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Criminal Justice• New efforts needed to combat changing patterns in illicit drug use
"Political Rhetoric Overlooks Change in Drug-Use Patterns," Robert Suro, Washington Post, September 24, 1996, p. A01, http://www.washingtonpost.com; "Two Area Schools to Use Random Drug Tests," T.J. Wilham, Indianapolis Star/News, http://www.starnews.com.
Small-scale marijuana distribution and increased use of the drugs among teens is forcing law enforcement officials and schools to find new approaches to curtail supply and demand.
Federal officials believe the share of marijuana produced in the United States has grown from one-quarter to one-half of the U.S. market in the past decade. The government's extensive cocaine interdiction efforts, with their emphasis on large-scale importing operations and organized crime, do not apply to small-scale domestic marijuana production. "Stopping people from growing marijuana in their suburban basements requires tactics quite distinct from those used to stop the cultivation of coca plants in the Andes," enforcement officials say. Meanwhile, federal funding to catch domestic marijuana growers has remained at $10 million annually since 1992, compared with the $13 billion annual drug interdiction budget.
The number of high school seniors who said they smoked marijuana in the past year increased from 27 percent in 1991 to 39 percent in 1995, according to an annual University of Michigan survey on drug use. A survey by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, recorded a general increase in positive views toward drugs among youth since 1991, after years of decline. To counter this trend, an Indiana public high school has started random drug testing for those who participate in extracurricular activities and an Indiana parochial school is randomly testing all students. Officials at the partnership feel marijuana is difficult to fight, since it rarely produces the tragedies caused by even occasional cocaine or other drug use.
Harris County, Texas, courts have decided to base bail on prior convictions for misdemeanor defendants.
People accused of violent misdemeanors or threats to commit a violent misdemeanor, for example, must post $1,500 bail plus $2,000 for each previous conviction. For less severe cases, the court requires $1,000 bail plus $500 for each previous misdemeanor and $1,000 for each felony. The maximum possible bail -- the deposit that defendants pay to ensure that they show up for trial -- for these less severe cases is $7,500. Bail for repeat drunken drivers starts at $2,500 and increases by $1,000 for each prior conviction to a maximum of $7,500.
Since the early 1970s, Houston misdemeanor courts posted a standard bail of $500. The judges are now tougher after encountering more defendants with extensive felony and misdemeanor records who post bail and never show up for trial.
Inmate overcrowding in Wisconsin leading to record numbers of early releases
Wisconsin is releasing record numbers of prisoners early, as state and Milwaukee County facilities face severe overcrowding partly due to soaring drug convictions.
Wisconsin state prisons held 12,567 inmates in September 1996 in facilities designed to hold 9,538. About 20 percent of these inmates are felony drug offenders. More than half of them came from Milwaukee County where the district attorney's office reportedly recommends prison for almost all drug dealers. The number of inmates sent to prison statewide for felony drug dealing jumped 55 percent from 1990 to 1995.
In response, many drug offenders are getting out early. On average, drug dealers served 35 percent of their sentence in 1995, down from 52 percent in 1990, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel study. Thirty percent of the drug convicts paroled last year served a quarter or less of their sentences. Plans by prison officials to have convicted drug dealers serve most of their sentences in community-based intensive sanctions programs have so far met heavy political resistance.
Milwaukee County's jail is likewise in crisis, with 1,458 inmates held in a facility designed for 798. With 50 inmates sleeping on a gymnasium floor in August, the county sheriff refused short-term offenders from the City of Milwaukee. These offenders usually receive short jail sentences for not paying fines. A Milwaukee judge said the sheriff risks a contempt of court citation if he refuses prisoners, since the municipal commitments are judicial orders.
Minnesota note: Minnesota state prisons are operating at about 105 percent of their designed capacity, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The prison population is expected to rise by more than 1,500 to 6,336 in 2001. In that year, the new Rush City prison, designed to hold 816 offenders, is scheduled to open.
Economic Development• Local governments get mixed benefits from development incentives
"Company Manners," Rob Gurwitt, Governing, September 1996, p. 34; "O Governor, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Plant?" Allen R. Meyerson, New York Times, September 1, 1996, p. F1.
Battle Creek, Michigan, is establishing close ties with companies to ensure that tax breaks, subsidies and other development incentives pay off. Other governments find that subsidies cost more than the economic activity they create.
Battle Creek's community development agency makes sure a firm's plans are viable before offering a deal. In one case, the agency's board, made up of community members from unions to management, rejected an offer for a manufacturing plant since the company's suppliers were so far away. The agency also provides a wide-range of assistance, such as helping a gum manufacturer get Federal Food and Drug Administration approval for one of its exotic ingredients.
