Alabama Partnership Produces 'Text First' PSA for Emergencies
The Governor's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives in Alabama has released a new public service announcement (PSA) that encourages the use of text messaging for nonessential communication during and after disasters. The Text First, Talk Second PSA was produced in collaboration with the Safe America Foundation, Verizon Wireless, and Ready Alabama. During a large-scale emergency, a rapid increase in nonessential telephone calls can overwhelm wireless services and prevent calls from getting through, including emergency calls to 911. Overwhelmed wireless services can also prevent emergency personnel from being able to communicate with each other. Phone calls clog wireless networks much faster than text messages do because they require sending much more information over the network—talking on a phone for just one minute takes up as much bandwidth as sending 800 text messages. Text messaging often works even when networks are congested, and unlike traditional telephone calls, the system will continue to try to deliver the message even if the text message doesn't go through the first time. First Lady Dianne Bentley appears in the PSA, which is currently running on television channels throughout Alabama.
(Contact: Carmen Ferro )
Tennessee Modernizing Civil Service Rules
Changes to Tennessee's civil service rules will make hiring more transparent, increase the importance of performance evaluations, and protect employees by creating a responsive board of appeals. Governor Bill Haslam signed the law last week, citing the need to attract and retain professional employees as a large proportion of the state's workers reach retirement age.
The law requires all state agencies to define minimum qualifications and skills needed for all open positions. Open positions must be posted for at least a week and the agency must interview at least three people. All employees will be evaluated annually, and the evaluation system will be overhauled to ensure that employees are evaluated based on goals that are specific, measureable, achievable, relevant to their agency's mission, and time sensitive. Evaluations will be a factor in raises, promotions, and other staffing decisions for the first time. For example, currently state employees get across-the-board raises when there is money available but otherwise get nothing. The evaluations will also become the primary factor in layoffs, but mangers must also consider seniority, abilities, and disciplinary records. Employees have access to a new board of appeals for disciplinary disputes, and the board must make a decision on an employee's case within 120 days. The governor also has the ability to remove board members for conduct reasons, for example, if the person has missed a certain number of meetings.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)
Massachusetts Governor and Lieutenant Governor Honored for STEM Work
The Boston Museum of Science honored Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray for their work to promote and support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education with a "Stars of STEM" award at its annual Science Behind the Stars event. The museum uses Science Behind the Stars to raise awareness about STEM education and recognize supporters and leaders.
STEM education has been a priority for the Patrick-Murray administration. Governor Patrick used a 2009 executive order to create a STEM Advisory Council charged with promoting collaboration and coordination between the 1,000 existing state STEM programs. The Advisory Council created the state's STEM plan and endorsed six programs as @Scale Initiatives, projects to be used as models across the state and are designed to increase student interest in STEM college majors. The governor's fiscal year 2013 budget allocated $1.5 million to the STEM Pipeline Fund, which will support the @Scale initiatives, a $1 million increase from the previous year. For more information on state STEM policies, please see NGA's recent reports on building a STEM agenda and informal STEM education.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Crime and Incarceration Rates Decline in Vermont Turnaround
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has announced that since implementing new corrections policies in 2008, the state has spent $18.3 million less than originally projected, has experienced a decline of 9 percentage points in people reincarcerated within three years, and had a decline of 5 percent in the violent crime rate. The reduction marks a turnaround after a 2007 Pew Center on the States report projected that Vermont was on pace to have one of the highest corrections population increases in the U.S. One program the state cites as helping to reduce its prison population is the Rapid Intervention Community Court. Using a risk-assessment tool, the Rapid Intervention Community Court places nonviolent offenders on probation under the condition that they take advantage of local services, most often substance abuse counseling. The state also credits support services for people released from prison including housing and job training as helping to reduce the recidivism rate. For more information regarding how states are addressing sentencing reform and reducing recidivism rates, see the NGA issue brief State Efforts in Sentencing and Corrections Reform.
