Massachusetts VALOR Act Increases Educational, Employment Opportunities for Veterans
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill into law which will improve business and educational opportunities for veterans and provide greater resources for their families. The Veterans' Access, Livelihood, Opportunity, and Resources Act, also known as the VALOR Act, will support veterans by providing greater access to financial assistance for veteran-owned small businesses and affording greater opportunities for veterans who have been disabled during their time in service to participate in public projects. The law requires all public institutions of higher education to have policies in place by March 1, 2013 that provide a way to evaluate military training and experience for possible academic credit. The law also makes it easier for children of military personnel to transfer between school districts and states by allowing the state to join the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.
The Act also expands the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund to Gold Star Families, which derives its funding from a voluntary tax check off on income tax returns and is used to defray the costs of food, housing, utilities, medical service, and other expenses borne by Massachusetts National Guard and reserve service members and their families.
(Contact: Garrett Groves)
New York Reforms Designed to Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a set of prescription drug reform bills designed to reduce prescription drug abuse and backed by the state's Attorney General and the leaders of both state chambers. The new law will update the state's Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) registry by making information about recent prescriptions that a patient received available in real time to prescribers and pharmacists. In addition, the law will require health care practitioners to consult the PMP registry before prescribing or dispensing controlled substances that are most likely to be abused and diverted, such as opioid painkillers. However, the law will provide an exemption to this requirement in specific situations in order to protect patient access to needed medications. The measures are expected help limit "doctor shopping"—the practice of visiting different physicians to obtain multiple prescriptions—and the circulation of illegally-obtained prescription drugs.
The law will also mandate electronic prescribing for all controlled substances, both to reduce errors and prevent forgeries or alterations on prescription paper. It will also remove hydrocodone from Schedule III and make it a Schedule II drug. That change will eliminate automatic refills and limit the amount that can be prescribed or dispensed to a 30-day supply, with exceptions such as when a patient has one of several specified conditions like chronic pain. Finally, the law will help promote safe disposal of controlled substances by instituting a program that provides secure disposal sites at police stations.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Alaska Creates Energy Infrastructure Fund
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has signed a bill into law that creates a new mechanism for funding energy infrastructure projects, drawing a link between energy development in the state and economic development. The law creates a new fund to be administered by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), the state's economic development financing authority. The new fund will specifically target energy projects as part of AIDEA's economic development portfolio. Under the law, AIDEA will be able to provide direct loans to project developers, guarantee loans or bonds, and establish loan loss reserve funds. The law grants AIDEA the authority to fund up to one-third of the cost of a project, with a cap of $20 million. The fund is subject to appropriations from the legislature and is separate from an existing revolving loan fund administered by AIDEA. Qualified energy projects eligible for support from the fund include renewable and traditional energy generation projects, electric transmission, energy efficiency improvements, and distribution or storage of natural gas and petroleum.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
West Virginia Creates Education-to-Work Program
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced a joint manufacturing and community college program that offers students a paid work opportunity and will lead to a two-year associate degree. Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia and Bridgemont Community and Technical College teamed up to offer the program to 20 students in the initial year. It combines a rigorous curriculum, instruction in business principles and best practices, and hands-on work experience. Students will attend classes two days a week and work three days a week at Toyota's manufacturing facility. They must maintain a grade of "C" or higher in all classes to stay in the program.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Colorado Offers Support to Military Families through Education and Jobs Bills
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed two bills into law to help military spouses and the children of active military. The first law, titled "In-State Status Dependents Armed Forces Members," allows public colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition to the children of active military members. The second law, called "Military Spouse Practice Occupation Profession," allows spouses of military members to use their out-of-state professional licenses in Colorado for one year.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Michigan Launches Fitness Program to Tackle Childhood Obesity
Gov. Rick Snyder announced a three-part health and fitness program to tackle childhood obesity starting with infancy. Over the next three years the Pure Michigan FIT Program will take action in three areas that could help to reduce childhood obesity by creating good habits at an early age. The first action is to improve nutritional signage at grocery stores so that parents and children can make better choices when shopping. A second focus is on increasing access to food for low-income populations and includes a June 1, 2012, launch of a program to match (or "double-up") benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program spent at farmers markets. Third, the program will increase obesity-related education for future doctors and health care professionals so they can help children set age-appropriate fitness and nutrition goals. The Pure Michigan FIT Program kick-off event was held in the city of Wyoming and the program is projected to begin in Detroit in July.
(Contact: Kelly Murphy)
New York Helps Hospitals and Nursing Homes Focus on Primary Care
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced over $300 million in grants to health care providers as part of a continuing effort to improve primary care, eliminate excess capacity of hospital beds, and reduce over-reliance on in-patient care in 40 hospitals and nursing homes throughout the state. The grants were made available through the Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law and will help implement the recommendations from a report issued by Governor Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team, which was commissioned to simultaneously decrease spending and improve quality. The awards include $19.1 million in assistance for two hospitals and one nursing home in the Southern Tier. The money will be used to restructure their processes and increase cost-effectiveness, and it will assist with recovery of that area from floods in 2011.
(Contact: Kelly Murphy)
Marijuana Fines Will Fund Drug Education in Rhode Island
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has signed a bill into law that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The new law makes possessing an ounce or less of marijuana equivalent to a ticket or a civil violation with a $150 fine. For offenders under age 18, parents will be notified and the minor must complete a drug awareness program. An offender's failure to enter such a program within one year will result in the fine increasing to $300. Rhode Island plans to spend half of their collected fines on drug awareness and treatment programs for youth.
The law also states that if three violations of marijuana possession occur within 18 months the charge will be a misdemeanor resulting in larger fines and/or prison time.
(Contact: Vijay Das)
Connecticut Releases Energy Resources Plan
Gov. Dannel Malloy has announced the release of the Connecticut Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a comprehensive energy plan that includes six policy recommendations for ensuring that the state meets its energy demands while achieving environmental goals and lowering the cost of energy. The plan, developed by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), assesses the state's energy demands, available in-state resources, and regional energy supplies. The plan also includes a series of policy strategies the state believes will help meet its goals. Those include expanding energy efficiency programs to attain all available cost-effective energy efficiency and analyzing the effectiveness of the state's renewable portfolio standard to help develop additional long-term policies for increasing renewable energy generation. The report also advises the state to pursue existing regional opportunities to expand or develop cost-effective renewable energy resources and review the adequacy of local resources so that electric reliability is not jeopardized during times of peak demand. Other strategies include reviewing the adequacy of natural gas supplies and infrastructure to maintain reliability in winter months when natural gas is diverted for home heating, and facilitating the deployment of microgrid or smart grid technologies.
DEEP was directed to develop the IRP in the 2009 law that created the agency, and the IRP is the fourth comprehensive energy plan in the state's history. The IRP was developed in conjunction with the state's Energy Advisory Board and its electric distribution companies, since implementation of the policies will require action by the state and utilities. The plan identifies the state's role as overseeing energy efficiency programs, regulating the electric distribution system, implementing environmental policies, establishing renewable energy policies, and engaging with the regional electric system operator on market rules and transmission planning.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Public Health Systems Could Serve as Models in Cyber Security Efforts
Methods long used by the public health community to track disease outbreaks could benefit cybersecurity professionals, according to a report released by the EastWest Institute. The report describes how global health is tracked in the public health community which creates a picture of global health using data collected by local, state, national, and international partners to identify disease outbreaks and spikes in reported cases. The report suggests that malware and other computer-disrupting viruses could be tracked back to their source using the same type of tracking model. Global public health models also provide for education, immunization, and incident response—all of which could serve as models for cyber security officials seeking to educate the public on computer "hygiene", develop public service announcements and programs for computer users to invest in security programs, and to respond to incidents.
