house prisoners.

According to DOC, the decision on where to locate a correctional facility would be a multi-agency effort, involving input from the departments of correction, administrative services, and construction services; the Office of Policy and Management; and the governor's office. They would work together to find a suitable location. One of the principal challenges would be finding a community willing to host a facility.

For more information, read the full report.

State Election Law Changes

Wondering how Connecticut’s election laws compare with those in other states? A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office provides a national survey of state election laws pertaining to voter registration and identification requirements, early voting, and no-excuse absentee voting. The report also examines changes to state laws in these areas that occurred within the last 10 years.

Among the report’s highlights were that (1) 31 states require all eligible voters to show identification (but not necessarily a photo ID) at the polls on Election Day and (2) 35 states and Washington, DC allow either early voting or no-excuse absentee voting (or both). Of the 31 states with identification requirements, 18 of them enacted those requirements within the past 10 years.

October 15, 2012

Inexpensive Designs for Housing Homeless People

Solutions for solving the homelessness problem reflect how one defines that problem. For some, it’s all about getting homeless people off of park benches or other public furniture. For others, it’s about immediately meeting the basic human need for shelter. A recent issue of Web Urbanist presents 14 innovative, low-cost design concepts that “meet the needs of disadvantaged people living in our own communities, and ensure that the situation is only temporary.”  Below are some examples:

Paul Elkin’s Mobile Design Shelter

Homeless people who prefer to remain on the move could benefit from this portable, low-impact, water-tight structure that resembles a miniature RV.  As the photos show, it contains fold-away furniture, a mattress, a toilet, and a kitchen. 
Photo: WebUrbanist
Zo-Loft Architecture and Design’s WheelLY Recycled Homeless Shelter

This unusual Italian import safely stores one’s belongings during the day and expands into a tent at night. It’s made of rolling aluminum frames fitted with two polyester tents made of recyclable or recycled materials, and can hold up to 250 pounds of personal items.
Photo: WebUrbanist
Tina Hovsepian’s Cardborigami Folding Portable Homeless Shelter

As its name suggests, origami principles inspired the designer of this portable emergency shelter. As the pictures show, “it starts out as a flat package and expands into a sort of paper tent.” Made of recycled cardboard, it’s lightweight, sustainable, and naturally insulated. The designer’s not finished, though. She plans to make it waterproof, fire-retardant, and more comfortable.
Photo: WebUrbanist

Retail Clinic Usage Increases Dramatically

According to a recent Health Affairs study, retail clinic visits increased fourfold from 2007 to 2009. Data was obtained from MinuteClinic, Take Care, and Little Clinic, the nation’s three largest clinic operators. Most clinic users had health insurance (70%), however almost 2/3 did not have a primary care physician.

The study attributes convenience and after-hours accessibility as possible drivers of this growth. Approximately 44% of visits were on the weekend or weekday evenings when physicians’ offices are likely to be closed. The number of visits peaked in October and November, mostly due to visits for flu vaccines.

Despite the dramatic increase in retail clinic visits, they still make up a small percentage of overall visits in outpatient settings, including emergency departments and physician offices.

October 12, 2012

Report Says Property Tax Breaks to Lure Businesses are Mostly Ineffective

States and towns across the country, including Connecticut municipalities, use property tax incentives to drive economic growth by encouraging businesses to locate and expand in their communities.  But a recent study by the Lincoln Land Institute suggests that there is little evidence that these incentives are effective economic development tools. 

Achieving development goals with incentives can be particularly difficult because property taxes are a small part of the total costs for most businesses.  As such, they are easily outweighed by factors such as differences in the wages and skills of local workers, proximity to suppliers and consumers, and transportation costs.  In addition, as the use of property tax incentives becomes widespread across a metropolitan area, the advantage gained by one municipality is often canceled out when matching incentives are adopted by others in the same region.

The study’s authors offer the following recommendations to increase the odds that property tax incentives will help communities reach their development goals:

  1. Restrict the proliferation of property tax incentives by limiting their use in the communities where they are most needed.
  2. Require that tax incentives be approved by all affected jurisdictions, including regional economic development organizations.
  3. Penalize rather than subsidize localities that use property tax incentives.
  4. Publish information on incentives and conduct assessments.

Could Bear Hunts Come to Connecticut?

The Connecticut Mirror reports that Connecticut’s environmental officials may be considering a bear hunting season as a way to control the state’s increasing bear population.  According to the article, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) says there are currently several hundred black bears in Connecticut and “the population is expected to double every five to seven years.”  DEEP investigated more than 350 reports of damage by bears last year and the state is “now spending a quarter-million-dollars a year responding to concerns” about the bear population.  DEEP reportedly continues to research the issue and is working on a bear management plan. 

