Michigan Tackles Infant Mortality Rate
Michigan released its Infant Mortality Reduction Plan, addressing a problem that Gov. Rick Snyder prioritized in his Health and Wellness message last fall. The plan focuses on building new partnerships and expanding existing partnerships, implementing practices based on new evidence from medical research, and addressing social issues to decrease infant mortality and eliminate racial disparities in the state's infant mortality rate. There are eight strategies outlined in the plan which include, among others, creating a regional perinatal system, promoting adoption of policies to eliminate medically unnecessary deliveries before 39 weeks of gestation and decreasing unintended pregnancies. The strategies and goals outlined in the plan are for 2012-2015. The governor will publicly track progress on the problem by including infant mortality on the Michigan Health and Wellness Dashboard.
(Contact: Kelly Murphy)
Illinois Law Protects Workers' Social Networking Privacy
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a bill into law that protects workers from employers demanding access to their private social networking information. The law makes it illegal for an employer to request an employee or prospective employee's social network account information, such as username or password, to gain access to their account. The law defines social networking as an Internet-based service that allows individuals to create a public profile, develop connections with other users, and view and navigate their list of connections. The law does not include email in the definition of social networking and does not prevent employers from obtaining public information about current or prospective employees.
(Contact: Alisha Powell)
Iowa Releases App for Driver's License Practice Tests
The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has released an iPad app that helps residents of the state prepare for the written driver's license exam. The free app generates a random, 15-question practice exam using questions taken from the actual exam. Users may take the practice test as many times as they wish. The app generates new questions each time a user takes the test and then tracks high scores. Iowa DOT's goals in developing the app are to help teens prepare for the test and to help experienced drivers re-familiarize themselves with the state's transportation laws as they change. The app is currently only available for the iPad, but the Iowa DOT is developing versions for other mobile and tablet platforms.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Wisconsin Foster Youth to Participate in Medical Home Program
Gov. Scott Walker received federal approval to create a “Medical Home” program for foster care youth—all of whom are covered by the state’s Medicaid program—in the southern region of the state. The initiative is a partnership between the Department of Health Services and Department of Children and Families with a trauma-informed focus.
The medical home model creates a team centered on the child's primary care doctor who will create an individualized treatment plan covering the child's mental, physical, and behavioral health needs. A care coordinator then works with the different agencies and entities providing services to the child, and is responsible for communicating with the family and child protection worker. Treatments will focus specifically on specialty care for children who have experienced trauma, as early traumatic experiences are common for children in foster care. Health care systems which want to provide care through the program must demonstrate capacity with a trauma-informed model of care and evidenced-based treatments; have an adequate network of medical, dental, and behavioral health services; and be able to contract with providers outside their network to ensure continuity of care for each child as their status and placement changes.
(Contact: Rebecca Rabinowitz )
Oregon Governor Issues Smoking Ban
Gov. John Kitzhaber issued an executive order to ban smoking and other tobacco use at most state buildings and grounds, including prisons. The statewide policy will be phased in over the next 17 months, making the state properties tobacco-free by 2014. The ban is expected to save money for the state by improving the health of state employees. The state employs around 50,000 workers and an estimated 9 percent use tobacco. State employees attempting to quit smoking can receive assistance from the Public Employees Benefit Board and use a free phone number with resources and information on quitting smoking that is available to all Oregonians.
