Vermont Requires Light Bulb Manufactures to Provide Recycling
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has signed a bill aimed at reducing mercury pollution through the increased recycling of compact fluorescent and other mercury-containing light bulbs. The new law requires companies that manufacture bulbs containing mercury to establish and finance a recycling program for used residential and small business light bulbs.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs are popular due to their energy efficiency benefits, but require careful disposal in order to prevent the release of mercury into the environment. Current federal law requires the phase-out of incandescent light bulbs to more energy-efficient bulbs in the next three years, so the number of mercury-containing bulbs in use is expected to rise. With the law, Vermont joins Maine and Washington as the only states to require a manufacturer-funded recycling program, also known as a producer responsibility law, for mercury-containing bulbs. Vermont's new law is similar to other producer responsibility laws the state already has in place.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Maine Consumers Who Opt Out on Smart Meters to Pay More
The Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) has voted to require the state's largest electric utility company to allow customers to opt out of its smart (digital two-way) electricity meter program. Under the MPUC's ruling, the utility is also required to develop a communication and outreach plan for the opt-out program to coincide with the smart meter rollout, which will affect all MPUC customers.
Customers of Central Maine Power (CMP) now have two options if they do not want a smart meter: (1) having the smart meter installed with the wireless transmitter turned off, or (2) keeping their existing analog meter if a new meter has not already been installed. Customers who choose to opt out of the smart meter program will have to pay additional fees associated with the costs of not utilizing the smart meters, which allow CMP to read meter data more efficiently and better respond to outages. Customers who choose to have the smart meter with the transmitter turned off will pay $20.00 plus an additional $10.50 per month, while those who choose to keep analog meters will pay a $40.00 charge and an additional $12.00 per month. Low-income customers, defined as those eligible for Low Income Heating Assistance, will only be required to pay 50 percent of the additional opt-out charges.
The decision by MPUC is the result of an investigation that began in January 2011 to address requests from CMP customers for MPUC to explore the effects of allowing local communities or individuals to opt out of the smart meter initiative. While the MPUC's investigation did not directly address health potential concerns associated with smart meters (saying that federal regulatory approval of meter safety was sufficient), the opt-out program will provide customers who have those concerns with an option. CMP's smart meter program was approved by the MPUC in February 2010 and was partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Kansas Funds University Research in Emerging Sectors
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has secured funding for the University Economic Growth Initiative, which will provide $15 million for research in areas seen as critical to growing the state's economy. The funding, recently approved by lawmakers, includes $5 million each for animal health research at Kansas State University, cancer research at the University of Kansas Medical Center and aviation research at Wichita State University. The universities must provide a dollar-for-dollar match.
Kansas also enacted the University Engineering Initiative Act, which aims to increase the number of engineering graduates to 1,365 by year 2021. A total of $10.5 million per year will be used to expand engineering programs and create a steady stream of graduates for businesses. Funding for the initiative comes from lottery revenues and will require a one-to-one match from non-state sources.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
Alaska Creates Performance Scholarships in Math and Science
Alaska has created performance-based scholarships for high-performing high school students who complete at least four years of math and science. The Alaska Performance Scholarships (APS) seek to better prepare students for careers and postsecondary education as well as improve high school performance. Beginning with 2011 graduates, qualifying individuals will be able to receive up to $4,755 per college year for postsecondary education and job training. The APS can be used for up to eight semesters of postsecondary education within six years of high school graduation. The Alaska legislature set aside $400 million in the capital budget for the performance-based scholarships, with the fiscal 2012 operating budget including $6 million in first-year funding for the program.
(Contact: Linda Hoffman)
Michigan Ties School Funding to District Best Practices
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder will provide an additional $150 million to public schools under a new spending agreement reached with legislative leaders. The additional funding will be made available to school districts that agree to follow specified district financial best practices. Specifically, schools would have to meet at least four of the five following best practices to receive the funding:
- Implement a "dashboard" showing metrics of district effectiveness;
- Maintain a 90/10 employer/employee cost-sharing on health care expenses;
- Competitively bid noninstructional services over $50,000;
- Develop a shared services agreement with a neighboring district for items such as payroll, purchasing, busing or custodial services; and
- Produce a consolidation plan showing cost reductions.
The final state budget still needs approval by the legislature.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
North Carolina Senate Approves Multi-District Schools
The North Carolina Senate approved legislation that would allow two or more school districts to create a regional school to offer high-demand skills including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) or agriculture sciences. The regional schools would each have a board of directors comprised of education leaders and business or university officials. Preferred admissions would be available to students whose parents did not finish college.