However, some economic development efforts have been disastrous. To meet the $300 million subsidy for a new Mercedes plant, Alabama had to borrow funds from the state pension fund at 9 percent interest. The subsidy -- $200,000 for each job created -- was seven times what Tennessee paid for the Saturn plant in 1985 and three times what South Carolina paid for a BMW plant in 1992. Rio Rancho, an Albuquerque suburb, promised the Intel corporation it would pay no property taxes for 30 years. But lack of property taxes prevented the suburb from building a much-needed high school to support its growing community. It had to turn to Intel, and a promise of more subsidies, for help.
Specialists in textiles, tool-and-die, printing, heavy-machinery and other older industries are in demand, while college students flock to high-growth, high-tech fields.
According to the chairman of a Massachusetts textile company, employers in his industry, which sells more than $150 billion annually, "fight over college graduates, almost all of whom get three to five offers." Another company annually recruits workers from Israel and lures U.S. workers with expensive dinners and symphony tickets.
Employers in older industries suffer from the perception that the job outlook in these fields is poor. Such employers also are hurt by cutbacks in higher education programs that serve these industries. Only 20 schools offer specialties in nuclear science and fewer than 10 schools offer degrees in steel making. About six programs exist in textiles, down from more than 50 in the 1970s.
Education• Public school teachers raising personal standards of dress
"Teachers Make Style Statement by Dressing Up," Ann Bradley, Education Week, September 11, 1996, p. 1.
Teachers across the country are dressing up voluntarily and in response to contract and district requirements.
Those who are deciding to banish sweats and T-shirts from their professional lives are doing so to promote a serious classroom atmosphere and high expectations for their students and public education. In Long Beach, California, the first district in the nation to require students to wear uniforms, teachers and administration officials are expected to announce a teacher dress code this month.
Faculty are generally comfortable with contracts and district requirements that feature broadly worded mandates that teachers wear "professional attire" and practice appropriate "personal hygiene" since the clothing necessary for different types of classes varies. But many Dallas teachers are not pleased with the detailed dress codes created by the district in 1991, requiring such things as dress shirts and ties for men and professional dresses and skirts no shorter than two inches above the bend of the knee for women.
Minnesota note: Students at St. Paul's Galtier Magnet Public School are the first public school students in the state to wear uniforms.
Economic gulf widening between tenure-track and part-time professors
With an eye on shrinking budgets, universities and community colleges are increasingly relying on part-time faculty who receive fewer benefits and lower job security.
The proportion of faculty who worked part time in colleges and universities rose from 38 percent in 1987 to 43 percent in 1993, according to the American Association of University Professors. In addition, nontenure-track faculty now account for half of all new hires. The association notes that community colleges typically pay $40,000 for a full-time professor, while it costs them about $15,000 to have part-time lecturers teach the same course load. In some community colleges, part-time faculty teach 66 percent of the courses.
Flexibility and lower labor costs are critical contributors to this trend since labor represents roughly 75 percent to 80 percent of a college's or university's budget. While tenure-track professors usually enjoy a salary, generous benefits and relative job security, part-time faculty are often paid by teaching hours, are ineligible for benefits and work under single-semester contracts.
Opinion is mixed on this trend's effect on students. Colleges and universities that heavily rely on part-time faculty note that they are as qualified as full-time instructors and can be hired as needed. Others say that it is extremely difficult for part-time faculty to shuttle between jobs with little security, advise students or write letters of recommendation for them.
Washington districts aid home schooling using the Internet
Schools in Washington state are using the Internet as an inexpensive way to provide curricula to home schoolers.
The Federal Way district uses per-pupil state funding to employ a teacher to disseminate "Internet Academy" curricula for fourth- through eighth-graders via e-mail. Each day the teacher sends a message detailing homework, tests or field trips that students must perform on their own. Students ultimately receive district credit for their courses. The Spokane school district launched courses over the Internet as a way to serve high-school students who did not do well in traditional classrooms and the Eugene district introduced the first cyberspace high school.
Districts in Washington state can receive the same per-pupil funding for running home-schooling programs as they do for students in the classroom. At about $3,500 per home-schooled student per year, there is currently about $70 million available from the state annually to serve an estimated 20,000 home-schooled students. To receive the funds, students must take five hours of classes per week at school or meet with school officials one hour per week. Districts also must require 20 to 25 hours per week of teaching with district-approved curriculum. The Federal Way district hopes to use the Internet for its one-hour-per-week meetings.
See another scan related to education in this edition of Minnesota IssueWatch:
Environment• California ends subsidies for renewable energy
"Quick, Dirty End to 'Clean' Energy?" Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times, August 29, 1996, http://www.latimes.com.
An energy market deregulation law signed in September in California will remove market protections for alternative energy providers.
