Governor Chaffee Hosts Forum on Behavioral Health Care for Veterans
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee recently hosted a forum to discuss veterans' mental health needs. Participants included representatives from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health Care, the state's National Guard, and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a longtime advocate for mental health parity. The forum focused on the need to treat soldiers' mental health needs in the same way their physical needs are treated. One forum speaker estimated that 50 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health issue—particularly depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and symptoms caused by traumatic brain injuries—but only half of them were getting adequate treatment. Rhode Island has the second most military deployments per-capita in the country and the governor noted that many of the state's servicemen and women have served multiple deployments, sometimes lasting 18 months or longer.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
Delaware Launches New Mortgage Program for Veterans
The Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA) recently launched the Loans for Heroes program which provides qualified U.S. veterans with favorable mortgage financing. Any qualified veteran who obtains financing through the program will receive a reduction of one-half a percentage point below the current mortgage rate. The rate reduction will be made available to eligible veterans through a special DSHA set-aside of $5 million.
Veterans who have been discharged from the military for any reason other than dishonorable are eligible for the program. Qualified veterans must document their discharge status with a Department of Defense (DD) Form 214. All borrowers must also meet income and purchase price guidelines, and use a participating lender to access the lending product.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Governor Cuomo Proposal Would Protect New Yorkers with Special Needs
A proposal from Governor Cuomo would strengthen New York's response to the abuse of people with disabilities in publicly funded homes by creating a new agency dedicated to investigating problems and by expanding the reach of the state's Freedom of Information Law. The agency, tentatively named the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, would ensure that criminals do not work with vulnerable people by performing background checks on applicants to state and nonprofit providers. It would also maintain a register of previously employed abusive workers to prevent their rehiring at other care facilities. The legislation also expands the state's Freedom of Information law, enabling the public to request that nonprofits with state contracts to provide residential treatment and day care for the disabled or elderly release abuse and neglect records. The Justice Center would provide the legal staff to respond to such requests and provide the documentation requested.
(Contact: Jessica Veffer)
Colorado to Analyze Cost Effective Use of Prisons
Governor John Hickenlooper has signed legislation that will require the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) to conduct a system-wide analysis of the state's public and private prisons and determine ways to effectively use prison facilities. The legislation directs OSPB to identify cost-effective uses of all inmate beds available for prisoners in state custody. The analysis will consider different factors including public safety, the physical characteristics of facilities, effects on public and private workforces, the rights and needs of inmates, and the effect on stakeholders including crime victims. From the analysis, the state will identify, evaluate, and prioritize the best use of available public and private prison inmate beds for five fiscal years, starting with fiscal year 2013-14. The legislation provides OSPB with $350,000 to fund the analysis.
(Contact: Alisha Powell)
Governor Christie Endorses Assessments Based on Common Core
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has endorsed recommendations from the state's College and Career Readiness Taskforce to replace current high school assessments with new measures aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The new assessments in math and English language arts, developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), will measure knowledge as well as the use of critical thinking skills. The assessments are meant to demonstrate college and career readiness and to act as a better tool in targeting students in need of individual supports. The transition to the new assessments will take place over several years with current high school students continuing to take the state assessments, students in grades 5 through 8 piloting the new assessments, and students now in fourth grade to be the first to graduate based on the new assessments. The taskforce also recommended the development of assessments for science and social studies.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Hawaii Removes Barrier to Utility Contracts for Renewable Energy
Governor Neil Abercrombie has signed three bills addressing the state's electric system, including one that lowers the financing costs to utilities associated with long-term contracts for renewable resources. That bill allows utilities to recover, from their customers, the costs associated with power purchase agreements (PPAs) for renewable energy, just as it recovers the costs associated with constructing and maintaining its own generation infrastructure. PPAs are fixed-price contracts between utilities and power generators that typically last 20 years. They are commonly used to help deliver renewable energy to utilities at a lower cost than if the utility constructed new renewable energy infrastructure itself. PPAs appear on a utility balance sheet as a debt obligation. Allowing utilities to recover the costs of PPAs, subject to approval by the state Public Utility Commission (PUC), will eliminate that debt, improve the terms of the contract, and reduce the utility's overall capital costs. That in turn should increase the likelihood that third-party electric power projects that often require the certainty of PPAs to receive financing will do so, since the terms of the PPAs will be more appealing to the financial sector.
The second bill signed by Governor Abercrombie establishes a regulatory framework for the state that will evaluate private sector proposals for the construction and financing of an interisland electricity cable. Connecting the state's islands into a single electric grid would enhance electric system reliability and decrease price volatility. Any proposed project would require approval by the PUC. The third bill allows the PUC to establish electric reliability standards for the state's electric grids.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Mississippi to Streamline Information Technology
Governor Phil Bryant recently signed the Shared Technology Efficiency Act, which aims to minimize the cost of the state's information technology services (IT) by eliminating redundant spending, standardizing hardware and software where practical, consolidating technology purchasing, and safeguarding state data through better use of Mississippi's State Data Center.
