New York Database to Include DNA from All Crimes
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that will require DNA samples be collected from anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor and expand defendants' access to DNA testing before and after conviction. Currently, only people found guilty of violent felonies and some misdemeanors are required to provide a DNA sample for inclusion in the state's DNA databank. The new legislation expands the DNA collection mandate to all crimes, with one exception for people convicted of marijuana possession with no previous convictions. The limited evidence that exists on the topic suggests that collecting DNA for property crimes may greatly increase clearance rates, but its cost–effectiveness cannot be generalized because testing costs vary widely. It is also possible that expanding DNA databases will increase the effectiveness of using DNA testing.
The law also allows defendants in certain criminal cases to obtain DNA testing before trial to demonstrate their innocence, and it provides access to DNA testing for defendants convicted after a guilty plea under limited circumstances. Finally, the law provides that in certain circumstances defendants will be able to seek discovery of property and other materials to demonstrate their innocence after they are convicted. Those reforms are expected to help ensure that innocent defendants are not incarcerated.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Tech Center Offers Start–Ups Low Rent, Opportunities to Collaborate
Illinois is opening a new digital technology center that provides affordable, flexible space to help launch and grow technology start–ups. Governor Pat Quinn recently announced the first 15 companies to be housed at the center which is scheduled to open May 2. The state provided capital funding for the space and the nonprofit that manages the space has also received private sector funding to offset the low rent.
Governor Quinn noted that Illinois has a high number of high–tech start–ups, so the center will provide support for a sector of the state's economy with high–growth potential. Convening innovators under one roof could spur more innovation and cross–fertilization of ideas by creating a community of mentors, partners, peers, developers and investors. The 50,000 square– foot tech center will have the capacity to house up to 400 individuals or more than 100 start–ups, and over 300 companies have already applied. More information about the center is available here.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
Wisconsin Pilot Allows On–the–Job Training for the Unemployed
Wisconsin is launching "Wisconsin Wins," a pilot program that allows people receiving unemployment benefits to receive six weeks of on–the–job training with employers considering hiring more full–time workers. Unemployed individuals who participate in the program will receive an additional $75 stipend for each week they participate. If the worker and employer are a good fit, the worker should have a full–time job at the end of the six weeks.
"Wisconsin Wins" is a part of Governor Scott Walker's "Wisconsin Working" plan. Other parts include the College and Workforce Readiness Council, designed to help improve student readiness for college and careers through a variety of measures such as designing shorter and less costly degree programs aimed at filling high–need positions. In addition, the council will look at ways to expand dual enrollment and dual credit opportunities for high school students, allowing them to earn college and workforce training credits while in high school. Wisconsin Working also includes legislation that allows veterans to apply certain military education, training, and other experiences for the purposes of satisfying certain requirements for a professional credential.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Governor's Efficiency, Biomass Proposals Pass in Mississippi
The Mississippi House of Representatives has passed Governor Phil Bryant's energy proposals, which aims to improve efficiency in public and private buildings and coordinate research and development efforts around biomass energy resources, which are plant–based and can be crops specifically grown for the purpose or manufacturing by–products such as wood pulp. The bill requires the Energy Division of the Mississippi Development Authority to develop a statewide energy plan and an energy management plan for state facilities. As part of the energy management plan, the energy division will gather and track energy consumption data for state buildings, develop a list of strategies that will allow state agencies to save costs through improved energy efficiency, and work with agencies to ensure that they are meeting their energy reduction goals.
The law also creates a Biomass Center for Excellence that will coordinate research and development initiatives among universities and industry in the state. The Center of Excellence will catalogue research and data related to biomass feedstocks, identify gaps in research, and assess workforce development programs, with the aim of maximizing investments in biomass research and promoting the state's biomass industry globally.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Iowa Promotes STEM Education Projects
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Advisory Council announced the creation of six regional STEM hubs and a STEM scale–up project that will identify successful projects across the state, such as after–school programs or an innovative curriculum, for replication. The Council issued a request for proposals to create the STEM Network hubs, which will work with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that STEM activities and information are available across the state. The STEM Scale–Up Eligibility Application, which will identify high–quality projects that increase student engagement with STEM disciplines, was also recently released. To qualify, projects must already be underway in Iowa, and there must be evidence of success in achieving project goals. The network hubs will work to make the step–up programs widely available. More information about what states have done to meet STEM goals is available in the NGA report, Building a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education Agenda.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Michigan Governor Unveils Criminal Justice Initiatives
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has unveiled several criminal justice initiatives designed to reduce crime, citing the costs it imposes on victims and taxpayers and the negative effect it has on economic development. Governor Snyder's initiatives focus on a range of issues including crime prevention and intervention, structural reforms in the law enforcement and criminal justice systems, and public safety communications.
