CDL Process Simplified for Veterans in Virginia
A program in Virginia will make it easier for veterans to get commercial driver's licenses (CDLs). Troops to Trucks, is a partnership between the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the military, and private trucking and bus companies. Members of the military who do not have a military CDL will be able to train and take their test at military installations. Those who earn their CDL through the program will be referred to at least three employers based on their job interests. The DMV will also take advantage of new federal regulations and waive the road test for people who have held a military CDL within the past two years. The road test can be a significant barrier for skilled drivers because applicants typically have to provide their own commercial vehicle for the test.
(Contact: Erin Sparks )
New York Funds Centers to Commercialize Clean Energy Technologies
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is launching three "proof of concept" centers to help commercialize clean energy technologies. The centers will provide an opportunity for universities and researchers to create new startup companies, partner with business mentors, and access potential investors. The goal of the centers is to provide researchers with the resources they need to successfully move technologies out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. Proof of concept centers help accelerate that movement by ensuring that inventors of innovative products can create sustainable business plans, develop prototypes, and solicit early-stage capital. NYSERDA will invest $15 million over the next five years to create three centers across the state. Institutions applying to host the centers will be required to share some of the costs and must have a plan for how they will fund the centers after NYSERDA's initial funding expires.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Arizona and Michigan Expand School Choice
New laws in both Arizona and Michigan will create more choices in schools. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed legislation that will expand a school voucher-type program called the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Currently, the accounts are open to parents with children with disabilities and contain 90 percent of the state per-student funding that would otherwise go directly to district or charter schools. Parents receive a debit card for the account and the money can be used for private-school tuition, tutoring, or textbooks. Unused funds can be used for college. The new law makes more students eligible for the accounts including students whose current schools received a D or F letter grade from the state, children of active-duty members of the military, and children in foster care.
In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill raising the cap on the number of cyber charter schools in the state from 2 to 15 by 2014. The law also establishes a 2 percent cap on the number of cyber students statewide, potentially increasing the cyber school population to 30,000. It also removes an earlier requirement mandating that cyber school students be previously enrolled in a public school.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Puerto Rico Releases Broadband Strategic Plan
The Puerto Rico Broadband Taskforce and Connect Puerto Rico unveiled a comprehensive strategy to expand access to broadband services and improve the quality of Puerto Rico's high speed data infrastructure. Currently, about 14 percent of Puerto Ricans don't have access to broadband services, compared to 5 percent of households within the 50 states, and data transfer speeds available to Puerto Rican customers are much slower. The plan includes 40 specific policy strategies to increase broadband access, adoption, and use. Recommendations to improve access include promoting local network interconnection, creating minimum service level requirements for broadband providers, and putting in place incentives that make it more attractive to providers to deploy fiber networks. Recommendations to increase adoption focus on expanding public computing capacity and digital literacy. The recommendations for broadband use cover two main areas, education and e-health.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Colorado Overhauls State Child Literacy Program
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed the READ Act, mandating new statewide reading assessments and requiring educators to identify struggling students. The Colorado Department of Education will create a resource bank of assessments to be used to identify and diagnose students' reading skills deficiencies. The resource bank will be available by July 1, 2013 and each local education provider will begin assessing students in the 2013-14 school year. If a student is found to have a reading deficiency, a customized, scientifically-based intervention plan, called a "READ plan," will be created. Students who still demonstrate a reading deficiency will not advance to the fourth grade, unless their parent, teacher, and school principal or superintendent agree to move the student forward. Governor Hickenlooper addressed early childhood literacy in his State of the State address in January.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Louisiana Enacts Sentencing Reform Laws
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed several pieces of legislation based on recommendations from the Louisiana Sentencing Commission. One of new laws changes how probation and parole violations are handled so that punishments can be imposed more quickly. If an offender admits to a violation and then consents to sanctions, the admission will be inadmissible in future proceedings and the administering officer can avoid taking the offender back to the courts or the Parole Board. Another one of the new laws gives prosecutors greater discretion to enter into plea agreements and to tailor sentencing to fit the crime. Currently, prosecutors must follow the sentencing guidelines described in the Louisiana Criminal Code, which include mandatory minimum sentences and fines for nonviolent offenses. The law will increase transparency in sentencing and plea-bargaining and allow prosecutors to create customized sentences on a case-by-case basis.
(Contact: Anne-Elizabeth Johnson )
Tennessee Launches Jobs Database
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam recently launched a new jobs database, Jobs4TN Online, which will connect job seekers with Tennessee employers. Jobs4TN Online will automatically notify job seekers when jobs they may qualify for are posted and notify employers when candidates who fit their needs register. The jobs in the database will be placed directly by Tennessee employers or aggregated from corporate Internet sites and major job search engines.
Jobs4TN Online also provides information about jobs that are in high demand, education requirements, and salary ranges for certain positions. Information can be statewide or tailored to focus on specific communities and metro statistical areas.
(Contact: Garrett Groves)
Massachusetts Schools to Focus on Emergency Medical Response
Schools in Massachusetts are getting more organized and prepared for medical emergencies. "Michael's Law," recently signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick, requires schools to have a written medical emergency response plan as part of their routine evacuation plans and asks schools to identify their current medical response capabilities alongside those capabilities they need to develop. New plans must include updated communication policies linking school officials to emergency medical services as well as contact lists of school officials and medical personnel. Although the legislation does not require all schools to have automatic cardiac defibrillators—mobile medical devices used to treat heart conditions—it does require schools to provide detailed reports of their defibrillator inventory and training available to faculty and staff. Plans will be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) every three years and DESE will be required to develop a model medical emergency response plan to assist school districts in the formulation of their plans. Schools are required to practice their emergency response plan at the beginning of each school year and modify the plan as needed.