Regional schools would be funded through the state education funding formula, with funds following the students attending the school. The idea comes from the JOBS Commission, established in 2009 through legislation signed by Governor Bev Perdue.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
Ohio to Reform Long-Term Care Programs
Ohio Governor John Kasich and the Governor's Office of Health Transformation presented a proposal to rebalance state funding for nursing home care and home and community-based services in the state's Medicaid program. The reforms will reduce spending on facility-based care by reducing payments in several areas and will expand capacity to deliver care in community-based settings. Among the nursing facility payment reforms, the state will:
- Shift to a price-based system, which pays all facilities the same price for services, regardless of their expenses;
- Increase the portion of the payment rate that is related to direct care and quality measures; and
- Decrease payments to hold empty beds for patients temporarily moved to hospitals.
(Contact: Caryn Marks)
New Jersey Requests Medicaid Waiver to Streamline Services, Promote Cost Savings
The New Jersey Department of Human Services filed an application for a Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Section 1115 research and demonstration waiver which would streamline services and allow additional flexibility for management of the programs, and is estimated to save up to $300 million dollars. The waiver would consolidate programs and identify opportunities for cost savings and care integration, focusing on contracts and payment policies:
- The state proposes new contract requirements for Medicaid managed care plans, including new performance measures, network requirements, and care coordination requirements;
- Medicaid would seek to expand an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) program, which has been successful in Camden and is aimed at high-utilizers of care;
- Medicaid would enact an early implementation of increased payments to primary care providers up to 100% of Medicare rates to increase access to preventive care;
- The state would expand its premium assistance program, which provides funds to individuals to obtain employer sponsored insurance, targeting those with chronic conditions and high medical cost; and
- The state would require that individuals at risk of requiring facility-based long-term care have access to integrated home-and-community based services, behavioral health and acute care.
Ohio Law Curbs Illegal Access to Prescription Drugs
Ohio Governor John Kasich has signed legislation aimed at cleaning up prescription drug abuse in the state by strengthening the state's ability to shut down "pill mill" operations led by physicians who dispense lethal doses of pain medications. The bill also establishes a "coordinated services" lock-in program for Medicaid recipients suspected of prescription drug misuse to fill their prescriptions at a single pharmacy from now on.
Among the new provisions, the legislation will implement licensing requirements for pain management clinics, including restrictions that all pain clinics would have to be physician-owned and no employee would be eligible for hire if they had a felony in their criminal record. Additionally, the legislation places new limitations on in-office dispensing of controlled drugs. Physicians would be allowed to distribute only 2,500 doses of medication within a 30-day window.
(Contact: Anne-Elizabeth Johnson)
Vermont Acts to Reduce Recidivism
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has signed legislation that will expand programs to help inmates successfully transition back into their communities, reduce recidivism rates and decrease prison costs for taxpayers. From 1996 to 2006, Vermont's prison population doubled while the crime rate remained the same. Spending also increased from $48 million annually to $130 million in the 2008 fiscal year. The bill increases educational programs and provides inmates better access to services and resources.
The Recidivism Bill will include the following new provisions:
- Direct the Department of Corrections (DOC) to establish and publish a recidivism measure for comparison with other states, and to establish a goal for reducing the rate of offender recidivism over a specified period of time;
- Establish a review committee to propose alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low risk offenders convicted of misdemeanor offenses; and
- Allow the DOC to release inmates convicted of non-violent misdemeanor offenses sentenced to less than six months to home confinement prior to their minimum sentence.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Kansas Pension Changes Move State to Consider Hybrid Plan
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed legislation to address the projected shortfall in the state's pension system by modifying plans for both current and future state and local employees. New changes would require public employees to choose between paying a higher percentage of their salaries toward their retirement benefits and having their future benefits cut, starting in 2013. The bill requires a decision from the Internal Revenue Service as to whether current state employees can choose to change their retirement benefits.
The legislation also establishes a 13-member KPERS Study Commission to consider alternative retirement plans, including defined contribution plans, hybrid plans that could include a defined contribution component, and other possible plans. The Commission will report its recommendations to the 2012 Legislature who will consider legislation that would require:
- Increased employer contributions;
- Increased employee contributions;
- Increased benefit multiplier for future service; and
- Transfer 80 percent of the proceeds from the sale of surplus state real estate to KPERS to reduce the unfunded liability.
