Trends and Transitions: May 2010
Smile, You’re on Red Light Cameras
Running red lights and causing crashes result in about 800 deaths and 137,000 injuries injuries every year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In an effort to curb these statistics, more than 400 communities have turned to automatic red light and speed cameras. Red light cameras are triggered when a car enters the intersection after the light has been red for a predetermined time. The camera technology allows cities to enforce traffic violations efficiently without using scarce personnel.
State automated enforcement laws vary. Some states, like Georgia, authorize enforcement statewide, whereas others, like New York, allow only certain communities to use the technology. Some cities use camera enforcement without state enabling laws.
The Texas Department of Transportation studied 56 intersections and found that collisions decreased 30 percent after red light cameras were installed. A Philadelphia study found that the combination of extended yellow lights and red light camera enforcement nearly eliminated red light running.
So far this year, 23 state legislatures are debating nearly 100 bills relating to red light cameras and automated enforcement. Lawmakers in Missouri and Tennessee are considering legislation that would prohibit the use of red light cameras altogether. Other proposals up for debate across the country include establishing statewide red light camera programs and lengthening yellow light cycles.
Public Reporting: Tracking Infections
Nearly 20,000 people in the United States die each year from the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Another 94,000 suffer from life-threatening infections contracted while in hospitals. The costs associated with treating hospital-acquired infections are estimated to be more than $4 billion annually.
Public reporting laws are aimed at encouraging hospitals to improve infection control efforts, help consumers make more informed health care decisions, improve health care results and reduce the number of preventable infections, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since 2005, the number of states with laws requiring health care facilities—acute care hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory surgical centers, dialysis centers and correctional facilities—to report data related to hospital-acquired infections has increased from five to 27.
In 2009, 11 states enacted 15 laws related to health-care-associated infections. Alabama passed the Mike Denton Infection Reporting Act, which requires hospitals to report surgical site infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and central line-related bloodstream infections. The reports go to the National Healthcare Safety Network, a web-based surveillance system managed by the CDC.
Washington expanded a 2007 public reporting law by enacting legislation that aims to reduce the spread of MRSA through testing high-risk patients and performing pre-surgical screenings. And a Massachusetts statute prohibits health care facilities from charging for services provided because of a hospital-acquired infection or serious reportable event.
So far in 2010, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico and Washington have introduced legislation to require statewide public reporting of hospital-acquired infections; expand the types of health facilities required to report these infections; or clarify preexisting rules for screening high-risk patients for MRSA.
Ready, Set, Action
In the last decade, tax incentives for film and entertainment productions have spread across the country. State officials have used the programs to lure filmmakers to their states for many reasons, including job creation and tourism promotion. Currently, 45 states and Puerto Rico offer motion picture incentives. These incentives include tax credits, rebates and exemptions.
Critics and advocates, however, disagree on their effectiveness on stimulating the economy, creating jobs and luring tourists.
Tax credits in Michigan seem to have spurred business in that state, hard hit by layoffs and plant closings. In 2007, before Michigan offered a tax credit for production costs, two films were made there. In 2008, after enacting the credit, 35 producers chose to film in Michigan, and by mid-2009, 85 movies already were made or had applied to within the state. In 2007, movie makers spent $2 million in Michigan; in 2008, that number was up to $125 million, according to USA Today.
Other states are touting the impact of the film industry on their economies as well. In Louisiana, lawmakers in 2009 increased the 25 percent film tax credit to 30 percent and eliminated the phase-down of the credit. California, long known for its film industry, enacted its first film incentive program in early 2009.
Other states have taken a critical view of these tax expenditures in light of the current fiscal situation. With huge budget deficits and waning revenues, some lawmakers are taking a closer look at tax credits for filmmakers. Last year, Kansas suspended its film production income tax credit for two years, Connecticut reformed its film tax credit, and Wisconsin scaled its back. In Iowa, amid scandal on the misuse of funds, the state partially suspended its program.
The debate on the economic impact of film industry incentives is sure to continue, especially as the fiscal pressure on the states is prolonged. Given the varied experiences of states with these programs, however, legislators will continue to wrestle with whether to call “action” or “cut” in their state.
Maryland Delegate Chris Shank has two Facebook pages—his own and another one that a fan set up. Since he has no control over that one, it caused him some concern. “There’s some inherent risk, but we’ll see how it goes,” Shank says. At least it was a supporter who set up the second page.
On the other hand, the Connecticut Republican Party set up Web pages for every member of the House Democratic caucus, all with similar Web addresses using the Democrats’ real names. The pages have prominent headlines like “Raising Your Taxes,” but there is a notice at the bottom of the page saying they are paid for and authorized by the Connecticut Republican Party. The GOP also set up parody Twitter accounts in the Democrats’ names, but they were shut down for violating the company’s terms of service agreement.
Another kind of Internet impersonator pretends to be a Facebook friend who asks for money after claiming to have lost cash, credit cards or a passport while traveling. Or there is the Wisconsin man who posed as a woman on Facebook to get high school boys to send him nude photos that he later used for blackmail.
Three states have passed laws specifically targeting Internet or online impersonation. In Hawaii, anyone who uses personal information to pose electronically as someone else without their permission is guilty of a misdemeanor.
In New York, impersonating someone is also a misdemeanor, if done to benefit from the site or to injure or defraud another. It’s also against the law to pretend to be a public servant.
In Texas, it’s a third-degree felony to create a website on a social networking site using the name or persona of another with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten. Texas also prohibits sending an e-mail, instant message or text claiming to be another person, without his or her permission, if the intent is to harm or defraud. The Texas law, in particular, has raised First Amendment concerns. Opponents claim the word “harm” could be interpreted too broadly. Some legal experts also claim the law defines social networking sites so broadly that it is difficult to distinguish them from other kinds of websites.
Other states have similar criminal impersonation laws, although they don’t specifically refer to online impersonation. Individuals also could be sued for exploiting someone else’s name or likeness without permission under state “misappropriation of likeness” or “right to publicity” laws.
As online crimes increase, state lawmakers are likely to consider adding provisions to address the problem. Internet impersonation bills have been introduced this year in California, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.