March Trends

Online Extras

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Trends and Transitions: March 2012


Online and Authentic?

Are the state statutes or bills you find online trustworthy, authentic or official? Printed versions of legislative documents are still the official version in most states. But digital versions of statutes, administrative rules and other legal and legislative documents are gaining broad use in the legal and legislative community, and in some cases, may be the only version.

To address concerns about online-only legal resources, the Uniform Law Commission (also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws) in July 2011 approved the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act. It provides guidelines for states on how to manage electronic government information in a way that guarantees trustworthiness and continued access.

The act requires that official electronic legal material be:

  • Authenticated, by providing a method to determine that it is unaltered.
  • Preserved, either in electronic or print form.
  • Accessible, for use by the public on a permanent basis.

State lawmakers interested in introducing the legislation may choose which categories of legal material will be covered. The model legislation does not promote any specific technology, uses flexible language, and has alternative provisions to allow state legislatures to adapt it to fit their unique circumstances and needs.

“This law has the potential to be very important for the long-term preservation of digital legal materials,” says Butch Lazorchak, digital archivist in the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress. “While not proscribing any particular preservation or authentication method or technology, the law establishes a digital preservation framework for official electronic legal materials.”

Legislatures may find the California Legislative Counsel’s research paper on authentication options along with the Minnesota Revisor’s prototype for authenticating statutes helpful in identifying and applying good authentication methods.

—Pam Greenberg

Shake the Salt Habit

Eating too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which raises the risk for heart disease and stroke—the first and fourth leading causes of death in this country. A third of American adults have high blood pressure, which generated $76 billion in medical costs and lost productivity in 2010, according to the American Heart Association.

Most of us consume twice the recommended daily amount of sodium. Guidelines generally advise getting no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. But for half the population—and more than 56 percent of all adults—recommendations are 1,500 milligrams a day. That includes everyone over age 51, all African Americans, and those with diabetes, kidney disease or high blood pressure.

If everyone consumed less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, it’s estimated that 26 percent fewer people would have high blood pressure, and the nation would save $26 billion in health care costs.

Americans get most of their sodium from salt in prepared or processed foods; less is added in home cooking or at the table. Common foods have a range of sodium—for example, an apple has 2 milligrams; a banana 1 milligram; a pepperoni pizza slice 520 milligrams; and a cheeseburger and small fries almost an entire day’s worth—1,360 milligrams.

A variety of laws and legislatively enabled regulations attempt to reduce sodium in the food supply, including lowering the amount of salt in foods served in schools and child care facilities or purchased by state-regulated elder and health care facilities and prisons.

Through incentives to develop grocery vendors in areas without them, at least five states provide more low sodium, high potassium fresh fruits and vegetables for our diets. Many states offer fruit and vegetable programs in schools, and new federal regulations also will improve school produce offerings. At least four states provide regulatory breaks for farm stand sellers of fresh produce; one exempts urban gardens from property tax.

At least 10 states make it easier for recipients of food stamps (SNAP) and federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits to buy low sodium foods. Other states are focusing on getting the word out through public education campaigns. Manufacturers, encouraged by state actions, are making voluntary reductions as well.
—Amy Winterfeld

Immigration Migration

Where immigrants are coming from and which states they are heading to is changing, according to the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey. Sixty-five percent of the 40 million foreign-born people in America live (no surprise) in California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Illinois; each of these states has more than 1 million. North Dakota and Wyoming have the fewest—17,000 and 16,000, respectively.

Since 2005, however, a greater proportion of immigrants are heading toward Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. The largest proportion of these states’ foreign-born population arrived in 2005 or later. Michigan, North Dakota and Vermont are experiencing the greatest influx of immigrants since 2008.

Where they are coming from also is changing. Before 2005, 54 percent of all foreign-born residents came from Latin America (30.4 percent from Mexico). Since 2008, that amount has dropped to 41 percent (19.3 percent from Mexico). The highest percentage of immigrants since 2008 have come from (in order): Mexico, China (all), India, the Philippines, Korea (both), Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and El Salvador. Immigrants from these nine countries make up 52. 8 percent of all recently arrived immigrants.


Guns on Campus

Horrific shootings on college campuses in the last several years prompted heated discussions in state legislatures about whether to permit more guns on college campuses. For some, these events point to the need to ease existing firearm regulations and allow more concealed weapons on campuses. Others see the solution in tightening restrictions to keep guns off campuses.

Twenty-two states ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus, while only one state (Utah) currently explicitly allows it. Twenty-five states let each college or university make the decision. In 2011, two state legislatures considered, but did not pass, bills to prohibit concealed weapons on campus.

Lawmakers in 18 states introduced legislation last year to allow concealed-carry weapons on campus. Bills in Mississippi and Wisconsin passed, and an appeals court decision in Oregon greatly reduces the regulation of guns on campuses.

Mississippi now allows those who have taken a firearm safety course from a certified instructor to carry a gun on campus. Because the law is being disputed, colleges currently are upholding their bans until the legal issues are resolved.
In Wisconsin, lawmakers voted to allow guns on campuses, but with a provision that allows colleges to prohibit weapons in campus buildings if signs are posted at every entrance of every building.

An Oregon court of appeals ruling overturned the long-standing university system ban of guns on campus, stating that only the legislature can regulate the use, sale and possession of firearms.
Proponents argue the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to carry guns on campuses and that doing so improves student safety by increasing the chance that someone with a gun would be able to respond to certain emergencies more quickly than campus security.
Opponents argue, however, that additional guns would not deter rare, large-scale campus shootings, could stifle academic debate for fear of retaliation and could cause more accidental shootings.

The debates are sure to continue in legislative sessions. In January, lawmakers in at least five states had introduced new bills to allow guns on campuses in some regard, and four other legislatures will continue to debate bills introduced last year.
—Michelle Camacho Liu