Mississippi's Information Technology Services (ITS) will coordinate the state's IT efforts and will work to improve Mississippi's technology assets and offerings. ITS has already launched Phase I of its overhaul to ms.gov, the state's portal for online services and information.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
Vermont Creates Cabinet Position for Secretary of Education
Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill creating a new cabinet position for the Secretary of Education. Previously, the Commissioner of Education reported to the State Board of Education, but now the Secretary of Education will answer to the governor. In January, the State Board of Education will suggest three candidates for the position and the governor will make the final selection. The bill also reduces the terms of board members from six to three years.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Georgia Enacts Comprehensive Public Safety Reform Bill
Governor Nathan Deal has signed legislation that provides alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders, reserves prison beds for the state's most violent offenders, and reinvests cost savings from restraining the growth of the prison population into initiatives designed to reduce offender recidivism. The legislation was the result of six months of work by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians, an inter-branch, bipartisan coalition of representatives from the state's executive, legislative, and judicial branches. By reserving prison space for violent and career criminals, reducing recidivism by strengthening probation and accountability courts that target substance abuse and mental health problems, and holding corrections agencies more accountable for outcomes through data collection and performance measurement systems, the legislation is expected to save taxpayers $264 million over the next five years.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Oklahoma Sets Targets for Cost-Effective Energy Savings
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has signed a bill that puts the state on a path to reduce energy consumption in state buildings 20 percent below current levels by 2020. The bill creates a new Oklahoma State Facilities Energy Conservation Program through which the state will release a request for proposals (RFP) to identify a qualified vendor to help meet the 20 percent goal. The vendor (or vendors) selected in the RFP process will help state agencies benchmark their current energy consumption and identify behavior- or performance-based energy savings strategies that can be implemented within existing agency budgets. Funding for the program is expected to come entirely from the savings associated with reduced energy costs, and the program is expected to report annually on the costs and savings. State agencies also may work with local utilities to implement strategies and participate in utility energy efficiency programs.
The goals and strategies in the legislation were outlined by Governor Fallin in the 2011 Oklahoma First Energy Plan. Governor Fallin then requested that the legislature formalize the initiative during her February 2012 State of the State Address.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
First National Preparedness Report Finds Gaps in Cybersecurity, Recovery
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released the first-ever National Preparedness Report. The report found overall improvements in public health and medical capacity, operational coordination during a disaster response, and public warnings and information. The report, mandated under Presidential Policy Directive 8, outlines core capabilities for national preparedness. The analysis is based on self-reported data from both the private sector and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments.
The report also found that cybersecurity and long-term disaster recovery are the areas of most concern for emergency managers. Emergency managers surveyed found planning gaps in all aspects of long-term recovery which includes housing, economic recovery, and access to cultural resources. Progress in improving cybersecurity ranked last in the report. However, state and federal partners reported activities to improve protections against cyber threats, including the enhancement of data collection capabilities, improvement to the detection of events, expanded public awareness, and better response to cyber incidents. In addition, measuring the successes of preparedness programs remains an elusive goal for emergency management.
(Contact: David Henry)
Organizations Release New Measures to Track Community College Completion
Two new resources are available to help assess the performance of community colleges using metrics which are specifically suited to two-year institutions. The College Board recently released an online tool, called the Completion Arc, for tracking completion rates. It takes data from national and state-level sources and breaks it down into five categories: enrollment; developmental education placement; progress; transfer and completion; and workforce participation and employment outcomes. The second resource is a framework developed by the American Association of Community Colleges. The framework is an accountability system, designed for adoption by community college administrations, which includes three measures — student progress and outcomes; workforce, economic, and community development; and assessment of student learning outcomes.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Increased Fuel Economy Will Deplete Transportation Fund
A report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that proposed changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks will gradually decrease federal fuel tax revenues and therefore the balance of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Funds from the HTF are used to reimburse states for the Federal share of highway and transit projects and Federal law requires that the HTF maintain a positive balance. Under the current proposal, the average fuel economy for new light-duty vehicles would increase from 34.1 miles per gallon in 2016 to 49.6 miles per gallon by 2025. The report found that the changes, proposed by the US Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, would cause gasoline tax revenues to fall by 21 percent between now and 2040. The decrease in revenue would happen gradually over that time period, due to slow turnover of the vehicle fleet and the gradual increase in stringency until 2025. CBO estimates a decrease in revenues available to the HTF of $57 billion or 13 percent between 2012 and 2022, the span of CBO's current budget projections for the HTF. The report did not examine how much revenue would be lost in state fuel taxes due to the proposed new CAFE standards.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
The Public Return to Increasing Postsecondary Credential Attainment
According to a new report from CLASP, The Public Return to Increasing Postsecondary Credential Attainment by 2025, the United States will need to produce about 24 million additional credentialed adults to remain globally competitive with leading Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries. The authors of the report estimate that state revenues would reach $64 billion if the states were able to meet that goal, for an investment of $21 billion.
CLASP and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems have developed a Return on Investment Dashboard that allows users like state and federal policymakers and advocates to adjust a number of factors to project the short- and long-term revenue from either maintaining the status quo or increasing investments in postsecondary education. The dashboard uses data from the Census Bureau, National Center for Education Statistics, and Department of Education data.
(Contact: Garret Groves)
Foreclosure Rates Climbing After Two Year Decline
Updated data shows that the rate of serious mortgage delinquency increased to 9.7 percent in the 100 largest metro areas in the last quarter of 2011. The serious mortgage delinquency rate is the number of mortgages which have been delinquent for 90 days or longer (which is 3.8 percent) combined with the foreclosure rate (5.9 percent). Between December 2009 and June 2011 that rate had been decreasing.
The data was provided through foreclosure-response.org, a project by the Center for Housing Policy, LISC, and the Urban Institute. Their analysis suggests that the increase is due to an increase in new foreclosure starts since the legal case over fraudulent foreclosure filings by the major banks (the "robo-signing" settlement) was settled in February. They also note that the rate of serious mortgage delinquency is higher in judicial states, where foreclosures must go through the courts and it takes longer for the cases to clear.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)