Just in...Hawaii's Birds

The Hawaii Audubon Society has just published the sixth edition of its classic field guide, Hawaii's Birds. This sixth edition features text revisions and updates by Dr. Eric VanderWerf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with fresh avian images donated by several fine photographers, including Dr. Tom Dove, a local cardiologist "with a passion for birds," Cynthia Vanderlip, Senior Biological Technician at Kure Atoll for Hawaii's Division of Foresty and Wildlife, and Maui wildlife photographer, Eric Nishibayashi. (Ref. QL684 H3 S42)

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Collecting Internet sales tax (WSJ)

Tomorrow 18 states will begin the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, a computer program to track the tax rates of their states and localities and automatically add the tax to every online purchase. ("Some states push to collect sales tax from Internet stores," Wall Street Journal, Sept. 30, B1.) Online retailers have argued that differing state and local tax rates make collecting taxes too complex, and a 1992 Supreme Court ruling supported that position. An economist has estimated that state and local governments will lose $18 billion in online sales taxes in 2005. To get their share, the 18 states have joined forces "to simplify their myriad tax rules, regulations and quirks."

Of the 18 states, 13 have signed on (Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigon, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and West Virginia), and five are in the final stages to join (Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming). Washington, Texas, and Nevada are in the pipeline. To encourage retailers to participate, the project offers an amnesty on past uncollected taxes. Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney have signed on. (WSJ is available in the Library)

See also:
Streamlined Sales Tax Project (HTML from SSTP)


Real estate brokerage - competition?

Residential real estate brokerage fees amounted to about $61 billion in 2004. Because commission rates appear to remain uniform regardless of market conditions, economists have questioned the extent of price competition in the industry. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued a report on the brokerage industry, discussing (1) factors affecting price competition, (2) the role of the Internet, and (3) brokerage services by state-chartered banks. GAO found one cause of price uniformity may be multiple listing services (MLS) which, while facilitating cooperation among brokers that can benefit consumers, can also discourage competitive commission rates. The effects of the Internet and banks were found not to be significant.

REAL ESTATE BROKERAGE: Factors That May Affect Price Competition
      Full Report (PDF, 244KB, 32p.)
      Highlights (PDF, 40KB, 1p.)
      Abstract (HTML)
      All from GAO

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Just in...Cruise ships and Maui

A Task Force, comprising a broad spectrum of Maui residents, was appointed to assess the impacts and benefits of the cruise ship industry in Maui. Its report covers statistics of cruise ships in Maui in 2003-2004. In those years, 27 different cruise ships arrived in Maui ports, bringing from 230,000 to 240,000 passengers and a little over 100,000 crew each year. The Task Force gathered information from the following perspectives: cultural, economic, environmental, infrastructural, political, security/safety, and social. (HE601 H3 M38 2005)

Mayor's Cruise Ship Task Force, Island of Maui; Final Report
(PDF, 6MB, 145p., from Office of the Mayor, Maui County)


Pensions as time bombs

As baby boomers in government jobs retire, their pension payouts loom as ticking time bombs for state and local budgets, reported Stateline.org in an article Sept. 23.

This year five Republican governors wanted to move state employees from traditional, guaranteed-payout pensions to 401Ks, where the state would contribute a set amount to an employee's retirement account, and that money would belong to the employee at retirement. Only Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski succeeded, and Alaska became the first state to adopt a mandatory 401K retirement plan for all state employees hired after July 1, 2006.

Public employee unions oppose 401Ks as providing less retirement security. 401Ks can also be expensive to administer. To protect their retirement systems, states are also considering bond issues, cutting benefits, and consolidating multiple pension systems.


Vocational rehab

States annually receive over $2.5 billion from the Dept. of Education (Education) for vocational rehabilitation (VR) to help disabled individuals become employed. In a report released today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that one-third of the more than 650,000 persons exiting state VR programs in FY2003 obtained a new job or kept their existing job for at least 90 days. The remaining two-thirds left without employment because they refused services or failed to cooperate with the VR counselor, or could not be located. To improve employment rates, GAO recommends that Education reevaluate its performance measures, provide timelier feedback to state VR agencies, censure poor performance and/or reward strong performance, and disseminate best practices among state VR agencies.

VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION: Better Measures and Monitoring Could Improve the Performance of the VR Program
      Full report (PDF, 4.6MB, 79p.)
      Highlights (PDF, 44KB, 1p.)
      Both from GAO

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Laptops to every middle and high school student

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has proposed giving $100 laptops to every public middle and high school student, reports the Boston Globe today. At a cost of $54 million, 500,000 students would get the laptops if the Legislature approves. The low-price laptops were developed by the MIT Media Lab. The program would be phased in over three years, beginning with students in sixth grade.


Helping states define graduation rates

One third of students who enter high school do not graduate, thus facing limited job prospects. The No Child Left Behind Act requires that states use graduation rates to measure how well students are educated. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued a report on how the Dept. of Education can help states better define graduation rates and evaluate intervention strategies to raise graduation rates.

Twelve states use the cohort definition that tracks students from when they enter high school to when they leave. Because this is a more precise definition than others, a majority of states plan to use this by school year 2007-08.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT: Education Could Do More to Help States Better Define Graduation Rates and Improve Knowledge about Intervention Strategies
      Full report (PDF, 5.3MB, 67p., from GAO)
      Highlights (PDF, 372KB, 1p., from GAO)
      Abstract (HTML)

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Lillian Koller profiled in Governing

Lillian Koller, Hawaii Director of Human Services, is profiled in the September issue of Governing magazine. The article describes how, soon after being appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle to that position, she changed confidentiality rules in child welfare "essentially by administrative fiat." Senators Suzanne Chun Oakland and Rosalyn Baker comment on Koller's "take-no-prisoners approach." Koller previously practiced law in California and ran the Maui drug court.

Blunt instrument
(available in HTML on governing.com)


NCSL legislative seminar in Chicago

I will be attending the NCSL 2005 professional development seminar for Legislative Research Librarians (LRL) in Chicago this week. The LRL will be joined by Research and Committee Staff Section (RACSS) and Legal Services Staff Section (LSSS). "This is the only national training event designed exclusively for legislative staff who work in these areas of expertise." Seminar topics include the legislative work environment, evaluating legislative resources, research skills, and legal issues in campaigning. My blog posts and the iClips will resume Monday on my return.

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Same-sex marriage - current status

Stateline.org updated its Backgrounder on Same-sex unions - a constitutional race on Sept. 8, after the California Legislature became the first to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and Gov. Schwarzenegger announced that he will veto it.

The Backgrounder provides an informative overview of state legislative activity in 2005, upcoming votes on constitutional amendments, FAQ, and a timeline beginning with the Nov. 2003 ruling in Massachusetts that same-sex couples have equal-protection rights to marriage.


Cool blog from Governing

I just discovered a neat blog by the writers and editors of Governing magazine, called 13th Floor, because they're in Suite 1300. It blogs on "what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls." (Governing is based in Washington, DC, but it covers state and local government.) 13th Floor apparently started in June, as their archives begin then. First Reading started in June too, so I feel a kinship.

On the left sidebar of 13th Floor is an array of categories, beginning with All Arnold - yes, it's all about Ahnold. Other categories, to pick a few, are: Big Business, Gay & Lesbian Issues, Katrina, Legislatures, Off The Record, and Scandal Watch. Worth a look, and probably a feed.


Stable marriage and child wellbeing

 Reported in Reuters September 14, The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institution's current issue of The Future of Children examines the family formation and child well-being and the changes affecting this formation, and reviews programs and tax and transfer policies and their impact on stable marriage in the community. From the article:
"The decline in two-parent families since 1960 has been closely linked with a rise in child poverty, primarily because poverty rates are far higher in single-mother families than in two-parent families," according to the report.

The proportion of single-parent families doubled to 26 percent in 2003 from 12 percent in 1970, according to the report.

Children already being raised by same-sex couples can also benefit when those couples marry, the study suggested.
On the release of the study, a forum discussed the need for programs helping with relationships and parenting which might reduce the number of unstable marriages, thus affecting the rates of divorce, family violence and single parenting:
Could we increase rates of marriage? Because if we could, children would benefit, adults would benefit, society would benefit, and disproportionately low-income minority children would benefit.
Marriage and Child Wellbeing
(available in PDF, 774 KB, The Future of Children, v. 15, n. 2)

Overcoming Barriers to Stable Marriage, A Brookings/Woodrow Wilson School Panel Discussion
(full transcript available in PDF, 147 KB, from The Brookings Institution)


Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)

The devastation caused by Katrina has raised states' awareness not only of the urgency of disaster preparedness but also the importance of mutual aid. The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) is an organization that facilitates emergency assistance among states in times of disaster. EMAC was ratified by Congress in 1996, by Pub. Law 104-321 (PDF, 123K, 7p., from GPO). When Gov. Schwarzenegger signed legislation, reported Sept. 13, for California to join EMAC, that left Hawaii the only state not in the pact. However, according to a Honolulu Advertiser article (Sept. 13), Hawaii is likely to join EMAC during the next legislative session. EMAC is administered by the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), the association of state emergency management directors. EMAC's website provides Model EMAC Legislation.


