Capitol Comments

Relief for seniors buying prescription drug coverage under Medicare who fall into the so-called donut hole has reached more than $460 million so far this year. The Affordable Care Act has provided almost 900,000 Americans an average benefit of $513.

States like California and New York saw a real boost to their economies as $45 million and $35 million was available to cover prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare. Presumably, this supplemental coverage freed up millions of dollars for seniors to pay other bills.

The U.S. Department of Labor has released data on how much each state “overpays” in unemployment insurance benefits, or when a state sends unemployment checks to those who are not eligible. The Department also reports on the steps several states are taking to rein in improper payments.

The 2010 edition of The Book of the States was the first in the publication's 76-year-history to be available in its entirety in a digital format.  Building on that success, the 2011 edition was also posted online in the Knowledge Center.  I am happy to report that previous editions dating back to 2004 are also now available in their entirety at www.csg.org/bookofthestates.  

The Electric Transmission Line Compact Drafting Team had its first meeting on Oct 6-7.  They began their work with introductions, a meeting overview, and a discussion of the team goals for the day.  Their goals included 1.) reviewing the advisory group recommendations and outline, 2.) defining the constituencies and scope of the compact affected, and 3.) drafting a comprehensive purpose statement. 

Although it should be of little surprise that many states have slashed funding for K-12 public education, the extent of those cuts is coming into a clearer focus. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has published an analysis that finds K-12 schools are receiving less funding than last year in at least 37 states. Furthermore, the report states schools are receiving funding below 2008 levels in 30 states.

Online learning is growing in high schools at nearly breakneck speed. In “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models,” Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute observes from 2000 to 2010 online learning grew from approximately 45,000 students taking at least one online course to more than 4 million.

These computerized courses give students opportunities to make up for classes they’ve failed or take courses, such as Advanced Placement classes, schools may not be able to offer. However, it is evident that online learning works best when a teacher is available in a classroom or computer lab to assist students with their work.

Colorado, Montana, Ohio, Washington and Oregon have each announced increases to their 2012 minimum wages, according to CNN. The triggered increases range from 28 cents to 37 cents per hour. These four states and six others (AZ, FL, MO, NV, OR, and VT) have minimum wages that are linked to inflation (the consumer price index), which means the minimum wage is normally increased each year according to the Department of Labor.  In January 2011, seven of the ten trigger states increased their wages - the three exceptions being Florida, Missouri and Nevada.

Efforts being led by CSG to develop an electric transmission line siting compact will renew this week when the compact’s drafting team meets for the first time.  With the expected growth in electricity demand, coupled with the need to bring renewable energy to market and the necessity to enhance and secure the nation’s energy infrastructure, the need for added transmission capacity has never been more apparent.

It’s late on a Friday but I wanted to pass along a few headlines and updates on some recent transportation-related stories. There is more this week on that Kentucky-Indiana bridge closing, a couple of authorization notes, some news on public-private partnerships, a new report on traffic congestion, and an item on how a potentially congestion-relieving highway tunnel project could cause some short-term traffic headaches.

As reported last week, QR codes help connect the digital world to the paper world.  CSG has long offered both an online version and a printable PDF version of our Capitol Research briefs.  Now we have also incorporated QR codes into our printable reports so that if you find one of our printed PDF's around your office, you can conveniently scan the code at the end with your smart phone's barcode reader app to get more online information on the topic.

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