In a state where consumers pay roughly 50 percent more than the national average for their energy, legislators hope that the new law will make the energy market more competitive. The changes will begin in 1998 and will be phased in over five years. Previous energy regulations helped make California the leader in renewable energy. Such energy provides 11 percent of the state's generating capacity, equaling 90 percent of all sustainable energy produced in the United States. Market analysts doubt that many consumers will be willing to pay the expected 15 percent or more premium for renewable energy. The state has set aside $460 million that may go toward consumer credits to help pay for renewable energy.
Government Administration• Local governments increase public opinion research
"Push for Poll on Sports Arena Follows Trend," Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1996, http://www.latimes.com.
Polling is gaining popularity among local governments as a way to gauge public opinion on expensive projects such as stadiums, libraries and transportation systems.
Although polls can cost from $25,000 to $50,000, politicians find them useful in reaching diverse and dispersed citizens. They can provide a reliable, legitimate gauge of constituencies' opinions. An expert at Brown University says that polls work best when opinions are sought on general project guidelines, rather than specific proposals.
Some are concerned that elected officials use polls to evade taking a personal stand on a controversial issue. Polling becomes "a form of government by focus group," notes a University of New York professor of public affairs. Others caution that the framing of a question, such as the swapping of the term "welfare" for "aid to the poor," can change the results of a poll and fear that elected officials are framing surveys to match their agendas.
A worldwide trend toward airport privatization has reached Indianapolis and Pittsburgh as they look for a solution to poor airport service and tight budgets.
BAA, which owns seven airports in the United Kingdom, has recently taken over the management of the Indianapolis and Pittsburgh airports. Under the policy of "street pricing," which impels vendors to sell at prices that people would find outside an airport, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh airports have seen per-person spending triple since the management change. Investors consider BAA to be a retail company rather than a transportation firm, since it takes in 44 percent of its revenues from retailing with the rest from more traditional sources such as landing fees.
U.S. airports are forbidden to make a profit under federal law because they use tax-free bonds and public funds, but municipal port authorities are still able to contract out for management services without selling the airport outright. The U.S. House and Senate recently passed bills that would repeal the no-profit restriction on six airports under a pilot program.
Over the next few years many of the world's major airports will reach capacity and hundreds of airports worldwide are expected to be up for sale. BAA is discussing management agreements with a half dozen other U.S. airports. They claim that only the private sector has the resources to meet rising demands.
Critics worry that privatization's emphasis on profit threatens to raise consumer prices and hurt safety. Landing fees may go up considerably as the demand for air travel quadruples worldwide in the next decade. They also are concerned that private airport operators will put all of their investments into mall-like departure areas while arrival spaces and security -- which do not directly contribute to profits -- will deteriorate.
Health Care• Managed care is changing nature of drug abuse treatment
"HMOs Push Cheaper, Short-Term Rehab," Ellen Joan Pollock, Wall Street Journal, September 9, 1996, p. B1.
Efforts to contain health-care costs have reached the addiction treatment industry, leading to shorter inpatient treatment, limited therapy and the promotion of addiction suppressing drugs.
Coverage for traditional long-term residential treatment is becoming rare. While insurers supported more that 400 substance abuse treatment programs nationwide with average stays of more than 20 days in 1991, today there are less than 10 such programs. Managed care organizations frequently require outpatient treatment before approving inpatient care and try to keep the number of days in outpatient care to a minimum. At the same time, managed care supervisors are working to make care more flexible to fit the needs of the individual.
Medical professionals are divided on how to treat roughly 800,000 Americans seeking treatment for addiction annually. Many managed care officials say that inpatient programs are not only expensive -- they often cost more than $30,000 -- but also are ineffective because they are inflexible and remove patients from their normal lives where they must learn to deal with stress without alcohol or other drugs. Other medical professionals dispute these arguments. They stress that intensive inpatient treatment is more cost-effective in many cases because it prevents relapses. A psychiatrist specializing in addiction says that employer caps on the number of times workers can seek medical attention also complicates treatment.
See another scan related to treating addiction in this edition of Minnesota IssueWatch:
Social Services• St. Louis' barter program seen as a model for welfare reform
"Promising Trade-Off for the Needy," Peter T. Kilborn, New York Times, September 29, 1996, p. A10.
A nonprofit social service agency in St. Louis issues "time-dollars" for community service enabling welfare recipients to barter work for goods and services.
The Grace Hill organization started its work-exchange program nine years ago with a foundation grant and has seen fast growth since it computerized the system. Participants are paid in time-dollars for anything from reading to blind people to washing dishes. These dollars can be spent on goods and services, such as child care or donated household items. A computer with terminals in nine neighborhoods keeps track of roughly 3,000 participants' balances. Usage rose from 9,552 time-dollars earned in 1992 to 41,014 this year as of August.