Specific crime prevention initiatives proposed by the governor include the Secure Cities Partnership initiative, which will task the Michigan State Police with coordinating teams of state, local, and federal law enforcement officers to target high–crime areas and fast track the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes such as homicides, drive–by–shootings, and sexual assaults. Also, in an effort to continue reducing recidivism rates, the Michigan Department of Corrections will improve the prisoner re–entry program by conducting the program sooner in an offender's sentence rather than near the end. Additionally, Governor Snyder directed the Council on Law Enforcement and Reinvention to develop recommendations for implementing Next Generation 911, which enables users to send texts, photos, and videos to dispatchers who can relay the information to emergency responders.
The governor's proposal also increases funding for Mental Health Courts, an evidence–based practice designed to steer qualified defendants with a mental illness into supervised treatment plans instead of sending them into the correctional system. Some counties will also receive funding to create more treatment slots. The supervised treatment plans usually involve requiring a defendant to get treatment, which often involves psychiatric treatment, medications, and sanctions if they do not follow the treatment plan.
(Contact: Jackie LeGrand; Alisha Powell)
New York Reforms Slow Growth in Pension Payments, Add Portable Option
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law reducing pension benefits for all new employees, emphasizing the strain required pension payments have caused in local budgets. Local governments in the state have seen their annual pension payments increase by 650 percent in the past 10 years. The size of the annual payment is determined by the amount of benefits each employee earned that year plus a payment on any unfunded benefits. Most of the reforms in the new law will keep payments down by reducing the benefits earned through the year as a new group of employees replaces the old. Those reforms include capping the salary that can be used in final benefit calculations and increasing employee contributions to between 3 percent (for people earning less than $45,000) and 6 percent (for people earning over $100,000). The law will also reduce future budget issues by requiring the state to immediately pay for any benefit enacted into law. In the past, the state has failed to do so, adding to the unfunded benefits that must be paid each year.
The new law also includes a voluntary defined contribution plan similar to a private Individual Retirement Account, in which employers and employees contribute to an individual investment fund. The plan is open to anyone making over $75,000 and the state will contribute 8 percent of each person's salary. Governor Cuomo argued that plans of that type are popular with younger employees because the fund can follow them if they change jobs. Limiting the plan to employees earning higher salaries helps ensure that employees can save enough during their working years to have some security after retirement.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)
South Dakota Passes Legislation Granting Bonuses to Best Teachers
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed legislation he proposed during the State of the State address earlier this year that rewards excellent teachers and provides incentives to enter critical fields. The bill includes three key programs:
- Top Teacher Rewards, which allow school districts to create a plan to provide monetary rewards to teachers based on student achievement or other factors;
- Critical Needs Scholarships, for teaching–students who commit to teaching in a critical needs field; and
- Math and Science Teacher Incentives, which reward the top math and science teachers with a $2,500 bonus.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Maryland Regulatory Review Produces Over 131 Recommended Changes
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley recently sent 131 recommendations for repealing, revising, or streamlining business regulations to the state's Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee. Each recommendation includes the affected agency, the recommendation, and the expected benefits if the legislature agrees to the change. The governor directed all state agencies to review their own regulations through an executive order last October, and the final reports are the result of those reviews, input from business partners and over 350 public comments sent to the governor's office through the Maryland Made Easy website. The recommendations cover a wide variety of regulations, from unnecessary paperwork in grant applications to safety regulations made obsolete by technological change.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)
Colorado Uses Technology to Decrease DMV Wait
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has unveiled a new "Wait Less" initiative that uses technological upgrades at the state Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to reduce the amount of time citizens spend waiting to apply for or renew a driver license. The first phase of the initiative allows residents to schedule appointments in advance on the DMV's website and will install computer kiosks at DMV offices allowing multiple customers to check–in upon arrival. The installation of kiosks also will allow the DMV to offer additional services in the future. Those include allowing customers to change their address, register to vote, or complete online license renewals at the kiosks, and installing a notification system in which customers could leave the DMV office while waiting for their appointment and receive a text message notifying them that their turn is approaching.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
New Resource Provides Guidance on Dually–Involved Youth
Georgetown Public Policy Institute's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corp recently released a resource for jurisdictions attempting to better serve "crossover" or "dually–involved" youth who are receiving some level of service or supervision from both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Youth that move between those systems tend to be high–need and often experience the negative consequences of infrequent coordination across systems related to case planning and the delivery of needed services. In many cases, no information is shared between the two systems at all.