Agency representatives say it could take two more years before DEEP is ready to recommend a bear hunting season.  For more information about bears in Connecticut, see DEEP’s website.

October 11, 2012

CEFIA Awards ‘Campus Efficiency Now’ Loans

The state’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA) recently announced that it will lend $1 million to participating members of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC) as part of its “Campus Efficiency Now” program.  The five schools in the program’s pilot phase are the University of Hartford, Mitchell College, Connecticut College, the University of Saint Joseph, and the University of New Haven.  Under the program, the schools can use the loan to pay up-front costs for energy efficiency upgrades and then repay it through the savings generated by the projects under a five-year energy saving agreement administered by GreenerU, Inc.  CEFIA expects participation by additional CCIC schools and additional funding from private investment sources once the pilot programs produces positive results.

October 10, 2012

How Secure Are High-Stakes Tests? In Most States, Not Very.

These days, there’s a lot riding on how well students do on state-administered achievement tests. In recent years, the federal government and states have pushed the testing stakes higher, tying teacher evaluations, pay, jobs, and millions of dollars of state and federal aid to student performance as measured by standardized tests. But as the stakes rise, cheating becomes a bigger threat, especially since, according to a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) article, most states do not take basic measures to ensure test integrity.

The AJC surveyed all 50 states about their test security measures.  The results are not encouraging.  Of the 46 states that responded to its survey, the AJC found:

  • 24 perform no statistical analysis to look for improbable test score improvements, 
  • 21 do not look for high numbers or suspicious patterns of changes from wrong to right answers, and
  • 34 do not screen for similar answers that might show if students copied from one another or a teacher filled in the answers on multiple tests.
Connecticut does all of these things, according to the AJC survey. The state also uses independent test monitors and unannounced visits to testing locations, and Connecticut law makes tampering with the state test results grounds for mandatory revocation of an educator’s certificate.  Other states with good test security include Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and South Carolina.

No More “Sit and Reach”?

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine offered suggestions for a school fitness overhaul. The researchers found evidence pointing to the importance of testing the following as health indicators:

  1. cardiorespiratory endurance, defined as “the ability to perform large-muscle, whole-body exercise at moderate to high intensities for extended periods of time”;
  1. body composition, defined as the proportion of fat, muscle, and bone on a person’s body; and
  1. musculoskeletal fitness, defined as “the integrated function of muscle strength, muscle endurance, and muscle power.”
The researchers found less evidence linking health and flexibility. Flexibility is usually measured as part of a school fitness assessment through the “sit and reach” test, in which a student would sit with legs extended and attempt to reach his or her toes. While the report states that administrators may still use the “sit and reach” test, they found that it is not a necessary component of an accurate fitness assessment.
For more information about the report’s findings and additional recommendations, click here.

October 9, 2012

Your Baby Can’t Read This Blog

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed false advertising charges against the marketers of “Your Baby Can Read!,” a product that claimed in infomercials it could teach infants as young as nine months old to read.

The FTC says two of the three defendants in the case have agreed to settle the claim. The settlement prohibits the defendants from further use of the term Your Baby Can Read, and imposes a $185 million judgment against the defendants. (According to the FTC, the financial settlement will be suspended on payment of $500,000 because of the company’s “failing financial condition.”)

The FTC complaint says the defendants sold the program to parents and grandparents of children between the ages of three months to five years, charging about $200 for each kit, which contained videos, flash cards, and pop-up books.

The complaint alleges that the defendants failed to provide reliable scientific evidence for its claims that babies can learn to read using the program, or that children age 3 or 4 could learn to read such books as “Charlotte’s Web” or “Harry Potter.”

Effect of Underwater Mortgages on Mobility

A working paper from the Boston Federal Reserve looks at the impact that underwater mortgages have on state-to-state migration.  Since 2007, the number of homeowners underwater on their mortgages (the amount owed on a mortgage is more than the home is worth) has increased and migration across states has fallen.  The study looked at Internal Revenue Service data and found that roughly 100,000 to 150,000 fewer individuals migrated between states each year.  But the study found that this decreased mobility has a “negligible impact” on the unemployment rate.  The study states that even if all those who could not move were unemployed, looked for jobs in another state, and found jobs in another state, the unemployment rate would decrease by at most .1% per year.