The time-dollar system can help Missouri meet the requirement of the new national welfare law that 25 percent of the state's welfare recipients be working for pay or performing community service at least 20 hours per week. It also enables people to look for work since they can pay for child care with their time. By having their labor recorded and valued, people are able to practice the discipline of showing up on time, something that will help them with their first jobs after the program.
Transportation• New Jersey to require sidewalks in new residential developments
"Sidewalks the Rule for New Developments in New Jersey," Planning, September 1996, p. 22.
Bucking a deregulation trend, New Jersey intends to require sidewalks for new developments to promote pedestrian safety.
The state, as part of its revision of residential site improvement standards, is poised to require sidewalks on both sides of the street of any new residential subdivision with more than one dwelling per acre. Sidewalks also will be required for business and recreation properties and areas within 2,500 feet of transit or school bus routes.
Advocates of the plan cite safety as its main benefit. Twenty-two percent of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians, according to the president of a New Jersey police group. Children who live within 2.5 miles of school are especially at risk without sidewalks, supporters say, because they have no access to school-bus service.
Opponents, including the New Jersey League of Municipalities, counter that the mandates interfere with local individuality and authority. Others fear that sidewalks will invite outsiders into otherwise exclusive neighborhoods.
Minnesota note: While improving pedestrian facilities is a major safety and sustainable development goal, the practice may work against the goal of making housing more affordable if it raises development costs.
Pasadena, a city in the Los Angeles region, is adding a new line to its free bus system to compliment the regional transit system and promote commerce.
The city launched the original bus line in 1994 to connect its two business districts and is now expanding the system to reach many of the city's schools, senior centers and low-income neighborhoods. More than a quarter of Pasadena's residents do not own a car. Transportation planners hope to repeat the success of the original line, which provides 1,100 to 1,300 rides per weekday and has coincided with a 28 percent drop in daytime car traffic along the its route.
Pasadena spends $1 million per year for both the new and original lines using some of the city's share of transportation money generated by state sales taxes. The city spends $1.67 per rider to help its citizens get around compared with the $2.34 the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority spends.
Austin, Texas, dropped its no-fare policy after 15 months following complaints that the system attracted truant children and homeless people. So far, Pasadena has not had these problems.
See another scan related to transportation in this edition of Minnesota IssueWatch:
Overall Trends• Employers becoming more aggressive in confronting addiction
"In Leaner, Meaner Workplace, Bosses Get Tough on Addiction," Ellen Joan Pollock, Wall Street Journal, September 9, 1996, p. B1.
Employers are aggressively intervening to address substance abuse problems in the work place as leaner offices demand high performance from all employees.
Downsizing, outsourcing and other techniques to streamline the work place mean that supervisors can no longer afford to ignore employee alcohol and drug problems. Yet, telecommuting, flextime and other approaches to improving performance and job satisfaction can make it difficult to detect problems. Chronic tardiness and absenteeism, once typical signs of trouble, are less evident when employees do not regularly come to the office or work flexible hours. Human resource managers suggest watching for behavioral changes such as reduction in energy levels, social interactions and commitment to completing tasks.
See another scan related to treating addiction in this edition of Minnesota IssueWatch:
While attempts in Iowa and Michigan to revive fault-based divorce have stalled, state legislatures are considering and imposing reforms to strengthen marriage, delay divorce and require parenting classes.
With polls showing half of Americans interested in making divorce more difficult, many states are reviewing the consequences of no-fault divorce. Iowa requires spouses to attend parenting classes that will help them understand the effects of divorce on their children, while Michigan is considering a law that would require parents to outline their responsibilities for visitation, discipline and education. Three legislatures are considering waiting periods or counseling before making divorce official and many, including Minnesota, have introduced legislation to require premarital counseling. An advocate of fault-based divorce argues that marriage regulations are necessary because marriage is "not just a lifestyle choice, it's a critical institution that allows our culture to move forward."
All 50 states have no-fault divorce laws which allow either spouse to divorce without the agreement of the other party. Researchers say that in the 20 years following the passage of the first no-fault divorce law in California in 1970, the divorce rate increased by 34 percent. Before fault-based reforms, the spouse who wanted the divorce had to prove that the other spouse had made the marriage impossible to sustain.
Supporters of retaining the no-fault divorce system, including some attorney groups, argue that requiring consent for divorce will increase the time, costs and negative feelings on both sides. They fear that making divorce more difficult could trap a spouse in an abusive marriage. Other advocates cite research showing that children of divorced parents are more likely to do poorly in school and that women see their standard of living plummet following a divorce.