Trends and Transitions | July-August 2014

9/1/2014

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE

Separating Stalkers From Tracking Technology

The electronic devices most of us carry can identify where we are at any moment. Usually, it’s a feature we’ve requested—a navigation app that provides directions, an app such as Foursquare that lets friends know where we are, a taxi app that tells the driver where to pick us up. Parents can keep an eye on their children, caregivers can make sure Alzheimer’s patients are safe and businesses can monitor company vehicles.

But stalkers and abusers also are discovering tracking technology, especially as it becomes cheaper and more available. Some stand-alone devices are small enough to be hidden under a car or in the trunk or placed in a backpack or purse.They are marketed as tools to spy on cheating spouses and have pricetags of under $200.

Today, one in four stalking cases involves some sort of technology, and one in 13 involves electronic monitoring or GPS tracking, a U.S. Justice Department survey estimated.

State legislatures are taking action. In July, New York enacted “Jackie’s Law” in honor of Jacqueline Wisniewski, whose surgeon ex-boyfriend stalked and killed her in 2012 after putting a GPS device in her car. The law adds unauthorized GPS tracking as a crime under the state’s anti-stalking law. “It’s appalling that this action alone was not illegal,” said Senator Tim Kennedy (D), a sponsor of the legislation. “Survivors of domestic violence are in dire need of this protection, which will ensure law enforcement and prosecutors have the power to intervene in domestic violence cases before it’s too late.”

At least 10 states prohibit unauthorized tracking. Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas prohibit the secret installation of a tracking device on a vehicle. California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Minnesota and Virginia prohibit placing devices on other movable objects as well, or they simply prohibit using a device to track a person surreptitiously. The laws typically provide exceptions for law enforcement. Some states also allow their use by private investigators, owners of business vehicles and parents, so they can put devices on their children’s vehicles.

Location-tracking applications for smartphones also are increasingly popular, especially with parents and families. Many of the apps are obvious—so that the person using the cell phone knows that his or her location is being shared. Also, on most cell phones, users can turn off location-tracking features, and many people have done so due to privacy concerns. A Pew Research Center survey found that 35 percent of adults who have downloaded apps have turned off location tracking at some point. But location tracking also can be installed on users’ smartphones without their knowledge. If the phone is owned by a spouse or significant other, he or she has the right to install the app. Domestic violence shelters often advise victims to check for mobile spyware or to turn off their phones entirely.

All states have laws that address secretly intercepting or recording telephone conversations, and, in many states, electronic communications as well. Eighteen states have laws that prohibit downloading spyware to computers. Laws in all 50 states include electronic communications in stalking or harassment laws. Fewer states, however, have addressed the technologies designed to track a person’s location.

Pam Greenberg

Airplane Parts and Frozen Fish Livers

BY THE NUMBERS

What is each state’s leading export? If you said catfish in Louisiana, maple syrup in Vermont and surfboards in California, you need an economics refresher. The Census Bureau reports the following, sometimes surprising, export statistics for 2013.

12

States in which airplane parts were the No. 1 export: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Washington.

$12.6 billion

The value of New York’s top export—diamonds.

1

States in which lobster was the leading export. Maine shipped $243 million in crustaceans.

4

States that claimed gold as the No. 1 export: Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada and Utah.

$58.1 billion

Value of exported Texas oil and oil products, topping that of Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where oil and oil products are also the leading exports.

No. 19

Potatoes’ rank on Idaho’s list of exports. Electronic integrated circuits were No. 1.

5, 6, 7, 8 and 9

Rank of frozen Pollock fillets, frozen Pacific salmon, frozen fish, frozen fish livers and roe, and frozen cod, respectively, on Alaska’s list of top exports. Zinc ore was No. 1, followed by lead ores, fish meat and oil.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Report, Top Commodities Based on 2013 Dollar Volume

 

A ‘C’ in Financial Literacy

State lawmakers may call for beefed up financial literacy courses following U.S. students’ disappointing performance on an international test on the subject.

