Oregon Orders Commission to Examine Sentencing Policies
Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has signed an executive order creating a Commission on Public Safety to develop more uniform sentencing policies. The Commission, a recommendation of the Governor's Reset Cabinet, is comprised of representatives from all three branches of state government and will evaluate current public safety policies and practices to develop recommendations for comprehensive sentencing reform. The Commission's recommendations will focus on four core outcomes:
- Safety of Oregon citizens in their home and communities,
- Accountability for criminal offenses,
- Efficiency that controls costs, and
- Smartness and fairness.
The Commission will produce a report of its findings and recommendations by December 15, 2011.
(Contact: Jeffrey McLeod)
Pennsylvania Supermarkets to Sell Wine in Vending Machines
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has begun installing wine vending machines in various chain supermarkets throughout the state. The 30 new vending machines, known as Pronto Wine Kiosks, hold up to 700 bottles of 50 varieties of wine and comply with Pennsylvania liquor laws. To use the machines, buyers must insert a valid state-issued identification card into the kiosk's scanning device to confirm that they are 21 years or older. A customer service representative for the liquor control board video-monitors the transaction to verify the buyer's identity with his or her identification photo. Using a breathalyzer device, the kiosk then determines the buyer's breathe alcohol level, which cannot be higher than .02 to purchase the wine. The buyer's personal information is held on the machine's server for 30 days and is then erased.
(Contact: Carmen Ferro)
Washington Proposes Changes to State Pension System
Washington Governor Chris Gregoire released proposed changes to the state's pension system expected to save more than $400 million during the 2011-2013 biennium. If no action is taken, the state's contribution rates are projected to double during that time.
The proposed changes include:
- Eliminating automatic benefit increases for all employees;
- Discontinuing incentives to retire earlier than age 65 for new hires; and
- Making changes to higher education pensions to better align them with other state benefits. One such change would be to close the "retire-rehire" option for higher education employees under the current system.
Contact: Lauren Stewart)
New Jersey Refocuses Roadside Patrols for Greater Safety, Efficiency
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has restructured its roadside assistance crews with the goal of improving safety, reducing traffic congestion and saving money. The newly renamed Safety Service Patrol (SSP), which relocates disabled vehicles from travel lanes or road shoulders and creates safe spaces for emergency responders, will now focus on 225 miles of the state's most congested and crash-prone highways. The SSP will now provide assistance statewide 16 hours per day on weekdays and 10 hours per day on weekends. Previously, weekend service was limited to only the southern portion of the state. Using this targeted approach, the SSP will function with a smaller budget, while increasing the impact patrols have on safety and congestion relief. SSP crews respond to over 100,000 incidents statewide each year.
The realignment of the SSP program also allows the state to expand its days and hours of service throughout the state, while still saving NJDOT money, as the realigned program is expected to function on a lower budget, allowing NJDOT to redirect about $9 million for pavement, bridges and other capital needs.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
California Approves Pay-As-You-Drive Insurance
The California Insurance Commissioner has approved the applications of two car insurance companies to offer Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) insurance, which offers lower rates to motorists who report actual (versus estimated) miles driven and additional savings to those who drive less.
Customers of State Farm and the Auto Club of Southern California will now have the option of choosing a PAYD insurance plan where they report the actual number of miles they drive annually and receive discounted rates, compared to those that use estimates, and additional discounts from driving less than the company's typical estimated amounts. For example, State Farm will offer drivers a five percent discount for enrolling in the program and will offer additional reduced mileage totals in increments of 500 miles. Rates for Auto Club customers who report actual recorded odometer mileage will be one to 10.5 percent lower than for customers who chose the options of estimating yearly mileage. The programs are designed to better match insurance price to risk. Participants can choose to self-(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Arkansas Requires Disclosure of Drilling Fluids
The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission has approved a rule that would require natural gas companies drilling in the state to disclose the composition fluids they inject into wells, which are used to help release the gas but thought to pose risk to water safety. Specifically, the new rule requires applicants for drilling permits in Arkansas to submit to the Commission a list of fluids and additives they plan to inject into natural gas wells as part of a process known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." During the fracking process, a combination of heated water, sand and chemicals is injected into the well at high pressure to help release natural gas by breaking apart rocks in the well. Concerns have been raised that fracking fluids could potentially contaminate drinking water supplies. Drillers will not be required to disclose any proprietary chemicals used in the fracking process but will be required to reveal the purpose of each chemical, its chemical family and its concentrations within the fracking fluid.
Arkansas joins Wyoming as the only states to require that drillers release the composition of fracking fluids. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also been considering this issue.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Nebraska Puts State Education Data Online
The Nebraska Department of Education rolled out a new online Data Reporting System (DRS), which aggregates existing student data from various systems in one place. The DRS is accessible to the public so that educators and students can view aggregated statewide data on: student characteristics, career education, early childhood education, federal accountability, special education and state assessments. The system offers three levels of inquiry:
- Quick facts: preformatted reports with frequently requested information;
- Guided inquiry: offers customization through various drop-down list filters; and
- Advanced inquiry: allows users to run a detailed ad hoc analysis, drilling down results by dimensions, such as ethnicity, grade, or eligibility for specific programs.
Another version of the system, DRS Secure, will provide individual student-level information by school district, with access limited to district administrators and teachers.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
Illinois Commission Recommends Overhaul of Higher Education Finance
The Illinois Higher Education Finance Study Commission has released a report providing recommendations to increase affordable access to quality higher education opportunities, such as aligning state funds with state goals of educational attainment, college affordability, workforce modernization and economic development. Other recommendations include:
- Reduce the burden of unnecessary unfunded mandates and promote efficiency through cross-institution collaboration;
- Develop performance-based funding, offering financial incentives for institutions achieving desired outcomes;
- Alter financial aid policy to ensure that affordability goals are met, particularly for the most vulnerable students; and
- Encourage student completion by offering financial aid incentives for students to complete degrees. For example, the state could allow students who start at community college to bank a portion of a financial aid grant to cover tuition at a four-year institution.
The commission is comprised of state legislators, business leaders and a broad cross-section of education stakeholders and was aided by the testimony of national experts and higher education authorities.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
North Dakota's Budget Proposes Increased Mental Health Funding
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has submitted plans for the state's 2011-2013 budget, which emphasize a comprehensive approach to mental health treatment in hospitals and community-based centers. A goal of additional funds is to decrease the burden of uncompensated care on private hospitals. The funds will improve access to local facilities, particularly for patients suffering from a mental health crisis or chemical dependency, with the goal of enabling them to stabilize their condition while remaining in their community.
The proposal will make additional funds available to help fight youth suicide on reservations and address mental health problems among high school and college students, with a goal of placing at least one mental health officer on each campus.
(Contact: Jason Hsieh)
New Jersey Enacts Concussion Safety Legislation
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has signed legislation to prevent and respond to concussions in student-athletes by requiring the Department of Education to develop a comprehensive safety training program. The program, to be implemented by school districts, will educate school physicians, coaches and athletic trainers on how to identify a concussion and properly respond during sporting events. It will also require that a student who suffers a concussion not be permitted to return to play until he or she is cleared by a physician or other properly licensed and trained healthcare provider.
The National Football League (NFL) has undertaken a campaign encouraging states to take action to protect young athletes from concussions. Concussions are caused by a blow or motion to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain and can cause significant and sustained neuropsychological impairments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur every year.
(Contact: Jason Hsieh)
Colorado Loan Programs Target Green Economy
Colorado has created two new loan programs that will support the green economy. The first program, the Green Colorado Credit Reserve (Green CCR), will increase access to capital for small businesses by providing up to $100,000 in financing for energy efficiency retrofits in business offices or manufacturing facilities. Participating lenders will receive a 15 percent loan loss reserve contribution for every loan registered in the program to encourage private sector lending and generate cost savings for businesses.
The other loan program, the Governor's Energy Office (GEO) Revolving Loan Program, is designed to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in Colorado. GEO loans may be made in excess of $100,000 and may include, but are not limited to:
- Large-scale retrofits of buildings, ranging from commercial, multi-family, non-profit, industrial and other applications;
- Companies whose products directly impact the renewable energy sector economic development; or
- Other unique opportunities to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
Illinois Works to Cut Poverty in Half by 2015
The Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty submitted a report to Governor Pat Quinn with recommendations on how to reach the state's goal of cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015. Aligned with international human rights standards, the proposed recommendations for program and funding priorities include:
- Establishing a statewide transitional jobs program that provides work for those that have been detached from the workforce and need supports, including opportunities to improve literacy skills to achieve long-term job success;
- Expanding comprehensive scholarships to low-income community college students which combine "last-dollar" financial aid with student support services like academic advising, mentoring and tutoring; and
- Increasing the percentage of individuals eligible for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program that utilize the program through targeted outreach, infrastructure improvements and a shift to comprehensive case management.
Acknowledging Illinois' current fiscal situation, the commission's recommendations are sensitive to current revenue constraints and future spending obligations. The initial proposed changes are not expected to add to the state's budget difficulties.
(Contact: Garrett Groves)
Brief Examines Medicaid Readmission Rates
A new brief commissioned by the Center for Health Care Strategies finds that state policies may be an important factor in hospital readmission rates among Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities. The Faces of Medicaid brief examines readmission rates among Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities by state to identify potential opportunities to improve care and reduce recurring hospitalizations. The findings highlight the need for targeted activities to reduce avoidable readmissions, such as promoting primary care visits and covering a higher average price-per-visit for this population.
Specifically, the findings indicate:
- Over half of beneficiaries with a disability are readmitted within one year;
- Conditions most likely to lead to readmission included mental illness, substance abuse, skin infections and infectious disease;
- The probability of readmission was positively related to the average price of pharmaceuticals prescribed at the state level; and
- Half of those readmitted within 30 days did not have a doctor's visit between discharge and readmission.
The brief also found that the likelihood of readmission increased with a beneficiary's number of chronic conditions.
(Contact: Jason Hsieh)
Report Suggests a Community-Based Approach to Counterterrorism
A new report from the World Organization for Resource Development and Education suggests the United States should create a new counter-radicalization strategy that enlists more public and private partnerships to effectively counter the rise of homegrown radicalization. The report recommends that the U.S. shift its counterterrorism approach from a largely law enforcement-based approach to a community-led initiative, partnering with moderate Muslim communities that deter individuals from radicalizing. Specific recommendations include:
- Starting a public, national dialogue to counter the misperception that all Muslims are radical, and develop a community-based response to radicalism;
- Developing partnerships with moderate Muslims based on mutual interests beyond the scope of terrorism; and
- Encouraging moderate Muslims to use the Internet as a vehicle to produce moderate, counter-radical websites to educate Muslims about mainstream Islam and to discredit extremist arguments.
(Contact: Carmen Ferro)
Child Poverty Rates Expected to Grow in Most States
Based on a model that combines current data on unemployment and nutrition assistance, a new state-by-state analysis by First Focus and Brookings estimates that most states will have an increase in child poverty rates in 2010. An average increase of 1.3 percentage points is expected across states. Estimates show that 26 states will have child poverty rates of at least 20 percent in 2010, a substantial increase over the 14 states that had child poverty rates of 20 percent or higher prior to the recession.
Nationwide, the number of children in poverty is predicted to increase by approximately 1 million from 2009 to 2010. The report provides child poverty rates for 2009 and predicted rates for 2010 by state.
(Contact: Linda Hoffman)
Private Grantmakers See Uptick in Capacity for Education
The annual report from Grantmakers for Education, which assesses trends in philanthropic support for education, reports that most grantmakers' budgets are holding steady or growing in 2010. This finding is a contrast to last year's report, which showed declining budgets. Grantmakers reported new strategies to leverage greater impact from their donations, including partnering with public funders and with other private donors. The 164 grant making organizations that participated in the survey include: private foundations, family foundations, corporate giving programs and community foundations. While over 90 percent of grantmakers who support education initiatives fund K-12 education programs, other major areas of funding include: out-of-school time (60 percent), early learning (49 percent), postsecondary education (47 percent) and workforce education (29 percent).
The report also identified emerging priorities and strategies to leverage greater impact from philanthropic donations. When asked about funding priorities, a number of common themes emerged, including:
- Increasing outcomes and opportunities for the most disadvantaged:
- Investing in human capital;
- Reforming school systems to promote college- and career-readiness;
- Early learning and literacy as keys to long-term success;
- Learning and support beyond the school day; and
- The promise of innovative new models of learning.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
EIA Predicts Increased Prices of Petroleum
The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its Short-Term Energy Outlook for winter that predicts increases in petroleum prices compared with last year, as well as changes in heating oil, electricity and natural gas prices. A gradual tightening in global oil markets continues to push world oil prices up. EIA expects the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil to average about $84 per barrel this winter, which is more than $6 higher than the average price last winter. This growth in oil demand has contributed to higher gasoline and diesel prices. EIA expects the price of regular motor fuel to reach $2.88 per gallon, a $0.22 increase over last winter. Projected retail diesel fuel prices are expected average $3.14 per gallon this winter, an increase of $0.35 cents per gallon over last winter. Other highlights of the EIA Outlook include:
- Residential heating oil prices are expected to average $3.17 per gallon this winter, with household expenditures for space-heating fuels totaling $962. This is about the same as last year;
- U.S. electricity consumption will rise by 4.7 percent in 2010. This is due largely to rising U.S. manufacturing production in the industrial sector. Industrial retail sales were up almost 7 percent from January through September 2010 compared with the same period last year;
- Natural gas working inventories end November 2010 at 3.8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), slightly less than last year's record‐setting end‐of‐November level. The projected Henry Hub natural gas spot price averages $4.37 per million Btu (MMBtu) for 2010, a $0.42-per-MMBtu increase over the 2009 average; and
- The EIA forecasts that U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will have grown 3.9 percent in 2010, after a 7 percent decline in 2009. CO2 emissions are predicted to remain steady in 2011 as a growth in petroleum fuel use will be offset by a decline in natural gas and coal emissions due to a decrease in electricity use in a predicted milder summer.
A forecast of milder weather than last winter in all regions except the Northeast is expected to contribute to reduced spending on heating oil, electricity and natural gas in that area.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Forty-One States Have Adopted Common Academic Standards
As of December 17, 2010, 41 states and territories and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Those states and territories include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
The NGA Center and the Council of Chief State School Officers released the Common Core State Standards in June. The standards define the knowledge and skills students should gain in K-12 education to graduate high school fully prepared for college and work.
(Contact: Stephanie Shipton)