Limits on hate crime laws

In mid-February, a 15-year-old boy in Oxnard, CA, was shot in the head by a 14-year-old classmate who now faces murder charges. As reported by the LA Times, several students said the victim had come out as gay. According to authorities, "If the suspect targeted [the victim] because of his sexual orientation, the case could rise to the level of a hate crime."

A recent paper by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) summarizes the constitutional issues for states and Congress when enacting hate crime laws. CRS cites several U.S. Supreme Court cases that provide the parameters for such legislation.
After these landmark cases, the real questions for states involve identifying permissible ways to curtail hate crimes without infringing on any constitutionally protected rights. On the federal level...the question remains as to what extent Congress can broaden the classes of individuals subject to hate crime legislation.
The paper discusses the applicability of the commerce clause, the Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th), and the 1st and 6th Amendments.

Constitutional Limits on Hate Crime Legislation, RS22812 (pdf, 6pp/76kB, from Open CRS), Feb. 20, 2008

See earlier FR post, Dealing with "symbols of fear and violence," 10.25.07. §706-662, Hawaii Revised Statutes, therein was amended by HB2, which became Act 1, Session Laws of Hawaii 2007, 2nd Special Session.

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Recent GAO reports

From the Government Accountability Office (GAO):

HIGHWAY PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS: More Rigorous Up-front Analysis Could Better Secure Potential Benefits and Protect the Public Interest, GAO-08-44 (pdf, 96pp/1.24 MB), Feb. 8, 2008
Highway public-private partnerships show promise as a viable alternative, where appropriate, to help meet growing and costly transportation demands. The public sector can acquire new infrastructure or extract value from existing infrastructure while potentially sharing with the private sector the risks associated with designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining public infrastructure. However, highway public-private partnerships are not a panacea for meeting all transportation system demands, nor are they without potentially substantial costs and risks to the public--both financial and nonfinancial--and trade-offs must be made.....There is no "free" money in highway public-private partnerships.

HEAD START: A More Comprehensive Risk Management Strategy and Data Improvements Could Further Strengthen Program Oversight, GAO-08-221 (pdf, 41pp/632kB), Feb. 12, 2008

This report focuses on the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families' (ACF) oversight of the Head Start program in which 1,600 local organizations receive $7 billion in grants from ACF. GAO recommends that ACF establish better criteria to spot underperforming grantees, to improve the reliability of its data, and to reduce improper payments.

HEALTH INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: HHS Is Pursuing Efforts to Advance Nationwide Implementation, but Has Not Yet Completed a National Strategy, GAO-08-499T (pdf, 17pp/228kB), Feb. 14, 2008

In 2004 Pres. Bush established the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) with HHS. The key areas of national health IT activities are electronic health records, standardization, networking and information exchange, and health information privacy and security.

STRATEGIC PETROLEUM RESERVE: Options to Improve the Cost-Effectiveness of Filling the Reserve, GAO-08-521T (pdf, 15pp/216kB), Feb. 26, 2008

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) was established in 1975. The SPR currently has almost 700 million barrels of crude oil, about 56 days of oil imports, in Texas and Louisiana. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, P.L. 109-58 (pdf, 551pp.), authorized the Department of Energy (DOE) to increase the SPR to 1 billion barrels by 2018. GAO recommends that DOE consider flexible, cost-effective ways when making fill decisions.

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Reputation on the Internet

Daniel J. Solove of the George Washington University Law School is the author of The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, the full text of which is available online. The 205-page book was published in October 2007 by Yale University Press.

Solove likens the present state of the Internet to a teenager: "brash, uninhibited, unruly, fearless, experimental, and often not mindful of the consequences of its behavior. And as with a teenager, the Net's greater freedom can be both a blessing and a curse."

In the concluding chapter, "The Future of Reputation," he writes:
Will people be blogging and using social network websites a decade from now? Who knows? . . . The technologies may change, but human nature will remain the same.

Although the Internet poses new and difficult issues, they are variations on some timeless problems: the tension between privacy and free speech, the nature of privacy, the virtues and vices of gossip and shaming, the effect of new technologies on the spread of information, and the ways in which law, technology, and norms interact. New technologies do not just enhance freedom but also alter the matrix of freedom and control in new and challenging ways.
The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet (Yale University Press, October 2007)

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Recycling CFLs

Since 2006, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) have seen a sharp increase in sales and now comprise 20% of the U.S. light bulb market, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). With their increased use, concerns have arisen about the disposal of CFLs because they contain small amounts of mercury and may be deemed household hazardous waste. In light of this designation, the CRS paper includes a discussion of the disposal and recycling of CFLs, and notes recycling programs in Maine and Minnesota, and the Northwest Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) Recycling Project for Oregon and Washington.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs): Issues with Use and Disposal, RS22807, (pdf, 6pp/80kB, from Open CRS), February 13, 2008

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Just in...2 on Hawaii

The Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force issued its report on "charting a course for Hawaii's sustainable future." See post from the Hawaii House Blog.

See also FR post from last year on the Task Force and an earlier publication.

Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan (pdf, 99pp/9.6MB)
(HC79 E5 H25 2008)


In Healthcare Hawaii Style, Frank L. Tabrah, M.D., writes of his lengthy medical experience in Hawaii, beginning as a plantation doctor in Kohala on the Big Island, and the evolution of medical care in the islands. Dr. Tabrah sees in the health care system that developed from the plantation communities promising elements for national universal health care. From the Preface:
Proponents of National Health plans and single-party payment systems will find much in the universal coverage of the plantation years and the success of mandatory health coverage since 1974 to ponder in solving our health care crisis.
See review from the Star Bulletin.