October 8, 2012

Connecticut Homeowners will Receive Payments under the National Mortgage Settlement

According to this article, several Connecticut residents who lost homes to foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011 may be eligible for payments under the $25 billion National Mortgage Foreclosure settlement.  The settlement, which took effect April 1, 2012, was between the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers, the federal government, and attorneys general for 49 states and the District of Columbia.  It resulted from state and federal investigations claiming the servicers “routinely signed foreclosure-related documents outside the presence of a notary public and without personal knowledge that the facts contained in the documents were correct…. and committed various errors and abuses in their mortgage processes.” 

Eligible borrowers had mortgages with Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.  Payments, intended as partial compensation for the servicers’ illegal conduct, will be at least $840. Around 9,000 notices are going out in Connecticut and the deadline for submitting claims is January 18, 2013. Checks will be mailed in 2013. 

For more information on the settlement and how to submit a claim, visit the national mortgage settlement website.

Hot Report: Immunization Requirements for Preschoolers

OLR Report 2012-R-0435 provides information on state immunization requirements for children attending preschool.

Department of Public Health (DPH) regulations require children to be immunized against certain diseases and conditions in order to attend a child day care center, group day care home, or a public or nonpublic school. Under state law, each local or regional board of education, or similar body governing a nonpublic school, must require each child to be protected by adequate immunization against the following:

  1. diphtheria;
  1. pertussis (whooping cough);
  1. tetanus;
  1. poliomyelitis (polio);
  1. measles, mumps, and rubella (often called “MMR”);
  1. hemophilus influenza type B (a bacterial illness that can cause meningitis and other diseases in young children); and
  1. any other illness required by DPH regulations (CGS § 10-204a).
In 2011, DPH amended its regulations to require immunization against influenza. Specifically, starting August 2011, each child enrolled in preschool between ages two and five must receive an annual influenza vaccine between August 1 and December 1. Children receiving the vaccine for the first time must be given a second dose at least 28 days after the first dose (Conn. Agencies Reg. § 10-204a-2a(k)).

For further information, read the full report.

VA and DOD to Fund PTSD and TBI Study for Veterans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Justice are investing more than $100 million in research to improve the diagnosis and treatment of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans, according to a September 2012 VA press release. According to the release, these are two of the most prevalent injuries suffered by service members in Afghanistan, and identifying better treatment for such injuries is critical.

October 5, 2012

“Everybody wants ta get inta [venture capital] act,”

…legendary comedian Jimmy Durante might say if he were around today, and the internet is letting them do so. “Crowdfunding” is the entrepreneur’s version of on-line dating, allowing “designers and other creative people [to] connect with audiences who want to finance their dreams,” the New York Times  recently reported. “Nearly three million people have helped a total of 30,000 projects meet their fundraising goals on Kickstarter, the largest such site, to the tune of $300 million in pledges.”

Getting into the venture capital act has pitfalls for designers and their would-be backers. A lot could happen between designing a concept and making it. The designers and backers of an iPhone charging dock encountered some of those pitfalls when Apple announced a redesigned iPhone that wasn’t compatible with the dock. A Wharton School of Management study found that “75% of design- and technology-related projects on Kickstarter…failed to meet their promised deadlines.”

But, as in the production of a new play, the actors are still learning their parts. “The relationship between creators and backers on crowdfunding sites is still being worked out. The backers play the role of philanthropists, investors, customers—or all of the above. And when rewards are slot to materialize, eager backers can get cranky.”  

Does crowdfunding hold any promises for state economic development policy, which includes using tax credits to leverage venture capital from relatively small “angel investors?”  For example, would it be feasible to create a state crowdfunding website where inventors and businesses can pitch their ideas to online investors and, at the same time, have access to a menu showing the full range of state economic development programs?    

Do Arrestee Privacy Rights Trump the Government’s Need for DNA Samples? States Disagree

The Pew Center on the States reports a split among state and federal courts over the constitutionality of collecting DNA samples from
people who have been arrested for, but not convicted of, crimes.  Half of the states and the federal government allow such collections, but the highest courts in Maryland and Minnesota have struck theirs down. On the other hand, two federal appeals courts in other parts of the country reached the opposite conclusion. 

Those challenging arrestee-collection policies argue that they violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Proponents maintain that they have proven to be a valuable law enforcement tool.  For example, in Virginia, such samples matched forensic evidence in 755 open cases.

Maryland’s attorney general has filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the conflict. Chief Justice Roberts issued a brief opinion on August 7th indicating that the Court will likely do so.

Ride Share Program for Seniors Catches on in Connecticut

A national community ride-share program for senior citizens is well represented in the state with branches in central and coastal Connecticut.