(Contact: Carmen Ferro)
Governor Streamlines Food Stamp Applications in New York
New regulations proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo would end the requirement that food stamp applicants in New York City be fingerprinted. Instead, the city would use a computerized anti-fraud system in place for the rest of the state which uses addresses, social security numbers, and birth dates to reduce fraud and duplication. The regulations would affect nearly 1.8 million people and will go into effect after a 45 day comment period. The rest of the state ended the practice in 2007, but New York City—which is composed of five counties—received a waiver. Under the new regulations, counties would no longer be able to apply for those waivers. The fingerprinting requirement had cost the city about $5 million a year.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
Vermont Expands Renewable Energy Resources
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has signed several bills into law aimed at increasing the amount of electricity from renewable energy available to customers in the state. The first new law expands the state's "standard offer" program, under which utilities pay for renewable electricity at rates specific to each technology (wind, solar, etc.) through a standard contract. The law expands the total amount of renewable energy utilities must purchase under the standard offer program from 50 megawatts (MW) to 127.5 MW. The law also includes a provision regarding the deployment of "smart" electric meters. Smart meters are digital electric meters capable of two-way communication between the meter and the utility. The law prevents utilities in the state from charging customers a fee for opting not to have a smart meter installed at their residence.
A second law aims to encourage renewable energy development by providing financial certainty for those looking to install small-scale energy projects. It exempts renewable energy systems of 2 MW or less from paying property taxes, and instead charges a uniform tax rate of 4 cents per kilowatt. Because local property tax rates can vary across municipalities and over time, charging a flat rate gives developers more certainty as to what their total costs will be and should improve their ability to finance projects.
Governor Shumlin also signed a third bill creating a pilot program for "community supported biomass" that aims to encourage low-income residents to switch from home heating oil to wood pellets.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Higher US Health Spending Driven by Prices
A report from the Commonwealth Fund's International program in Health Policy and Innovation finds that the United States continues to spend more money on health care than other developed countries without producing better quality. Quality measures included rates of potentially preventable deaths from asthma and amputations due to diabetes, both of which were much worse in the United States than in the average study country. Hospitals stays cost almost three times as much in the United States as in the median study country, but in-hospital fatality rates for American stroke victims were worse than the average.
The report's authors suggest that higher prices for drugs and procedures are the primary causes. Secondary contributors include America's higher rates of obesity and greater use of expensive medical technology. The study found that Americans use basic health services, such as a consultation with their doctor less often than average, but are given more tests using imaging technology, such as MRI machines and CT scanners.The authors note that Japan's health care system is similar to the U.S. system, but that health care spending there is lower because Japan aggressively regulates prices. Japan spent the least of all the countries in the study, but is maintaining a high quality of care—the Japanese have the longest life expectancy in the world. Similarities between the two countries include payments based on the number of interactions between patient and providers, and most patients have unrestricted access to physicians, specialists, and high-tech medical care.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
Report Finds Chronic Absenteeism Affects Student Success
A report from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools found that chronic school absenteeism is associated with lower academic performance, but it is not regularly measured by states and is therefore not acted upon. Only six states collect data on chronic absentees and find rates ranging from 6 to 23 percent. Chronic absenteeism is most widespread among low-income students, but gender and ethnic backgrounds do not appear to play a roll. High-poverty urban areas report that up to one-third of students are chronically absent, while in poor rural areas, one-fourth of students miss at least a month of school. The report recommends that states measure and report rates of chronic absenteeism, as well as convene task forces that include state health, housing, justice, transportation, and education agencies.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Report Finds Trends in the Location of Manufacturing
A recent report by the Brookings Institution finds that American manufacturing is highly differentiated geographically and mostly concentrated in metropolitan regions. Metropolitan areas are found to contain the great majority of manufacturing jobs, especially those in high-technology areas. The report finds that manufacturing is highly specialized in states and cities and can be categorized in one or more of six broad patterns of industry clustering, including computers and electronics, transportation equipment, low-wage manufacturing industries, chemicals, machin¬ery, and food production. Based on those findings, the report recommends that federal policy should provide a platform for state, local, and metropolitan efforts since there is so much regional variation in manufacturing.
Brookings also opened interactive website that includes profiles of 100 U.S. cities, including statistics on average wages, types of jobs, and level and type of specialization.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
Utilities Continue to Deploy Advanced Electric Meters
A report from the Edison Foundation's Institute for Electric Efficiency tracks the progress utilities are making in deploying advanced, "smart" electric meters and forecasts that more than half of households in the U.S. will have a smart meter by 2015. Smart meters are digital electric meters that allow two-way communication between the utility and the customer and can help measure and record electricity use on a more frequent basis. The report's authors compiled data from utilities on current smart meter installation and future plans for metering upgrades. The report concludes that as of May 2012, close to one-third of U.S households now have a smart meter, up from one-quarter of households in 2012. The report's authors predict that 22 utilities in 16 states will have deployed smart meters to all their residential customers by the end of 2012. The report also highlights the potential benefits to customers of smart meters, including increased customer access to energy use data, improved outage response, and the ability to save money through time-of-use pricing mechanisms.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)