Healthcare Hawaii Style, Model for the Nation? How the Aloha State Leads the Way Toward Universal Healthcare
(RA447 H3 T32 2007)

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ERISA's impact on insurance reform

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is the federal law that governs private-sector retirement and health plans. ERISA pre-empts all state laws relating to employee benefit plans, including health insurance, with exceptions under the commonly called "savings" and "deemer" clauses. (ERISA specifically exempted the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act, chapter 393, Hawaii Revised Statutes, in the form it was passed in 1974, a few months before ERISA itself was enacted.) As states are attempting to legislate health insurance reform to cover the uninsured, they have come up against ERISA's pre-emption provision.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) issued a study on the challenges presented by ERISA to such state laws, especially "fair share" laws that require employers who provide little or no health coverage to pay into a state fund. The report concludes, in part:
Given the current pre-emption structure, as states continue to pass incremental regulations and benefit mandates on insured plans, it seems clear that more employers will be forced to consider self-insuring their health benefit plans, simply as a response to the significantly growing regulatory costs. And, as the cost of insured coverage rises, smaller employers may consider dropping coverage entirely.

As the administration of President George W. Bush comes to an end, and the fiscal demands on a deficit-plagued federal government continue to increase, it seems clear that political prospects are slim that the next president and the next Congress will enact a publicly funded universal-care health care system covering all Americans. But the alternative--greater state regulation of employment-based health care, which remains the bedrock of the current system--could ultimately prove to be self-defeating if employers decide to get out of the game.
ERISA Pre-emption: Implications for Health Reform and Coverage (pdf, 16pp/740kB)

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State finances and recession

The Rockefeller Institute of Government issued, on Jan. 30, a report on recessions and state finances, providing 50-state comparisons of past recessions and their effects, using the 2001 recession as a key reference point. It notes that, in the short term, a recession does not affect states' expenditures as much as tax revenues which are hit by "the ravages of a recession," and makes a cautionary observation:
...the initial response to a recession in the year of a negative revenue surprise typically includes administrative actions or a combination of administrative and legislative actions. These commonly involve across-the-board cuts, reserve-fund drawdowns, and borrowing from other parts of the budget. These actions often have no impact on longer-term structural problems, or can even make the subsequent year's problem worse. States reserve the big guns of large tax increases and spending cuts for the executive budget process, and that process can take several years to play out....
What Will Happen to State Government Finances in a Recession? (pdf, 27pp/1MB)

In a news release Jan. 24, the National Governors Association (NGA) announced its adoption of an economic stimulus policy for Congress. In a brief information paper, the governors propose countercyclical funding to be made up of Medicaid assistance and a flexible block grant. A longer background paper provides Congress and the Administration with information on the fiscal condition of the states, the potential state role in economic stimulus, and specific policy options. Maintaining that any stimulus package should be "timely, temporary and targeted," the paper proposes six categories for Congress to consider in a formulating such a package:
  • General revenue sharing
  • Targeted state-federal programs for high-risk populations
  • Job creation
  • Mortgage default assistance
  • Existing regulations (moratoriums to assist states in holding down expenditures)
  • Individual income tax and business tax reductions
Economic Stimulus Information Paper (pdf, 4pp/84kB)
Economic Stimulus: A State Perspective (pdf, 11pp/88kB)

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Recent GAO reports

From the Government Accountability Office (GAO):

LONG-TERM FISCAL OUTLOOK: Action Is Needed to Avoid the Possibility of a Serious Economic Disruption in the Future, GAO-08-411T (pdf, 21pp/376kB), January 29, 2008

In testimony by the Comptroller General, 3 key points:
  • The federal budget is on an imprudent and unsustainable path
  • Rapidly rising health care costs are our nation's number one fiscal challenge
  • The window of opportunity for action is shrinking as the first baby boomers retire and begin tapping into Social Security and Medicare

STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: Growing Fiscal Challenges Will Emerge during the Next 10 Years, GAO-08-317 (pdf, 78pp/716kB), January 22, 2008
As is true for the federal sector, the growth in health-related expenditures is the primary driver of the fiscal challenges facing the state and local government sector. In particular, two types of state and local expenditures will likely rise quickly. The first is Medicaid expenditures, and the second is expenditures by these governments for health insurance for state and local employees and retirees.

ELDERLY VOTERS: Some Improvements in Voting Accessibility from 2000 to 2004 Elections, but Gaps in Policy and Implementation Remain, GAO-08-442T (pdf, 30pp/792kB), January 31, 2008

This report covers voting accessibility by seniors and the disabled, specifically getting to polling places and being able to cast votes once they arrive. Besides impediments to wheelchair users, the forms of ballots, type size of voting instructions, and lack of ballots with audio-tape or braille ballots may affect access. GAO noted an increase in states' providing alternative voting methods such as early voting, absentee voting without medical certification, curbside voting, allowing voters to go to more accessible polling places, and taking ballots to a voter's residence. Some election officials reported that early and absentee voting added to the "cost and complexity" of elections.

BILINGUAL VOTING ASSISTANCE: Selected Jurisdictions' Strategies for Identifying Needs and Providing Assistance, GAO-08-182 (pdf, 86pp/2.8MB), January 18, 2008

This study was mandated by the "Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006," P.L. 109-246 (pdf, 5pp.), section 9, regarding the implementation of section 203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 203 is codified at 42 USC 1973b(f). GAO gathered information from 14 of the 296 jurisdictions required to provide bilingual voting assistance. It found that evaluating the effectiveness of these programs is difficult, therefore the extent to which they are helpful to language minority voters is unknown.

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