(Contact: Kelly Murphy)
Nevada Develops Strategy for Protecting Sage-grouse Habitat
The Nevada Sage-grouse Advisory Committee, created by Gov. Brian Sandoval in March, has issued its recommendations to the governor on how to protect and manage habitat for the greater sage-grouse. The sage-grouse is a wild, ground-nesting bird found in sagebrush habitat in the western United States and is a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Nevada is one of several western states developing their own, state-level management plans to balance habitat protection with energy, mining, and other development that might disturb sage-grouse habitat. The committee's overarching recommendation was that the state should use a "no net loss" policy for planned disturbances or development and all actions in designated sage-grouse management areas should avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to habitat. The committee also recommends implementing conservation strategies in a collaborative interagency and intergovernmental process with coordinated leadership from the state executive branch, with separate strategies for habitat management in occupied habitat, potential habitat, and non-habitat within management areas. The committee's report also includes maps of proposed sage-grouse management areas and how they overlap with potential development, high-risk wildfire areas, transmission and energy development zones, and areas where expanding pinyon and juniper ecosystems may encroach onto preferred sage-grouse habitat.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Missouri Awards Innovation Campus Grants to Train Students in High-Demand Fields
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon recently announced nearly $9 million in grants to help establish innovation campuses throughout the state. The innovation campuses are intended to create pathways to careers in high-demand fields through partnerships between school districts, universities, the private sector, and sometimes local chambers of commerce. The career training provided through the innovation campuses will be specialized and targeted to specific careers, reducing the time and money required for students to earn a college degree when preparing for certain jobs. The nine innovation campuses which received grant money are intended to serve both high school and college students as well as adults seeking to gain career skills. They will focus on different fields, including health care, biotechnology, and financial services.
(Contact: Emily Slack)
Massachusetts Enacts Sentencing Reform
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill into law that reforms sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and aims to curb Massachusetts' corrections costs. The law reduces mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders and provides support for non-violent drug offenders, which include gaining access to substance abuse programs and enhancing state supervision of parolees. The law also includes a new type of work release for inmates and permits them to earn credits to reduce their sentences if they participate in prison programs. Approximately 600 non-violent drug offenders are immediately eligible for supervised parole. For further information on statewide trends in sentencing and corrections reform, see the NGA brief State Efforts in Sentencing and Corrections Reform.
(Contact: Vijay Das)
New Jersey Reforms How Teachers Receive and Retain Tenure
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law reforming how teachers can receive and retain tenure. The new law provides tools to identify effective and ineffective teachers, strengthens the supports available to help teachers improve, and ties tenure decisions to a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom.
New evaluation systems which focus on student's achievements are being piloted in 30 districts in the state and will be rolled out statewide next year. Under the law, all new teachers will receive a year of mentoring, and if a teacher is rated ineffective or partially effective he or she will receive a mandatory corrective action plan. The state's teachers will now have to wait at least four years to attain tenure and it will only be awarded after at least two years of effective or highly-effective ratings through the new evaluation process. Poor evaluations will cause teachers to lose tenure protections and in some cases be dismissed. This is the first major change to New Jersey's teacher tenure law since the state became the first state to legislate job protections for teachers over a century ago.
(Contact: Emily Slack)
States Implement Health Homes for Medicaid Beneficiaries with Chronic Conditions
The Kaiser Family Foundation released a brief highlighting four states that have begun to provide “health home” coverage for their Medicaid beneficiaries who have chronic conditions. A health home builds on the concept of a patient-centered medical home and provides advanced integration, coordination of care (primary, acute, mental, and behavioral), and long-term services and support throughout a person’s life. Around 20 states have demonstrated interest in health homes and six have received federal approval so far, but the brief highlights the work of four states: Missouri, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
Kaiser found that all four states elected to implement health homes on a statewide basis and to focus on target individuals with serious and persistent mental illness and other selected chronic conditions. All four states have designated providers who are responsible for coordinating care for the home health population. Challenges the states faced in implementing the program included identifying the appropriate role for health homes within the broader medical community and evolving health care system, competing health reform priorities, and state budget pressures.
(Contact: Kelly Murphy)
Study Examines New Technologies in Transportation Fuel
The National Petroleum Council (NPC) has released a new study that evaluates the potential for new automotive technologies to become economically viable and reduce emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The study found that new technologies will make continued improvement possible in the fuel economy of light and heavy-duty vehicles, but that the automobile industry will need to overcome hurdles specific to each vehicle and fuel type—including biofuels, natural gas, electricity, and hydrogen fuel cells—before widespread adoption of alternative fuel vehicles or highly-efficient petroleum vehicles can occur. The NPC also reports that the deployment of new fuel and vehicle technologies will increase energy security and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but additional steps must be taken to reduce GHG emissions enough to meet a 50 percent reduction goal.