Sections of the report address specific practice areas, such as case closures and methodologies for measuring outcomes. The report also provides information on how to prevent youth from crossing over between systems and ensure that all youth who are served by both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems experience them in a manner that provides for their safety, wellbeing and permanence, while also ensuring public safety.
(Contact: Alex Cawthorne)
High School Graduation Rate Inches Up
A report from America's Promise Alliance found that the national high school graduation rate increased to 75.5 percent, a 3.5 percentage point gain between 2001 and 2009. That growth was mostly found in 12 states, with the greatest boosts coming from New York and Tennessee. Wisconsin is the only state with a graduation rate over 90 percent, with Vermont close behind. The report offers several recommendations to further increase the graduation rate: promote college and career ready standards; invest strategically in education; employ longitudinal data systems to analyze graduation and dropout trends; use early warning indicators and intervention systems in districts with low graduation rates. For more information about the graduation rate in particular states, please see Appendix G of the report.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Missing Data Limits Evaluation of Recession's Impact on Civil Justice System
The RAND Corporation recently published An Early Assessment of the Civil Justice System After the Financial Crisis: Something Wicked This Way Comes?, concluding that while the financial crisis may in fact mark an important negative shift in the availability of resources, low–quality and limited data within the civil justice system hampers empirical studies. Focusing on the initial years following the crisis, the study examines several mechanisms that affect the performance of the justice system, including funding for states' judicial branches, patterns of litigation, securities litigation and enforcement, trends in the legal services industry, and legal aid and the provisions of legal services.
Recommendations include collecting newer and better data on court system budgets, securities litigation, legal outsourcing, and alternative fee arrangements to get a sense of the financial strain on the civil justice system and examining judicial branch resources through administrative performance measures and financial information to understand the impact on litigation volume and outcomes.
(Contact: Anne Elizabeth Johnson)
Alcohol Prevention Efforts Could Reduce College Students' High–Cost ER Visits
One in eight emergency room visits by students participating in a randomized study were associated with alcohol induced blackouts, and injuries ranged from broken bones to head trauma. Over a two–year period, researchers observed 954 students during which the students were periodically surveyed about their drinking, blackouts, and emergency room visits. Researchers then attempted to quantify the cost of emergency room visits by college students who experienced blackouts from consuming alcohol. Results showed that on a large university campus (over 40,000 students) the costs of blackout–associated emergency department visits could range from $469,000 to $556,000. The researchers concluded that blackouts are a strong predictor of emergency department visits and policy efforts that target students with a history of blackouts could reduce injuries and emergency room costs.
(Contact: Jessica Veffer)
Report Outlines Action Plan for Adopting Electric Vehicles
A report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions outlines a strategy to facilitate the adoption of plug–in electric vehicles (PEVs) in the U.S. marketplace and integrate PEVs into the electric grid. The report includes changes in policy, regulation, outreach, and stakeholder collaboration that the authors believe will assist in that process. The report was developed with input from a variety of stakeholder groups including state and local governments, utilities, automakers, environmental groups, and other non–governmental organizations, and includes actions that can be taken by the public and private sector.
The author's primary recommendation is that states should establish a consistent regulatory framework for PEVs nationwide. That can include establishing rate structures for electricity that encourage off–peak charging of vehicles, coordinating technical standards for charging infrastructure, and treating PEVs and other appliances that use similar amounts of energy consistently within a rate structure for electricity. The authors also recommend streamlining the process to establish public and private charging infrastructure, exempting third–party service providers from regulation as utilities to facilitate their entry into the market, and educating consumers about the technology options and costs and benefits of PEVs.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour )