Pew Center on the States

Self-described, the Pew Center on the States "helps The Pew Charitable Trusts and its partners examine effective policy approaches to critical issues facing states." The Center's strategy is to gather information, guide innovation, and advance policy solutions. They propose their research and analysis to be original, and include cross-state assessments; their publications to "raise the national profile of issues affecting multiple states;" and their communication to be "effective dissemination and outreach to state decision-makers, media, influential stakeholders and the public."

The Center's first report was a Special on Medicaid, Bridging the Gap Between Care And Cost (pdf, 292KB), first published in the January issue of Governing Magazine and the Council of State Governments (CSG) State News.

The Center's research explores such major state issues as: early and K-12 education; government performance; election reform; public safety and corrections; and campaign finance reform. While working through The Pew Charitable Trusts partners, the Center also gathers links to their research and reports on their web site.

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Right to real privacy

FR first reported on the federal Real ID Act, P.L. 109-13 (pdf), with a post on the state of Virginia's creation of a task force to review the Act and its potential impact on Virginia, "including but not limited to the potential increased cost." As Associated Press (AP) reports in a Tuesday story, the Real ID Act "requires states by 2008 to verify documents such as birth certificates, Social Security cards and passports when people apply for driver's licenses," employing a common machine-readable technology and state databases with linked state driver information and photos. However, now it seems, according to AP, states are viewing the issue more as a "fight over privacy rights versus homeland security."

New Hampshire's House overwhelmingly passed HB 1582 which prohibits the state from participating in a national identification card system or amending the procedures for applying for a driver's license or identification card. The strongly worded bill is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union as well as conservative privacy advocates. The Senate is expected to return a vote in early May.

AP reports many state governors and most state legislatures are opposed to the Real ID and wait "to see regulations for implementing it from the federal Department of Homeland Security before acting."
The general court finds that the public policy established by Congress in the Real ID Act of 2005, Public Law 109-13, is contrary and repugnant to Articles 1 through 10 of the New Hampshire constitution as well as Amendments 4 though 10 of the Constitution for the United States of America.

House Bill 1582, 2006, State of New Hampshire

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A common concern

As reported by Associated Press (AP), a recently released study by The Commonwealth Fund found that 41% of working-age Americans with moderate to middle incomes lacked health insurance. The study, conducted September 2005 through January 2006, states that as health care spending is climbing (more than 7 percent per year) so is the number of uninsured Americans. The Commonwealth notes:
This combination of eroding health insurance coverage and rapidly rising health care costs raises concerns about the ability of U.S. families to obtain timely medical care, protect their finances from catastrophic health care costs, and save for retirement.
According to their web site, The Commonwealth Fund is "a private foundation working to improve health coverage and quality...by supporting independent research on health care issues and making grants to improve health care practice and policy." Some of the currently available publications as free pdf downloads examine issues as: health insurance; health care quality; medicare; underserved populations; and keys to successfully adopting electronic health records. Their State Health Policy Overview area alone offers over ninety publications, including such titles as:
  • How States Are Working with Physicians to Improve the Quality of Children's Health Care (pdf, 2.6MB)
  • Federal Aid to State High-Risk Pools (pdf, 113KB)
  • State Approaches to Promoting Young Children's Healthy Mental Development (pdf, 815KB).
Topical and worthy of review is their online newsletter, States in Action: A Quarterly Look at Innovations in Health Policy, published in HTML and providing updates, snapshots and focused profiles of state level actions.

In the summary to the health insurance gap study, Commonwealth echoes their foundation's main concern and focus:
It is clear from the findings of this survey and from prior research that the health care - and ultimately the health and productivity - of the U.S. population is being damaged as the nation's insurance problem continues to grow. Real solutions that build on group forms of coverage already in place...will help to fill insurance gaps with meaningful, affordable coverage that helps link families and providers.

Gaps In Health Insurance: An All-American Problem
(available in pdf, 195KB, from The Commonwealth Fund)

A multimedia presentation summary, by lead author Sara R. Collins, Ph.D., senior program officer and director of the Fund's Program on the Future of Health Insurance is also available.

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Reining in textbook costs

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) of April 25, p. D2, reported on state and federal lawmakers coming to the aid of college students against high textbook prices, as some books now cost over $100. The article cited laws enacted in Virginia (Chapter 561, 2006 Session, pdf, 16KB, 1p., from the Virginia General Assembly) and Washington (Chapter 81, Laws of 2006, pdf, 12KB, 3p., from the Washington Legislature) to make textbooks more affordable.
The Virginia law directs public universities to adopt textbook guidelines, including urging professors to be aware of book prices and discouraging them from switching to newer, more expensive texts that don't differ substantially from the older ones.
The Washington law orders state universities to promote textbook-buyback programs and to give students the option of buying books without additonal materials such as workbooks and CD-ROMs.
In Congress, the College Access and Oppportunity Act of 2006 (HR 609, pdf, 720KB, 390p., from GPO), §930, encourages publishers and college bookstores to cooperate with faculty and to implement options "to address textbook affordability."

Digital technology may also help in bringing book costs down. The Washington Post (WP) on April 23 reported on e-books where titles can be downloaded to readers that mimic paper pages, like iPods for books. They "could change the landscape of how books are both purchased and read."

See earlier FR post, Supplements raise textbook prices



Closing the mental health care gap

The National Academies Press (NAP) Quality Chasm series on American health care "documents the causes of the quality gap, identifies current practices that impede quality care, and explores how systems approaches can be used to implement change." Their recent title examines the characteristics of health care for mental and substance-use conditions: the fragmented delivery of services and associated barriers, and the serious consequences for the individuals and their communities. Included are discussions on the education, welfare, and justice systems, on benefit coverage, the regulatory issues, and health care organizations.

Improving the Quality of Health Care for Mental and Substance-Use Conditions: Quality Chasm Series
(an online Open Book from NAP, 528 pages)

Executive Summary
available in pdf, 520MB.



Unemployment insurance - overview

In a 16-page study published April 14, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) gives an overview of the variety of benefits available to the unemployed.

Basic unemployment compensation (UC) is a joint federal-state program financed by federal taxes under the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) and state payroll taxes. CRS provides two 50-state tables on (1) UC benefits amounts and (2) taxable wage base and rates. The information was compiled from Significant Provisions of State Unemployment Insurance Laws, January 2006, from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Employment and Training Administration (ETA).

The report summarizes the following programs:

The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program gives benefit extensions and job training to workers dislocated by international trade.

The Extended Benefit (EB) program, pursuant to 26 USC §3304, gives benefit extensions at the state level under certain economic situations. There is none currently active. The most recent EB program operated in Louisiana from Oct. 30, 2005, to Feb. 25, 2006.

The Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program has been activated by Congress five times, in 1971, 1974, 1982, 1991, and 2002. There is no TEUC program currently. In 2002 TEUC was enacted as part of the Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act of 2002, (P.L. 107-147, pdf, 156KB, 43p., from GPO), extending benefits for 13 weeks.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) benefits were established by the Stafford Act in 1970. When the President declares a major disaster in a state, assistance under the Stafford Act includes unemployment assistance for job loss due to the disaster.

Legislation in the 109th Congress discussed in the report relates to unemployment caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Unemployment Insurance: Available Unemployment Benefits and Legislative Activity, CRS Report RL33362
(pdf, 72KB, 16p., from Open CRS)


Ranking legislator disclosures

In a story published today, The Center for Public Integrity reported on its ranking of states in public disclosures of legislators' personal finances. According to the Center, legislators in 47 states are required to report on their activities, such as jobs and investments, outside the legislature. In the 50-state survey, Hawaii ranked second. (See also, Disclosure Ranking State Page for Hawaii.) The three states that do not require disclosure - Idaho, Michigan, and Vermont - scored 0 and came in last.
The 43-question survey measured public access to information essential to monitoring whether legislators stand to gain financially from actions they take in office. It graded states on how much they disclose about legislators' employment, personal business activities, clients, investments, real property holdings and leadership positions in organizations. It also studied disclosure statements' accessibility, disclosure law enforcement and rules defining who must file disclosure forms and how often.
The Center also provides access to its research and analysis for each state. See Hawaii.


The Bookshelf...Get me a quote!

Books of note in the collection --

Need a great quote for your speech or report? The Library has several excellent sources, with a lean toward the political, all in the Reference section.

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (17th ed.). The classic. (Ref. PN6081 B27 2002)

Respectfully Quoted, a Dictionary of Quotations. Edited by Suzy Platt. Each of its 2100 quotations was requested by a member of Congress or staff and researched by the Congressional Research Service. In convenient dictionary format. (Ref. PN6081 P52 1993)

Political Quotations, a Collection of Notable Sayings on Politics from Antiquity through 1989. Daniel B. Baker, Editor. 4000 quotations on specifically political subjects. Also in dictionary format. (Ref. PN6081 B34 1990)

Lend Me Your Ears, Great Speeches in History. Selected and introduced by William Safire. Speeches in 13 categories: Memorials and patriotic speeches, War and revolution speeches, Tributes and eulogies, Debates and argumentation, Trials, Gallows and farewell speeches, Sermons, Inspirational Speeches, Lectures and instructive speeches, Speeches of social responsibility, Media speeches, Political speeches, and Commencement speeches. (Ref. PN6122 S34 1992)

And I Quote, the Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker. By Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans III, and Andrew Frothingham. Organized in 6 categories: The Individual, Business and politics, The Community, Relationships, The World, and Science and technology. (Ref. PN4193 I5 A66 1992)


Hawaii State Capitol Hotspot

Hawaii has joined the growing number of states providing free Wi-Fi Internet connectivity at their State Capitols. Wednesday, April 12, the Hawaii State Legislature launched its broadband Wi-Fi, HISTATELEG, available throughout the Capitol. Citizens using their own laptops and PDAs are now able to access the Internet from House and Senate conference rooms, the Capitol Auditorium, the central corridors outside conference rooms and offices, the Public Access Room, and from the chamber level hallway.

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Tobacco money and the states

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) yesterday released its fifth and final report on payments to 46 states pursuant to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA, pdf, 272KB, 88p., from the Office of the Attorney General, State of California), between the states and four of the nation's largest tobacco companies, and the states' allocations of those funds to various programs. The reports were required by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, (PL 107-171, §10908, pdf, 1MB, 408p., from GPO). Hawaii reported receiving $38, 357,999 in FY 2005 and expects to receive $42,154,625 in FY 2006.

TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: States' Allocations of Fiscal Year 2005 and Expected Fiscal Year 2006 Payments, GAO-06-502
     Full report (pdf, 1.6MB, 73p.)
     Highlights (pdf, 88KB, 1p.)
     Abstract (html)

See related FR post, A smoker's promise?

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National parks funding

On April 5 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report and a companion statement on funding trends for the National Park Service. The Park Service manages 390 park units in over 20 designations, from national parks to national memorials, such as the USS Arizona Memorial. Appropriations to the Park Service totalled almost $1.7 billion in FY 2005. The Park Service allocates funds to park units in two categories: daily operations and specific projects. Broadly, GAO found that from 2001 to 2005 funding for operations declined while funding for projects increased. Project-related allocations primarily went towards reducing an estimated $5 billion maintenance backlog and to protecting natural resources through an initiative called the Natural Resource Challenge.

The 12 park units GAO selected for this study:
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: Major Operations Funding Trends and How Selected Park Units Responded to Those Trends for Fiscal Years 2001 through 2005, GAO-06-431
     Full report (pdf, 2.7 MB, 107p.)
     Highlights (pdf, 60KB, 1p.)
     Abstract (html)

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: Major Operations Funding Trends and How Selected Park Units Responded to Those Trends for Fiscal Years 2001 Through 2005, Statement for the Record by Robin M. Nazzaro, Director, Natural Resources and Environment (NRE), GAO; GAO-06-631T
     Full report (pdf, 460KB, 26p.)
     Highlights (pdf, 64KB, 1p.)
     Abstract (html)

See related FR post, National park air tours

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Pushing pays off

As reported in Reuters Thursday, The Center For Public Integrity published their investigation and research into the pharmaceutical industry spending of $44 million lobbying U.S. state officials during 2003 and 2004. "The industry also funneled more than $8 million to the campaigns of candidates for various state offices over the same period, according to a Center analysis of state campaign money..."
At the time, many state governments were seeking to reduce spending on prescription drugs, one of their fastest-growing expenses. States are among the pharmaceutical industry's biggest customers; through Medicaid and other aid programs they purchase about 16 percent of all prescription drugs sold in the country, and also finance drug coverage for state employees, retirees and prison inmates.
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization investigating and reporting on national and international public policy issues. For more than a year, the Center tracked the pharmaceutical industry's political influence and its impact on the American public. Their research is presented on their web site which "includes charts showing where and how much lobbying money was spent, allowing readers to quickly find information about their own states."

Pushing Prescriptions, How the drug industry sells its agenda at your expense
(a series of web reports by the The Center For Public Integrity)



Massachusetts: First universal health insurance

Widely reported in the press, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation to require all its residents to have health insurance. Yesterday its legislature approved HB4850, "An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care," which awaits signing by Gov. Mitt Romney. If approved, the law would cover the approximately 550,000 who are unininsured in the state by July 1, 2007.

The Massachusetts General Court (legislature) has provided helpful aids to the bill on its web site under "Health Care Conference Report." Presentation (pdf, 88KB, 20p.) gives highlights of the bill. The Conference Committee Report (pdf, 60KB, 11p.) provides a summary of the bill and FAQ. The Section-by-Section Summary (pdf, 36KB, 11p.) is a convenient guide to the extensive bill.



Hawaii Directory of Officials

The LRB Library published today the online edition of the Directory of State, County and Federal Officials in Hawaii, 2006. The publication contains department and agency listings with phone and fax numbers, and mail and e-mail addresses. A supplement to the Guide to Government in Hawaii, the Directory is published annually.

Directory of State, County and Federal Officials in Hawaii, 2006
(available in pdf as complete volume and by section, from Hawaii LRB)