American 15-year-olds placed ninth out of 18 developed countries on the two-hour Programme for International Student Assessment exam (PISA), results of which were released in July. Shanghai-China teens placed first. 

Every three years, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tests thousands of teens worldwide on math, science, reading and problem-solving. In 2012, the OECD added a financial literacy component that addressed four key areas: money and transactions; planning and managing finances; risk and reward; and identifying, analyzing and applying financial knowledge and understanding.

The United States finished in the middle of the pack behind Shanghai-China, the Flemish community of Belgium, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Poland and Latvia. Countries that scored below America were the Russian Federation, France, Slovenia, Spain, Croatia, Israel, the Slovak Republic, Italy and Columbia.

Lawmakers’ efforts to increase the nation’s collective financial IQ are not new. In legislative sessions so far this year, 28 states and Puerto Rico introduced financial literacy and education bills directed at adults and students. Among them:

• Mississippi enacted legislation authorizing the Department of Banking and Consumer Finance to establish public financial literacy programs.

• Utah now requires school districts and charter schools to administer an online, end-of-course exam to students who’ve taken the general financial literacy course.

• Virginia now requires the Employment Commission to provide information to all recipients of unemployment benefits and job seekers on courses in financial literacy.

In all the countries that took the test, financial education is predominately incorporated into other subjects rather than taught as a stand-alone subject. In the United States, four states require financial education to be taught as a stand-alone course, while 25 states require it to be integrated into other courses.

 —Heather Morton

Average performance in financial literacy (mean score on PISA exam)

1. Shanghai-China 603

2. Flemish Community (Belgium) 541

3. Estonia 529

4. Australia 526

5. New Zealand 520

6. Czech Republic 513

7. Poland 510

8. Latvia 501

9. United States 492

10. Russian Federation 486

11. France 486

12. Slovenia 485

13. Spain 484

14. Croatia 480

15. Israel 476

16. Slovak Republic 470

17. Italy 466

18. Colombia 379

OECD average 500

Leaving the Nest When It’s Best

Virginia is the latest state to enact legislation to continue services for foster care youth after they turn 18, the age they traditionally have “aged out” of the program. The intent is to help foster children make a more successful transition into adulthood.

In 2008, Congress gave states the option to extend foster care beyond 18, and receive federal reimbursement, with the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. Since then, 23 states and the District of Columbia have opted to extend foster care to children beyond the age of 18.

States choose to extend care for a variety of reasons. “Studies show that foster youth who stay with families until the age of 21 have a much better chance of completing college or job training programs,” says Virginia Senator Barbara Favola (D). “As a society we need to help foster kids become self-sufficient adults or we will have failed these kids and failed ourselves.”

Nationwide, approximately 23,000 teens in foster care turn 18 each year. Although they may not think so, most kids that age still need emotional support from adults, as well as financial help and guidance in the often complicated and expensive areas of health care, education, employment and housing. New insight from brain research also suggests the transition from adolescence into adulthood takes longer than once believed. Independence doesn’t automatically occur at a predetermined age. The transition period, called “emerging adulthood,” can take several years, researchers say.

A study by the Chapin Hall Center for Children in Chicago found that 19-year-olds in Illinois who chose to remain in foster care for three more years stayed in school longer, fared better financially and had fewer scrapes with the law than did their peers in Iowa and Wisconsin, who were required to leave care at age 18. By staying in foster care, the Illinois youths received more independent living services and more health and mental health services than did those in Iowa in Wisconsin.

Other states have chosen not to participate in the federal extended services option for various reasons, including the required state appropriation, the infrastructure changes that would be required and the potential that too few foster children would participate in the extended services.  

Several states offer foster care services past age 18, independent of the federal option and with no federal reimbursement, but eligibility criteria and program components vary considerably, since states must fund these programs themselves.

—Meghan McCann

Nuclear Reactors Go Small

With U.S. electricity demand expected to increase by as much as 29 percent in the next 30 years, energy officials are hopeful small nuclear reactors being designed today may help meet tomorrow’s needs. At roughly one-third the size of a current nuclear power plant, one of these small modular reactors could generate approximately 300 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 230,000 homes each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

 With the support of federal, state and private investment, several models are expected to be operating by the mid-2020s.

