Trends | Cyberthreats, Kids' Caucuses, Broadband, REAL ID

1/1/2018

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | January 2018

IT Security Officers Brace for Threats

In a July 2017 survey by the National Association of Legislative Information Technology, legislative chief information officers and information technology managers identified security threats as one of their highest priorities and biggest challenges. Nearly all (94 percent) of the respondents said that battling security threats and taking additional security precautions would be either the “most important” or an “important” priority for the next one to three years. And 55 percent said the effort would be “very challenging”—a 10 percent increase over 2016.

State legislatures generally don’t collect as much sensitive personal information as government agencies and the private sector, but increasingly they are being targeted by hackers who want to express political views or damage the reputations of politicians. Hackers have taken over legislative websites, used ransomware to lock up systems while demanding payment, and sent phishing emails that spread malware.

In response, legislative IT managers are dedicating more attention and staff time to security. Some are adding chief information security officers or security specialists to their teams. Others are undergoing security assessments, bringing in outside organizations to review security practices. There’s also a new focus on training and awareness programs, like security contests for legislative staff or simulated phishing emails to test employees’ security savvy.

Recruiting skilled IT staff will remain a problem, especially for managers with limited budgets. (The median annual wage for information security analysts was $92,600 in May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Also costly are new security applications (and their future upgrades) and security assessments.

How can you help your IT manager? For starters, don’t grumble when you’re asked to change your password (again!), and attend trainings when they’re offered.

—Pam Greenberg

Weather and Climate Disasters Take Toll

Fifteen weather and climate disaster events, each causing losses of at least $1 billion, hit the United States last year. That’s according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, which at press time had tracked such events through Oct. 7.

The events, which resulted in 282 deaths, included a drought, affecting three states; a freeze, affecting nine states; and a wildfire affecting eight states; two floods, affecting 13 states; three tropical cyclones, affecting nine states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and seven severe storms, affecting 31 states. Many states were affected by more than one of the disasters.

The costliest event so far appears to be Hurricane Harvey, with damages expected to top $180 billion.

—Magazine staff

Looking After the Little Ones

States have majority and minority caucuses, of course, and plenty have caucuses working on women’s, black or Latino issues. Some even have caucuses with a state-specific focus, like Illinois’ White Sox Caucus, Louisiana’s Acadiana Caucus or Pennsylvania’s Karaoke Caucus.

Add to the list children’s (or kids’) caucuses, which several states are forming. These are bicameral, bipartisan groups of legislators and other stakeholders who work mainly to inform their colleagues about issues affecting children, though some also make policy recommendations. From the oldest, Hawaii’s Keiki Caucus, formed in 1994, to the newest, formed recently in Maine, legislatures across the country are using these caucuses to educate their members and improve the lives of children.

Currently, eight states—Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—have kids’ caucuses.

In Colorado, the caucus is led by four co-chairs, one member from each party in each chamber, with all legislators invited to attend. The caucus makes four to five presentations on child welfare for lawmakers every session. The presentations often include agency staff, advocates, foster youth and other stakeholders.

Wisconsin’s caucus, like Colorado’s, is chaired by four legislators, two from each chamber and each party, and it invites all legislators to participate. In its second year, the caucus arranged a series of statewide listening sessions to bring area legislators, local child welfare providers and the community together to learn about best practices in preventing child abuse and neglect.

Other states have groups similar to kids’ caucuses, including children’s cabinets, commissions or councils, that bring together state legislators, executive branch officials, advocacy organizations and other stakeholders. Indiana, for example, has a Commission to Improve the Status of Children, which was established by legislation and includes members from all three branches of government. The commission releases an annual report on the status of children and recommendations for legislation.

Does your state have a children’s caucus that we didn’t cover? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Send the details to magazine@ncsl.org.

—Meghan McCann and Julie Poppe

Broadband’s Reach

Pacific Coast and Northeastern states—where incomes tend to be higher than the national average—outpace the rest of the country in percentage of households with broadband subscriptions, according to the new U.S. Census Bureau report “Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2015.” Colorado and Utah also have higher than average percentages of broadband subscriptions.

