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Municipal Broadband, Lead Paint, & SCHIP

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Municipal Broadband, Lead Paint, & SCHIP

Growing Economy

By Nathan Newman

Municipal Broadband Attacked in North Carolina

With the US lagging behind most of the developed world with less Internet access and slower speed connections, it's somewhat outrageous that any state government would block communities from extending broadband access to their citizens-- but North Carolina is now debating HB 1587, which is being promoted by the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association to stop local communities from owning and subsidizing access to community-run telecommunications systems.

Last year, North Carolina passed a "video franchise" bill on the promise that this would speed broadband deployment in the state. Instead, local governments have seen a 27.8 percent drop in cable TV taxes, with little evidence of expanded broadband offerings at the local level. There were no requirements in the legislation that cable or telecom companies build out broadband access to rural or economically depressed areas-- and so the companies haven't. And now those same companies are pushing legislation that would prevent local North Carolina governments from spending their own tax money to extend Internet access to their residents.   

Across the country, corporate interests a few years ago began lobbying states to shut down municipal Internet programs. While a number of states passed the corporate bills, most refused. However, earlier this year Wyoming passed a law to restrict public broadband Internet systems and the industry has turned its eyes on North Carolina as the next target with HB 1587.

North Carolina organizations like NC PIRG, NC Justice CenterAARP, and NC Counties Association have condemned the bill locally and, at the national level, U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va. has been so appalled at this corporate-backed attempted shutdown of community broadband that he has drafted a federal bill to keep states from putting up barriers to public Internet access. "Broadband is every bit as essential as electricity was when it was emerging 100 years ago," Boucher says.

While the North Carolina bill received some initial committee approval, hopefully the rest of the legislature will let the bill die in committee-- and thereby let the option of municipal broadband live.  

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Strengthening Communities

by J. Mijin Cha

Did Lead Paint Abatement Lower Crime in the 1990s?

It's a puzzle that has driven heated arguments among social scientists and policymakers. Why did crime rise precipitously in the decades following the 1960s, then fall dramatically in the 1990s?

Presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani often takes credit for reducing overall crime in that city by 57 percent during his tenure.  However, a recently released study indicates that the decrease in crime rates may have a subtler answer. In fact, the study argues that local and federal efforts to reduce lead poisoning, programs begun in the 1970s, deserve more credit for the decrease in crime rates.

What sets Nevin's analysis apart from other popular theories, such as Freakonomics, is that his theory is based on identical, decades-long associations between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.  In the study, economist Rick Nevin correlates children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives. In short, Nevin argues that the high level of lead used in U.S. paint and gasoline fumes in the post-World War II period poisoned toddlers and led to increased crime rates when the toddlers became adolescents. The toxicity of lead poisoning is no secret and among the many dangers of lead poisoning is increased aggression, violence, anti-social and delinquent behavior.   

Lead levels were drastically decreased in New York in the early 1970's through efforts to eliminate it from gasoline and reduction of lead paint and lead emissions from municipal incinerators. Therefore, as the toddlers that weren't poisoned by lead became adolescents in the 1990s, they didn't have the violent tendencies associated with lead poisoning, just as other communities saw lower crime lagging years after lead abatement efforts. 

Lead Abatement Programs: State programs to eliminate lead have been bolstered by the Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988, which authorized the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to initiate childhood lead poisoning elimination programs. So far, the CDC has funded nearly 60 childhood lead poisoning prevention programs, including Arizona's targeted lead poisoning screening plan. Massachusetts' lead law is the oldest comprehensive state lead law and emphasizes primary prevention of childhood lead poisoning--including requiring property owners to permanently abate lead hazards in any housing unit inhabited by a child under six years old.

Still more action is needed. One sad example is New Orleans where, as the Institute for Southern Studies details, 25% of children living in predominately African-American urban neighborhoods suffered from lead poisoning. Yet no broad-based lead abatement program has been included in reconstruction efforts for the city.

Legally, lead paint manufacturers are fighting hard against being held liable for the damage their paint has caused. Just last year, three former lead paint makers were found guilty in a suit brought by the state of Rhode Island that claimed lead paint in 240,000 houses in the state created a public nuisance and poisoned thousands of children. The case is being appealed and damages have not yet been awarded but the guilty verdict in and of itself was a huge blow to the lead paint industry.  Still, the industry has also won appeals in New Jersey and Missouri, so the need for positive government action is clear, especially with the estimated costs of lead poisoning still estimated at over $43 billion.

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Valuing Families

by Adam Thompson

Bi-Partisan SCHIP Deal - But Bush Promises Veto

The Senate Finance Committee is poised to approve a bipartisan deal reauthorizing and expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The deal would increase SCHIP funding by $35 billion over the next five years, on top of $25 billion set aside under current spending levels. The increase, would be financed through a 61-cent increase in the tobacco tax, bringing the federal tax to an even $1.00. 