Intelligent transportation systems

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report, Sept. 14, on the intelligent transportation systems (ITS) program that Congress established in 1991. Traffic congestion is costly both to the nation's economy and its quality of life. ITS seeks to use electronic and computer technologies to improve traffic flow. In 1996 the Secretary of Transportation envisioned that the 75 largest metropolitan areas would deploy a complete ITS infrastructure by 2005. GAO finds that progress has been made but there are limitations to DOT's goal and measures and ITS's impact on congestion.

Highway Congestion: Intelligent Transportation Systems' Promise for Managing Congestion Falls Short, and DOT Could Better Facilitate Their Strategic Use

Full report (PDF, 1.35MB, 69p.)
Highlights (PDF, 80K, 1p.)
Both from GAO

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Disaster Preparedness, Response and Reconstruction - a GAO bibliography

The Government Accountability office (GAO) today released a list of Reports and Testimonies Related to Disaster Preparedness, Response and Reconstruction.

There are 120 items under the following categories: Charities, Coast Guard & Seaports, Energy Supply, Environment & Natural Resources, Flood Control, Infrastructure, Insurance, Military's Role Including National Guard & Reserves, Preparedness, Public Health, Response, Recovery.

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High costs for Edison Schools in Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun, in a Sept. 9 story, outlined findings from an Abell Foundation report of the high profit and administration costs going to Edison Schools, Inc., for running three failing Baltimore elementary schools. Edison is the country's largest for-profit school management company. In FY2005, Edison received $20.1 million to operate the three Baltimore schools, which had a total enrollment of 2,276. Edison retained $1425 per pupil, almost 16% of the total per-pupil funding it received, and also budgeted $1059 per pupil for central administration, compared to $647 budgeted per pupil by the Baltimore City Public School System.

Edison Schools was one of three companies hired by the Hawaii Board of Education at its May 5, 2005, meeting as a "comprehensive restructuring provider" to restructure seven schools in compliance with No Child Left Behind Act requirements.

Going Public With School Privatization
(available in PDF, 252K, 8p., from the Abell Foundation)



School governance in the principal's hands

RAND Education posted a paper Friday proposing another look at decentralized decision-making for schools (DDS). Its point being that the rigid bureauratic character of public education systems is increasingly perceived as "problematic" in the unpredictable and shifting environment of schools where needs are difficult to predict and "tasks being performed are not standardized."
The current interest in DDS, however, offers a new window of opportunity for testing the proposition that real improvement in student learning can be achieved within the public school system by radically altering the locus of decisionmaking and shifting authority over key decisions like budgeting and resource allocation to the school level.
Standards-based reform movement and the creation of new federal and state accountability systems, a new competitive environment of vouchers and charter schools, and the impending replacement of retiring principals with employees with different expectations of freedom of action, all contribute to possible motivation and success for DDS.

Decentralized Decision-Making for Schools - New Promise for an Old Idea?
(available in PDF, 150 KB, from RAND)



States review disaster plans

Stateline.org yesterday, Sept. 8, reported that a growing number of states are going through their disaster plans to avoid another New Orleans catastrophe. Key strategies include evacuation plans and keeping communication lines open.

The article includes comments from Larry Kanda, a Hawaii Civil Defense mitigation planner. "The big problem with an island jurisdiction like us," Kanda said, "is that we can't evacuate to another state when a hurricane comes through." Katrina has underscored to state emergency managers that Hawaii needs 124,000 additional spaces in short-term shelters. Kanda said the state is working to retrofit public buildings to serve in emergencies.

Other states covered in the article are Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, California, Oregon, and Arizona.

States reopen their diasaster playbooks
(available from Stateline.org)


Katrina links for states (NCSL)

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has established a website, Hurricane Katrina: States Respond to a Nation in Crisis:
This series of webpages, which will be updated often, is designed to serve as a resource guide for state legislators and legislative staff as they tackle many of the policy challenges associated with a natural disaster of this magnitude.
Among the links on the site is Emergency-Related Resources for Legislators and Legislative Staff which provides information on federal resources (Emergency Management Assistance Compact, Centers for Disease Control Health Information, USDA disaster assistance food distribution programs, etc.) and legislative resources (price gouging statutes, and information technology disaster recovery and business continuity, on replacing critical IT infrastructure).