ITN (Independent Transportation Network) America, founded in 1995, provides rides for people age 60 or over who have given up their vehicles or licenses and need rides that local social service agencies may not provide.

Members pay an annual membership fee (typically $40 for an individual) and a pick-up and mileage charge. The minimum pick-up charge varies. No money changes hands during the ride. Customers are billed monthly (and tipping is prohibited).

“Since you don’t pay cash and we use only private automobiles, riding with ITN is more like riding with a friend than taking a taxi,” ITN says.
ITN affiliates are located in north central and coastal Connecticut, and in the West Harford and Middletown areas.

Consumer Reports reported on ITN recently.

October 4, 2012

California Outlaws Therapy Aimed at Making Gay Teenagers Straight

The New York Times reports on a California law, which takes effect on January 1, 2013, bars mental health providers from providing minors with therapy intended to change their sexual orientation, including efforts to “change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” Critics say the therapies have caused serious emotional harm to gay and lesbian teenagers, heightening their risk of depression and suicide. Opponents of the law say the ban is a violation of free choice. A Christian legal group has filed a lawsuit to overturn the law.

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

OLR Report 2012-R-0446 lists and briefly describes Connecticut’s mandated health insurance benefits. It updates an earlier report (2011-R-0504) by incorporating revisions enacted in 2012. (See OLR Report 2008-R-0138 for a list of health care providers and facilities whose services health insurance policies must cover under Connecticut law.)

Each benefit mandate statute identifies the specific plans to which the mandate applies. Many of the mandates apply to both individual and group health insurance plans, including those insured plans issued to small employer groups. However, due to the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), state benefit mandates generally do not apply to self-funded plans.  For more information about this ERISA preemption, see OLR Report 2005-R-0753.

Debunking the Myth of Mutual Exclusivity: Humor in Academic Research

Academic research is sometimes criticized as indecipherable and abstract, but if you look closely, you’ll find plenty of interesting, cutting-edge stuff out there. Such research is honored each year by the Ig Nobel Prizes, now in their 22nd year (this year was the 22nd first annual ceremony). The awards recognize achievements that “first make people laugh and then make them think.”

Prizes are awarded in 10 categories, and this year’s crop covered an array of topics, some of them quite practical, like the physics of a ponytail. For those visiting Paris, if you want the Eiffel Tower to seem less imposing, lean to the left; it looks smaller that way. If you’re going for a colonoscopy, you might want to make sure the doctors have read up on the latest research for minimizing patient explosions. And while everyone knows about diamonds in the rough, did you ever think you’d find them in old Russian ammunition?

But it wasn’t just academia getting in on the fun. The U.S. Government Accountability Office picked up this year’s literature prize thanks to its “report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.” And if you’re lost, don’t worry; it’s all explained in the report.

October 3, 2012

Improving Efficiency and Outcomes in Health Care

A new Institute of Medicine report estimates that 30% of health spending does not improve health—because it is spent on unnecessary services, wasted through excessive administrative costs or inefficiencies, or otherwise wasted or misspent (e.g., through fraud).

The report, Best Care at Lower Cost, is the product of an IOM committee which studied various features of the health care system, including the complexity of modern health care, its high costs, and outcomes.  Overall, the report argues that the nation’s health care system has grown too complex and too expensive, and such problems threaten the nation’s economy and global competitiveness.   

The report offers recommendations in various areas, such as the collection and use of data for care, collaboration, and care continuity, and compensation systems.

Taxing People From Out-of-Town

A famous saying about taxes, attributed to the late Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, runs: “Don’t tax him. Don’t tax me. Tax the fellow behind the tree.”  Cities and states have enthusiastically endorsed the spirit of Senator Long’s rhyme, raising revenue from targeted taxes on travel-related items and services. These taxes are paid mostly by visitors, who are the quintessential “fellows behind the tree.” 

The Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) 2012 survey of state and local travel taxes finds that taxes for car rentals, hotel rooms, and meals for those travelling to 50 popular cities are an average of 57% higher than general sales taxes in the same places. The three cities with the highest total single-day tax burden for travelers are:  Chicago ($40.31), New York ($37.98), and Boston ($34.83).  The three cities with the highest extra taxes on travel services, over and above the general sales tax, are: Portland, Oregon ($22.45); Boston ($19.17), and Chicago ($16.59).

Connecticut also taxes visitors at a higher rate, including 15% for a hotel room and 9.35% for a rental car. These rates are 136% and 47%, respectively, higher than Connecticut’s 6.35% general sales tax rate.  No Connecticut locations appear in either the GBTA’s 10 most or 10 least expensive cities lists.