The NPC's recommendations for the federal government include sustained funding in partnership with the automotive industry to overcome technology hurdles, and a policy of remaining technology neutral in making funding decisions. Other recommendations are that the federal government should convene stakeholders at multiple levels of government to streamline the permitting process for alternative vehicle infrastructures as well as promote new or existing forums with industry and state governments to address the concurrent development of new vehicles and infrastructure. The NPC also recommends considering the life-cycle environmental and cost-effectiveness impact of each fuel type.
The NPC is a privately-funded federal advisory committee that makes recommendations to the United States Secretary of Energy regarding the oil and gas industry. Appointees to the NPC include oil and gas industry representatives as well as academic institutions, electric utilities and large petroleum consumers, and environmental and other nonprofit organizations.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Segregation Based on Income Increasing in Major Metropolitan Areas
The Pew Research Center released a report tracking the rise in residential segregation by income over the past three decades, finding that people are less likely to live in neighborhoods with people at different income levels than themselves than in the past. The authors also report that racial segregation has decreased but is still more prevalent than segregation based on income. Using census tract data the report examines the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. and assigns a Residential Income Segregation Index (RISI) score to each. RISI scores are determined by comparing the percentage of low-income residents living in predominately low-income tracts, with the percentage of high-income residents living in predominately high-income tracts. The report also examined regional data, which demonstrates that the southwest area has had the largest RISI increase since 1980, going from 35, to 57 in 2010. Researchers speculate that the areas with the largest increases have also experienced the largest population growth, though there are a few exceptions. The increase can also be attributed to the increasing income inequality, which has led to fewer middle class neighborhoods, and an increase in neighborhoods which are predominately either low or high-income.
(Contact: Rebecca Rabinowitz)
New Study Examines Teacher Retention in Urban Schools
A new study released by TNTP, formally known as The New Teacher Project, examines teacher retention in urban schools and finds that school districts need to do more to encourage their best teachers to stay. The study focuses on what it calls the “irreplaceables”— the 20 percent of teachers in each district who are so successful that they are nearly impossible to replace—and finds that the nation’s 50 largest school districts lose approximately 10,000 of these teachers every year. The study further concludes that when an “irreplaceable” teacher leaves a low-achieving school, it can take up to 11 new hires to find just one teacher of comparable quality.
In order to mitigate this problem, the authors recommend that districts make retention of “irreplaceables” a top priority by doing things such as setting clear public retention targets for the best teachers, as well as overhauling how principals are hired and how teachers are supported and evaluated to improve the district’s focus on instructional leadership. The authors also recommend that these changes lead to increased pay for more effective teachers. The authors also suggest that school and district leaders set new, higher standards for effectiveness and dismiss teachers who consistently underperform. This requires removing or reforming the policy barriers to higher standards, such as staffing restrictions and dismissal rules.
(Contact: Emily Slack)
Courts May Be More Open to Pension Reform Than Commonly Believed
A new issue brief from the Center for Retirement Research explores the major type of legal protections that apply to public pension benefits. The authors suggests that states can reform pensions by passing legislation that defines the employer-employee contract as coming into existence only when the employee performs a service. This would mean that benefits already accrued are protected, but that employers can change the rules for how future benefits will be earned. Private pension benefits are protected in the same way. The authors suggest that these attempts will be met with court challenges, but believe that pension benefits are more open to legal interpretations than is commonly believed. One reason for this belief is that actual constitutional protections of pension benefits are rare. The authors also note that legal thinking on pensions has changed before, when the contract-based approach used in most states replaced a legal approach that treated pensions as gratuities.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)