The deal would limit the scope of SCHIP by putting a ceiling on the income limit for children, possibly 300% of poverty, and no more parents, other than pregnant women, would be allowed in. Instead, parents and adults without children would be moved to Medicaid, which would free up the more limited expansion to focus on children's coverage. However, it's not clear if state Medicaid programs would pick up adults and parents previously eligible for SCHIP.

The House is also working on a plan that would increase funding by at least $50 billion with financing from a tobacco tax increase and reduced payments to private insurers under Medicare. Because of the Senate filibuster, the likelihood is greater that Congress will produce a reauthorization package closer to what the Senate produces.

Ideological Debate Surrounds SCHIP: Meanwhile, President Bush refuses to take his head out of the line in the sand he has drawn around SCHIP. He proposes a mere $5 billion increase over the next five years in SCHIP outlays, which isn't enough to maintain current levels of coverage. Taking on the right-wing mantra that expanding SCHIP would result in "universal health care on the installment plan," the President promised to veto reauthorization that broadly expands the program beyond its original intent to cover children in families up to 200% of poverty.

Bi-Partisan Support: Although many believe DC's difficulty to achieve the very popular goal of covering all children means broader reforms would be that much more difficult, the confluence of state and federal lawmakers supporting SCHIP may build a foundation for universal reform. This may then lead to the federal government coming to the table with meaningful funding and states implement programs ensuring health care for all, as is the model of SCHIP and Medicaid.  But, because of the President's obstinance on SCHIP, more significant reform will depend on the 2008 presidential election. 

Related News: President Bush on health care in America:  At a recent speech in Cleveland, President Bush explained his position on SCHIP. He also offered his assessment of access to health care in America:  "People have access to health care in America.  After all, you just go to an emergency room." ~President Bush, Cleveland, OH, July 10, 2007

More Resources

Research Roundup

Research Roundup

According to a new Center on Budget & Policy Priorities report, new requirements to prove citizenship to obtain Medicaid coverage are denying medical coverage to white and African American children at a far higher rate than Hispanic children.  Because low-income individuals must produce a passport or birth certificate, naturalization document, or similar documentation to prove they are U.S. citizens when they apply for Medicaid, the program meant to target undocumented immigrants is instead harming citizens.

Addressing the increasing use of vote-by-mail systems by the states, Project Vote has a new report reviewing the literature on the process and recommending best practices for jurisdictions using mail balloting.

The California Health Care Foundation highlights trends in Employer Health Insurance Costs-- and the story is grim.   The costs of health care insurance are squeezing pay increases for workers, even as the premium contributions by employees continue to rise. 

In Community Design for Healthy Eating: How Land Use and Transportation Solutions Can Help, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlights how poor land use policy often limits access to healthy food and outlines a collaborative strategy between urban agriculture and smart growth movements.

Even the National Petroleum Council, a mouthpiece for the oil industry, admits that oil supplies need to be bolstered by alternative fuel sources.  In a new 476-page report, Facing the Hard Truths About Energy, the industry promotes many of its self-interested solutions to the energy crisis, but it also suggests policies to promote carbon emission limits, higher vehicle fuel efficiency, and more energy-efficient buildings.
 

Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Dept. of Corrections

In Monday's write-up of the 2007 session in Rhode Island, we regretfully failed to note several vetos by Governor Carcieri which present a different picture of the political environment in the state. The list of legislative advances that died at the Governor's desk is long, including:

  • repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing
  • automatic voter registration of 18-year olds who had pre-registered
  • a prescription-drug discount program for the uninsured
  • pension and other benefits for domestic partners of public employees
  • a bill popular among nurses and patient advocates to end mandatory overtime in hospitals.

Eye on the Right

College campuses have long been a hotbed of political discussion and activism, often for progressives. But former Marxist turned right-winger David Horowitz is on a quest to squelch the supposed liberal bias professors indoctrinate their students with.

Horowitz believe that there is a widespread political bias in university hiring and even in professors' grading. In response, he's pushing an "Academic Bill of Rights" that would smother the academic freedom so key to higher education. Unsurprisingly, the document has been widely criticized, and overtly opposed by the American Association of University Professors, American Library Association, & American Federation of Teachers.

Ironically, his bill would limit and punish any controversial speech in the exact way that conservatives decry as overzealous political correctness.

Where Horowitz gets way off track is confusing the correlation of professors political views with causation. Continuing his line of thought, we should expect his next book to decry the under-representation of progressive environmentalists among oil company CEOs.







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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

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Please shoot me an email at jbacino@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

John Bacino
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