Households with incomes greater than $150,000 have the highest broadband connectivity, but income isn’t the only factor in broadband use. “Some places don’t fit the pattern because demographic and social differences also come into play,” Camille Ryan, a Census Bureau demographer, says. “The District of Columbia, for example, has high household income, while the household income in Idaho is below the national average. Yet for both places, the broadband subscription rate is not statistically different from the national average.”

About 80 percent of Asians have a desktop or laptop computer, handheld device and broadband subscription compared with 65 percent of whites, 55 percent of Hispanics and 49 percent of blacks. Households that are younger or have lower income, or both, are more likely to use only a phone or other handheld device to connect to the internet.

Other findings include:

  • 78 percent of all households own a desktop or laptop computer.
  • 75 percent have a handheld computer such as a smartphone or other wireless device.
  • 77 percent subscribe to a broadband internet service.
  • Urban households are more likely to report owning or using a desktop or laptop or a handheld device and subscribing to broadband internet than their rural and small-town counterparts.

—Magazine staff

Bicyclists Hope ‘Idaho Stop’ Catches On

It’s no secret that bicyclists across the country often roll through intersections with stop signs, slowing down but never quite stopping unless they need to yield right of way. The maneuver got the name “Idaho stop,” because since 1982 the Gem State was the only place where it was legal statewide.

That changed last fall when the Delaware General Assembly passed, and the governor later signed, legislation sponsored by Representative John Mitchell (D). Cyclists in the state may now yield, but not stop, at stop signs on roads with up to two traffic lanes.

Idaho stop laws have been slow to gain traction, with only a few Colorado municipalities and counties adopting ordinances. Debate picked up considerably last year, however, with Arkansas, California, Colorado and Oklahoma lawmakers all considering such measures.

California’s bill, AB 1103, is still active. Colorado’s bill, SB 93, passed the House but was stopped short by a 3-2 vote in the Senate’s Transportation Committee.

Bicyclist advocates typically, but not universally, support Idaho stop laws because they legalize typical riding behavior. They tout Idaho’s 35-year track record with no change in overall bike crash trends, and point out that the state’s law was amended in 2005 to allow cyclists to fully stop, yield to oncoming traffic, then proceed through stoplights as well. Bicycling injuries in the state actually declined 14.5 percent the year after the law was changed, and there have been no negative safety impacts documented since.

Opponents dispute the safety claims and say Idaho stops create dangerous situations and unfairly advantage bicyclists over other road users. Although many law enforcement agencies oppose Idaho stops, the Delaware State Police supported the state’s bill with some revisions.

Fact is, many cyclists already roll through most intersections. A recent DePaul University study found that only 1-in-25 riders in the Chicago area came to a complete stop.

“It’s best when traffic laws reflect how people actually behave on the road,” Jeffrey Whitmarsh, a lieutenant in the Delaware State Police, says.

The growing awareness of the Idaho stop may lead to more research on the topic, which could help gauge potential safety and mobility effects.

—Douglas Shinkle

Another REAL ID Deadline Fast Approaching

Is your driver’s license REAL?

The 2005 REAL ID Act set minimum standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. It requires that anyone trying to access certain federal facilities, board federally regulated commercial aircraft or enter a nuclear power plant present ID that meets the standards.

As of Nov. 10, 2017, 27 states and D.C. were in compliance with the federal act. Another 17 had received temporary extensions from the Department of Homeland Security. And six states and all the territories were under review for an extension.

Starting Jan. 22, only passengers from states in compliance with the federal law, or from states with an extension, will be able to use their existing driver’s license or state ID to board a domestic flight.  Air travelers from states that have not been granted an extension and are not yet compliant won’t be able to board their flights unless they have an alternative form of acceptable ID.

Other forms of identification accepted by Transportation Security Administration officials include a passport or passport card, Global Entry card, U.S. military ID, airline or airport-issued ID, and federally recognized tribal-issued photo ID.

By Oct. 1, 2020, every domestic air traveler will need a compliant license or another acceptable form of ID.     

—Ben Husch

Additional Resources

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