Annual Hurricane Outlook Sees Above-Average Activity
The National Weather Service is predicting that the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season will have above-normal activity for the second straight year due to several long- and short-term climatic factors in the Atlantic Ocean. Among these are the continuation of a multi-decade high-activity cycle, above-average surface water temperatures in the Atlantic (currently two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average) and a weakening La Niña effect in the Pacific, which can impact winds in the Atlantic. The outlook for the 2011 season, which begins June 1 and ends November 30, predicts:
- Between 12 and 18 named storms, with winds of at least 39 miles per hour (mph), will form;
- Between 6 and 10 of the named storms will become hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 mph; and
- Between three and six of the hurricanes will be considered major hurricanes (Categories 3, 4, or 5), with winds of at least 111 mph.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Tool Available to Calculate State Returns on Investment for Medical Homes
A web-based tool launched by the Center for Health Care Strategies seeks to help states assess cost-savings potential of health home and medical home initiatives. Users of the ROI Forecasting Calculator enter detailed assumptions about an initiative, including target population characteristics and program costs, and receive a range of estimates for potential cost savings. An accompanying user guide offers recommendations to states on how to calculate inputs, as well as how to interpret ROI results. Among the recommendations:
- States should carefully calculate enrollment rates based on the program's design to ensure accurate predictions of the actual scope and reach of the program;
- For best possible ROI calculation, states should incorporate all inputs, including funding that was reallocated or diverted to the program, federal matching funds and fully-loaded personnel costs and staff time; and
- States with capitated managed care programs may not see ROI results until capitation rates are adjusted, whereas fee-for-service programs will have more apparent short-term results.
(Contact: Brad Finnegan)
U.S. Department of Education Provides Guide for Improving Productivity
The U.S Department of Education has released guidance to states on innovative approaches and best practices to achieve greater outcomes with fewer resources. For example, the department highlights strategies to:
- Promote student achievement through personalized learning and enhanced use of technology;
- Improve processes, systems and resource allocation, with a focus on easing mandates and funding tied to performance; and
- Improve human capital through new teacher career development and compensation strategies.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
Report Examines Prison Influence on Radicalization
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has released a report that analyzes the effect prison has on individuals who have been radicalized by Islamism. Using face-to-face interviews, the study focused on how and why prisoners became involved in terrorist operations, why some of them—despite having previously served time in prison—chose to re-engage in violence, why others have renounced violence and the impact prison time has on an individual's decision to return to or turn away from violence. In addition, the report provides policy recommendations to combat radicalization that include:
- Rehabilitate prisoners based on their individual motivations for violence;
- Disengage and distance individuals from violence through productive economic and social activities; and
- Improve coordination between counterterrorism agencies and prison services, particularly in rehabilitation efforts.
(Contact: Carmen Ferro)
State and Local Pension Funding Continues to Decline
The Center for Retirement Research has released a brief entitled The Funding Of State And Local Pensions: 2009-2013, indicating that state and local governments are facing a continuing decline in pension funding -- just as the recession has cut into state and local tax revenues and increased the demand for government services. The brief finds that the aggregate funding ratio declined from 84 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in 2009, and will likely decline to 72 percent by 2013. At the same time, a major increase in contributions is unrealistic because many states and localities have only limited ability to increase employee contributions, and higher contributions from new employees will take a long time to materialize. Thus, if funding levels are to be restored quickly, the money must come primarily from tax revenues, which will be extremely difficult for states to raise. The authors suggest that a more realistic option would be for states and localities to at least pay their full annual required contributions; otherwise, the only option is to wait for the market and the economy to recover.
The briefuses state and local pension funding levels for fiscal 2009 and reports projections for 2010-2013. The final section notes the limited policy options available to states and localities and appendices with state-by-state projections of pension-funding levels through 2013.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Web Conference: Empowering Families through Financial Literacy
This web conference will be held on June 10, 2011, from 2:00-3:00pm EST to provide an opportunity to learn about asset development and protection initiatives occurring throughout the country including Delaware's efforts to empower families through financial literacy resources. Discussions will focus on the $tand By Me DE – The Delaware Financial Empowerment Partnership model recently launched by the state. Through this initiative, Delaware has launched a Financial Empowerment Center, providing free financial literacy services to help families increase their financial stability and meet personal goals. Discussions will include an overview of the initiative, partnerships propelling it forward, the role of business and future plans.
NGA Center Executive Policy Forum: Cybercrime and Forensic Sciences
The NGA Center is inviting governors' criminal justice policy advisors to participate in the Cybercrime and Forensic Sciences Executive Policy Forum in Snowbird, Utah, on June 9-10, 2011. The meeting will feature scenario-based sessions and facilitated discussions led by experts in forensic sciences, corrections and criminal justice policy. The NGA Center will provide travel and lodging reimbursement for one participant per state.
Expert Roundtable on Expanded Learning Opportunities
The NGA Center is inviting states to participate in an expert roundtable on state policies to promote quality expanded learning opportunities on June 28, 2011, in Washington, D.C. For more information, contact Stephanie Shipton
(Contact: Stephanie Shipton)
Meeting the Adolescent Literacy Expectations of the Common Core State Standards
The NGA Center is inviting state teams from 10 states to participate in a policy forum on state strategies to meet the literacy expectations of the Common Core in Arlington, Virginia, on July 11, 2011. For more information, contact Stephanie Shipton.
(Contact: Stephanie Shipton)