(Contact: David Henry)
Report Finds Certificates are the Fastest-Growing College Credential
A report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that certificates make up 22 percent of all college awards and are the fastest-growing college credential. The report, Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees, indicates that a certificate is the highest form of education obtained by 1 in 10 Americans. Certificates are often confused with industry-based certifications, which are awarded based on tests, but are actually earned through coursework and in general take less than a year to complete. One-third of certificate holders also have an associate, bachelor's, or graduate degree. Certificates often lead to higher earnings—certificate holders earn 20 percent more than workers who only have a high school diploma. The report also includes state-by-state data that shows the share of workers with credentials and the share of certificates attained by residents that provide workers with a significant earnings premium.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Renewable Energy Technology Could Provide 80 Percent of Power by 2050
A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) explores the ability of the electric grid in the continental U.S. to support a large increase in the production of electricity from renewable resources (such as wind and solar) and finds that, with additional electric system flexibility, as much as 80 percent of electric generation could come from renewables without jeopardizing electric reliability. The report analyzed the impacts of increasing levels of renewable energy penetration, from 30 percent to 90 percent, in 2050. The report only included renewable energy technologies that are commercially available today and used a standard of meeting hourly demand in every region of the country. The report found that relying on renewables for 80 percent of electricity generation was feasible by 2050 and that the diversity of renewable resources in the U.S. can support multiple, complementary technologies. The report does assume that several demand- and supply-side policies or technologies are adopted, such as increased flexibility of conventional electric generation, large-scale electric storage, increased transmission capacity, changes in power system operations, and demand response. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable resources other than hydropower currently account for only 4 percent of electric generation in the U.S.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Report Offers Recommendations for Strengthening Role of Research Universities
A new report from the National Academies' National Research Council, called Research Universities and the Future of America, urges the federal government, states, businesses, and universities to work together to support the nation's research universities. The report builds upon recommendations made in Rising above the Gathering Storm, which was released by the Council in 2005. The new report draws attention to current challenges to the competitiveness of U.S. research universities, such as the decline in federal funding for university research and the erosion of state support for higher education in general. According to the report, restoring university funding, easing regulatory and reporting requirements, building stronger university-business research partnerships, and addressing attrition rates within graduate programs, are all key to restoring the national research ecosystem. Universities are called upon to do their part by increasing cost-effectiveness and productivity.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
TANF Work Requirements and State Strategies to Fulfill Them
A central component of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is its emphasis on work. Adult TANF recipients, with some exceptions, must participate in work activities as a condition of receiving cash benefits. A recent brief from the Urban Institute focuses on the federal work requirements and state strategies for meeting them, especially since passage of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, the recession that began in December 2007, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The brief documents the multiple strategies that states use to meet the participation rate requirements.
(Contact: Alexandra Cawthorne)
Mobile Devices Transform Health Care
The Brookings Institution released a report highlighting the effect of mobile devices on health care and how the devices could play a role in improving the delivery and quality of health care and reducing cost in the U.S. and around the world. Chronic disease management is one area that mHealth—the practice of medicine supported by mobile devices—could have a large effect. Sending health information to primary care physicians and specialists in real-time helps patients stay out of the hospital and, as a result, reduces costs. Diabetics, people struggling with substance abuse, and those looking to quit smoking have all benefited from mHealth, which helps people track their own health care data and behavior and, thus, improves their ability to make decisions that benefit their overall health. Another remote health monitoring study cited in the report projected that in the U.S., the use of remote monitoring technologies could save as much as $200 billion over the next 25 years. Studies have also shown that mHealth has been helpful for the elderly who can use the technology to remind themselves to take their prescription drugs at the right time and in the right dosage, which is one of the largest health issues for elderly people. Further, mHealth is able to extend care to rural populations where doctors are scarce.
A significant challenge to mHealth is overcoming concerns about safety and security. Although people report wanting to use technology to enhance health care—for example, a national survey reported that 77 percent wanted to get doctor appointment reminders via e-mail—the technology raises questions about data accuracy, the transmission of sensitive information, reimbursement policies, regulations, and research.
(Contact: Kelly Murphy)