Traditional nuclear reactors generate about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, but aging equipment, rising construction and maintenance costs, questions regarding safety, the lack of a national radioactive waste storage site and increasing pressure from low-cost natural gas pose challenges for the industry.

Nuclear advocates say small reactors could mitigate some of the challenges and reignite interest in the nuclear industry. Public support for low-emission technologies also may bode well for the nuclear energy industry.

Small modular reactors’ major components can be made in factories and assembled on site, helping lower their cost. They also can be built below ground, reducing potential threats of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. Incorporating lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, the proposed new, smaller models are passively safe systems—meaning they are designed to safely shut down and self-cool without operator interaction, electricity or water.

—Lauren Rodman and Kristy Hartman

Re: Your Voter Registration

With 80 percent of Americans connected to the Internet, it’s little surprise that state elections officials are beginning to use email to communicate with voters. In at least 28 states, voters can choose to provide their email addresses when they register.

Elections officials use email mainly to contact voters if they have questions about a registration or if it is incomplete, although many officials say they don’t email voters for any reason. Colorado, on the other hand, alerts voters about upcoming elections via email, and a handful of states uses them to contact absentee, overseas and military voters. Florida emails sample ballots to those who request them, and California plans to do the same.

Email addresses provided on voter registrations are public record in at least eight states, although Alaska will keep them confidential at the voter’s request. Several other states treat the addresses as special types of public record subject to various restrictions. In Virginia, for instance, a court ruling holds that all voter registrations must remain public (with Social Security numbers redacted), and that email addresses must be excluded from voter lists sold to parties and candidates. Iowa does not include email addresses on these lists either, but they can be extracted from the state’s databases for a fee. In Nebraska, a person can view the email addresses but can’t copy or buy them unless he or she agrees to certain restrictions.

In the states that include a field for an email address on the voter registration application, most have added it without legislative approval. But at least seven required legislative action to do so because their election laws specify the information that must be collected on registration applications.

 —Jack Queen

School Drills Address Armed Intruders

Since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting tragedy in December 2012, state lawmakers have been working on strategies to strengthen K-12 safety and preparedness. One of the most common responses has been to add “active shooter” or “school intruder” drills to the list of general emergency drills that 32 states already require schools to conduct for earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and other potential disasters.

Lawmakers in 10 states—Arkansas, California,  Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee—have introduced such legislation since last year. The bills tend to address only general requirements for the drills, such as how many must be conducted each year and who needs to be involved, rather than specifically what should occur during the drill. Like the laws requiring schools to conduct general emergency drills, the proposed “active shooter” measures give districts and schools the flexibility to implement the type of drill they determine is best for them, from simple discussions and table-top exercises to full-scale operations involving emergency and law enforcement personnel.

To address  concerns that the “active shooter” drills might unduly frighten children, the National Association of School Psychologists has created guidelines for the drills.They include recommendations that school officials steer clear of potentially traumatic stimuli, such as blank bullets or fake blood; collaborate with an outside expert to conduct the drills; and focus on communicating the purpose of the drills with students and families well in advance.  

—Lauren Heintz

School Psychologists Advise: Start Simple

“School crisis response training and exercises can be discussion-based (orientation seminars, workshops or tabletop drills) or operations-based (a variety of specific emergency drills, functional exercise drills or full-scale exercises), each of which can be useful in preparing school staff, crisis team members, students and other agencies for a wide variety of crises. However, it is recommended that districts start with simple, low-cost, discussion-based exercises and work their way toward more complex and expensive operations-based exercises. Although there is little empirical research about drills, existing research suggests that drills implemented according to best practice can increase students’ knowledge and skills of how to respond in an emergency, without elevating their anxiety or perceived safety.”

Source: “Conducting Crisis Exercises and Drills: Guidelines for Schools” by the National Association of School Psychologists

—Jeanne Mejeur

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