(Contact: Alisha Powell)
Virginia Governor Calls for Limits on Tuition Increases
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell wrote a letter to state public colleges and universities urging them to voluntarily tie in-state tuition increases to the Consumer Price Index, arguing that the state is providing more funding for higher education this year with the understanding that the schools will attempt to slow tuition growth. Governor McDonnell also notes in his letter that the legislature has imposed involuntary tuition caps and made an effort to limit the number of students from out-of-state (who pay higher tuition) in the past, but did not choose to do so this year. The recently passed budget provides $230 million in additional funding for the state's higher education system. In 2011-2012, the average in-state tuition increase in Virginia was 9.7 percent, while the Consumer Price Index for the last 12 months was only 2.7 percent. According to the Project on Student Debt, 58 percent of Virginia students graduate with $23,000 or more of debt. The University of Virginia is the only state institution that has already announced their tuition increase—3.7 percent, the lowest increase since the 2001-2002 school year.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Connecticut Unveils a New Technology Workforce Development Initiative
Connecticut Innovations, the quasi-public authority that manages the state's technology-based innovation and economic development programs, recently launched a program that will provide internships for university and college students at small, technology-based businesses. The program aims to expand collaborations between institutions of higher education and industry for the purposes of providing local talent to small businesses, promoting innovation, and giving students career-related experiences that will strengthen their resumes and help them land jobs in Connecticut after graduation. Eligible companies must engage a student or team of students to work on a project involving a technological challenge that can be addressed within three to nine months. Up to $25,000 per project is available in grants to participating businesses and to be used primarily for compensating the interns. The companies will be required to complete an application in which they describe their project concepts.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
New License Plates Increase Road Safety, Promote Electric Cars in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has created a special license plate for electric-powered or hybrid electric vehicles to help emergency responders who may need to take special safety precautions in the event of an accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged automakers to develop post-crash procedures for hybrid vehicles after two high-profile fires last year. The license plates, which feature an image of a car with an electric plug and the words "electric vehicle" will help first-responders quickly identify electric cars and take steps such as disconnecting the battery to eliminate shock hazards and using different techniques to put out fires and extricate passengers. The special plate will be available to a pre-approved list of 30 passenger and commercial vehicles for the state's customary plate replacement fee.
Along with providing public safety benefits, the plates help drivers demonstrate their commitment to a better environment. Massachusetts is working to expand its electric vehicle infrastructure and currently has charging stations in 25 cities and towns. Massachusetts is the second state to offer an EV license plate. Hawaii began offering an EV plate in 1997 and granted cars with the special plates automatic access to high occupancy vehicle lanes and free parking at state and country facilities.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Cigarette Tax Would Fund Medicaid in Illinois Proposal
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has proposed raising the state cigarette tax by $1 per pack in order to fill a $3 billion shortfall in Medicaid. The last cigarette tax hike in the state occurred in 2002—when the tax was raised 40 cents to 98 cents per pack—and proposals since then have failed to link the new tax directly to health care spending. It can be difficult to pin down how people respond to sin taxes on addictive substances, but a recent estimate by the American Cancer Society concluded that a tax increase of that size would reduce the number of future smokers by over 70,000 in Illinois. Nearly 17 percent of Illinois' residents smoke—excluding minors. Nationwide, Medicaid recipients tend to smoke more than the general population—37 percent compared to 21 percent. A recent paper published at Loyola University's law school argues that directly linking sin taxes to health programs is a way to balance revenue needs with public health goals, particularly when linked programs that provide meaningful information about how a person can change their unhealthy behavior.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand )
Executive Order Sets Energy, Water Targets for California State Buildings
California Governor Brown has issued an executive order directing state buildings to become "zero net energy" facilities and to reduce water use and greenhouse gas emissions. A zero net energy (ZNE) building is one in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable energy sources is equal to the amount of energy used by the building. This involves reducing energy usage through energy efficiency and demand response measures as well as introducing new sources of renewable energy. All new state buildings and major renovations beginning design after 2025 must be ZNE, with a goal of 50 percent of buildings designed after 2020 being ZNE. Existing state buildings are directed to pursue ZNE status for fifty percent of their square footage by 2025. The executive order specifies that agencies incorporate building commissioning, which is the process of verifying that buildings achieve the intended energy efficiency targets set by the building owner.
State agencies are also called upon to reduce their overall water use by 20 percent by 2020 and to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020. The effort is intended to improve the state's environmental footprint and save taxpayer dollars. California estimates that reducing energy purchases by 20 percent by 2018 could save the state $45 million annually and reducing water use by 20 percent by 2020 could save the state $7 million annually.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Assets Increase, But Public Pension Funds Still Lagging After Recession
State and local pension fund holdings increased by about 11 percent between FY09 and FY10, according to a sample taken by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census Bureau releases data on the funds every year in its Annual Survey of Post-Employee Retirement Systems. The 2010 survey shows that the funds gained about 13 percent each on investments in corporate stocks and bonds and foreign and international securities. Those types of investments make up about two-thirds of total public pension holdings. The funds also gained about 8 percent on governmental securities such as Treasury bonds, which make up about 9 percent of total holdings. The funds lost on cash and short-term investments, mortgages, and real property. The survey also showed an increase in employee and employer contributions, of .5 and 1.5 percent respectively.
Total public pension cash and investment holdings are about $2.7 trillion in the FY10 sample, which is below what the Census Bureau reported for FY07, before the recession. However, the Census Bureau notes that their research method improved for the FY09 and FY10 samples and suggests caution when comparing data from other years. A partial database created by the private nonprofit Center for Retirement Research suggests total assets have reached pre-recession levels but have not increased significantly beyond that amount.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)
Report: Align Early Childhood Care and Education Workforces
A new Social Policy Report, Building the Workforce Our Youngest Children Deserve, recommends integrating early childhood education and child-care workforces. The quality of care and service provided by these sectors varies greatly, but both affect child development and the report suggests developing a unifying definition for the profession. This could be done by creating common goals, administrative systems, quality standards, and professional development programs. The report also finds that professionals in both fields are hindered by insufficient training, poor compensation, and lack of instructional supports. The report builds on an earlier paper produced through a workshop held by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Youth Exposure to Violence Underreported, Especially for Male or Hispanic Victims
The majority of incidents in which minors are victims of or exposed to violence are unknown to school officials, police, or medical personnel, according to an analysis recently released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The data used for the analysis was collected as part of the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, a comprehensive effort to measure the extent and nature of children's exposure to violence from age one month to 17 years. The survey found that only about 46 percent of all incidents were witnessed by or disclosed to any of the three public authorities. At least one public authority was made aware of most serious incidents, including sexual abuse by an adult, gang assaults, and kidnappings. However, only about 15 percent of incidents of dating violence were witnessed by or disclosed to any public authority, and for rape, the rate was only about 14 percent. School officials witnessed or were told about exposures to violence considerably more often than police (in total, in 42 percent of cases compared to 13 percent). This included assaults (actual, attempted, or threatened and with or without a weapon), physical or psychological abuse by a caretaker, and dating violence. There were only three types of incidents in which police were more likely to have knowledge than a school official: kidnapping, neglect, and sexual abuse by an adult.
Victimization episodes that involve certain groups—boys, youth identified as Hispanic, and youth of higher socioeconomic status—were more likely to go unreported. The OJJDP suggests that authorities should provide more education and awareness about available resources for children and families and persuade them that victims can be protected against retaliation to encourage disclosure.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Report Examines State Options to Enhance Energy Security in Transportation Sector
A report from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) examines state policy options for addressing energy security, economic development, and diversifying fuel supplies. More than 90 percent of the country's transportation is powered by oil, leaving the economy vulnerable to global oil price swings that are impacted by supply disruptions and increased global demand. The report addresses current and forecast trends of oil imports and domestic production, the challenges of biofuel production, natural gas and electric vehicles, energy efficiency, increasing domestic fuel production, and promoting fuel diversity. The report follows a yearlong effort by an NCSL task force on energy supply to study resources, technology, alternative fuels and policy solutions.
(Contact: Aliza Wasserman)
Foundation Works with States to Increase Nursing Degrees
The Center to Champion Nursing in America, a new initiative lead by AARP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, seeks to increase the number of nurses with at least a bachelor's degree to 80 percent by 2020. Currently, about half of US nurses have a bachelor's degree or higher. In The Future of Nursing, the initiative's comprehensive examination of the issues confronting the nursing profession, the foundation suggests that a better educated nursing workforce is needed to work with the growing aging population, to provide culturally competent care and improve care coordination, especially under new patient centered medical home models.
To address the educational and employment changes that will be needed to achieve the increase in nurses with a bachelor's degree, 48 states have launched Action Coalitions to come up with a state or regional strategy. The coalitions consist of health care, business, and other local community leaders. Strategies that states may look at include encouraging partnerships between community colleges and universities and improving transitions for nursing students. States may also encourage employers to offer tuition reimbursement for RN to BSN programs or other programs that help current RNs advance.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)