Drugs less popular with teens

Reported in an Associated Press (AP) online story, the Office of National Drug Control Policy Wednesday released results of a survey which found drug use among teens declining:
...a 9 percent decline in illicit drug use among American youth between the ages of 12 and 17 from 2002 to 2004. Marijuana use also declined by 7 percent among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 during this same period. Marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illicit drug, with a rate of 6.1 percent (14.6 million current users) for the U.S. population 12 and older. The findings are from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) released today at the annual National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month press conference.
Results from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Office of Applied Studies (OAS):

   Results in HTML, in PDF (1.4 MB)
   Overview in HTML, in PDF (264 KB)
   Detailed Tables in PDF (132 KB)


School snack lines

Recent news stories write of the unpopular status of healthy foods in the competitive foods world of the school yard. In vending machines, school stores and cafeterias, healthy foods are squeezed out in favor of candies, soda, sweet baked goods, and salty snacks. Reported in a Wednesday AP story, Congress has reacted:
"Would anyone advocate that we take the fences off the playground for elementary schools and just let kids run around in the streets?" Harkin, D-Iowa, said. "By the same token, why would we allow schools to sort of poison our kids with junk food?"
Sen. Tom Harkin, who requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the issue, and other lawmakers seek nutrition standards for food throughout schools, including vending machines and stores.

According to the GAO report, "the availability of competitive foods sold in middle schools and through a la carte lines has increased over the last 5 years. Schools often sold these foods in or near the cafeteria and during lunch."

School Meal Programs: Competitive Foods Are Widely Available and Generate Substantial Revenues for Schools GAO-05-563
(available in PDF, 968 KB, from GAO)



To become the Google of blogs (WSJ)

Blogs are proliferating. The exact number is unknown, but Technorati, a blog-search site, recently tracked about 16.5 million. Established search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN include blog pages in Web and news searches but for now don't allow blog-only searches and so may not catch the latest in blogs or their updates. "New search engines help users find blogs" (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 7, D1) describes a few "upstart" search sites dedicated to blogs and tracking them almost in real time. But even they are as different from each other as from the giants.

To follow prominent bloggers, DayPop searches fewer than 60,000 blogs selected by editors. Technorati, Feedster, IceRocket, and BlogPulse scour from 15 million to 20 million blogs. Technorati and BlogPulse search only blogs, while Feedster and IceRocket also search mainstream news sources. There is still a vast difference in scale. The larger blog searchers cover under 20 million blogs, while Google, Yahoo, and MSN search billions of Web pages. Technorati is the only blog search engine busy enough to register on an Internet-tracking firm. It had 642,000 unique visitors in July, less than 1% of Google's July count.

Blog search engines:


Just in...Renewable energy; performance information; constituents (NCSL)

The Library recently received three publications from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL):

Renewable Portfolio Standards. The renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requires that power retailers include renewable energy in the fuel mix they use to generate electricity. Hawaii is one of 20 states that have an RPS. The report covers cost impacts, what qualifies as renewable, and structure, size and phase-in of each state's RPS. Also discussed are tradable renewable energy credits (RECs). (HN85 N37 (05-11))

Asking Key Questions: How to Review Program Results. Performance information is a major accountability tool for a state to identify what it is getting for the activities it undertakes and the funds it spends. This report focuses on state programs that deliver public services and programs rather than on internal state services. Two examples illustrate program reviews: one on state universities and the second on child care programs. (HN85 N37 (05-12))

Building a True Partnership with Your Constituents. Polls show that many citizens don't like government and don't understand it. State legislators generally agree that constituents feel disconnected but other than responding to phone calls and personal requests, they may not know how to reach out. This report profiles four state legislators who used ingenuity and energy and built relationships with key people in their communities for constituent involvement. Starting a program, "Sometimes you just have to take a chance...and then put in the time, effort and enthusiasm to make it a success." (HN85 N37 (05-13))

These reports are not available online


On Supreme Court nominee John Roberts

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts on Sept. 6. President Bush announced his selection of Roberts to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on July 19. Roberts, 50, has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since 2003. Below are some links to special news reports and blogs on the Roberts nomination:

Special reports:
The Roberts Nomination (NY Times)
Supreme Court (Washington Post)
A Change at the Supreme Court (CNN)
National Public Radio (NPR)

Campaign for the Supreme Court (Washington Post)
LiveCurrent Supreme Court Blog (on the Supreme Court generally) (LA Times)


Safer roads for senior drivers (WSJ)

In "Bill signals safer roads for seniors," the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 1, D8) describes federal and state measures to make driving easier and safer for older drivers. The recently passed federal transportation bill specifies senior-friendly road improvements, such as more visible traffic signs and road markings, to be carried out in all states. As baby boomers age, licensed drivers over 65 are expected to increase from 27 million in 2000 to 65 million in 2030. Deteriorating vision and reflexes put senior drivers at more risk. Several states have already implemented road changes to improve senior safety. New Jersey and Wisconsin are working with improved signs and pavement markings. Texas is updating signs with an easier-to-read font. Michigan has noted a reduction in senior driver injuries with safety improvements at high-risk intersections. Florida, New York, and North Carolina have also improved roads to accommodate older drivers. (WSJ is available in the Library)