ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—While states across the country have made changes to their public employee retirement plans, some of them have ended up in court for one key reason. “There’s a theme that comes where reform efforts have worked and where they don’t and a lot of them end up getting them challenged in court,” Robert D. Klausner, a partner with a law firm that handles retirement system cases, said during the CSG policy academy, “Accounting for the State of Public Pensions,” Saturday, Aug. 9. “The places where it doesn’t get challenged in court are places where employees have been engaged early in the process.”

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—While public pension plans still face problems, the situation isn’t as bleak as the headlines report, according to Dana Bilyeu, executive director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. In fact, public pension plans across the country are 80 percent funded, on aggregate; that’s down from 101 percent funded in 2001, Bilyeu said. She spoke at The Council of State Governments policy academy, “Accounting for the State of Public Pensions,” Aug. 9.

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—Alabama Rep. Mac Buttram thinks it’s about time people start thinking about career and technical education in a different way. Buttram recently was appointed to Gov. Robert Bentley’s new Alabama Workforce Council. The council, comprised primarily of state business leaders, is designed to help K-12 and higher education institutions in the state better meet the needs of businesses and industries. He was one of the featured speakers at CSG’s Policy Academy on Workforce Development, held Aug. 9 at the CSG National and CSG West Annual Conference in Alaska.

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—The future of the country’s economic success appears to be a team effort. “One of the most important keys to our national growth and economic success is supporting a highly trained workforce,” West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said at CSG’s Policy Academy on Workforce Development, held Aug. 9 at the CSG National and CSG West Annual Conference in Alaska. “Education is the number one qualifier for jobs of today and tomorrow.”

Political polarization and economic inequality dramatically affect civic education in the United States, speakers at the session, “Understanding and Promoting High Quality Civic Education,” said.

Diana Hess, senior vice president of the Spencer Foundation at the University of Wisconsin Madison, said the movement to the political extremes leaves very little in the middle. In fact, she said, only 35 of the 435 seats n the U.S. House of Representatives are competitive.

Alaska presents some unique challenges when it comes to delivering health care to rural residents. Telemedicine is helping to solve some of those challenges.

Laurel Wood, former immunizations director for the Alaska Department of Public Health, told attendees Monday at the CSG/CSG West Health Committee meeting that Alaska is one-fifth the size of lower 48 states. It is twice as large as Texas, but it has a population density of just 1.2 people per square mile.

Tom Massey, office director of policy, communications and operations for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, said the state’s decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act came down to math.

“We figured it would create about 20,000 more jobs over the next 20 years, bring in about $4.4 billion more into our economy and the average household earnings would rise by about $600,” said Massey, who spoke Monday during the CSG/CSG West Health Committee meeting.

Population growth, aging baby boomers and a dramatic rise in the number of insured Americans resulting from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are stressing America’s health care system like never before. Demand for care is increasing dramatically, but access to a variety of health professionals has remained largely static.

As states continue to diversify their energy portfolios, renewable energy sources—like solar technology—will play an increasing role.

A recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration revealed solar added 2,193 megawatts of capacity in 2013. Much of that added capacity came as the industry completed several large solar thermal plants in Arizona and California. More projects are on track for completion between 2014 and 2016. Power generation from solar technology is forecast to rise.

Noted author, professor and CNN senior political analyst David Gergen told attendees at Monday’s luncheon session that he’s worried about the world these days.

“We’re coming through a time when the country and the world are in a hell of a mess,” he said. “This is one of the roughest times I can remember, one of the toughest to understand. … There are surprises coming at us regularly both on the domestic side and the international side.”

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