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					Monday, October 23, 2006

Exclusive articles on state policy, politics and trends from the staff of Stateline.org

Monday, October 16, 2006

Kids' snack food modeled after state law
By Joseph Popiolkowski, Special to Stateline.org


 LOS ANGELES – When Clif Bar & Co. was devising its new organic energy bar for kids in early 2004, product
developers at the Berkeley, Calif.-based health food manufacturer turned to California Senate Bill 19 for
direction.


The “Z-Bar,” launched in June 2004, was fashioned to meet the 2001 state law’s recommended limits on
calories from fat and sugar for snack food sold outside meals at schools.


Clif Bar stamped an “SB19 compliant” logo on the bar’s wrapper and declared it the first snack to conform to
the legislation, among the first state laws to address the childhood obesity issue.


The company created, trademarked and OK’d the logo with state officials. Now sold in California school
vending machines plus food stores throughout the country, the snack bar with logo hailing Californias
legislation is a forerunner to the Oct. 6 announcement by former President Bill Clinton of an agreement with
five leading food manufacturers on voluntary guidelines for healthier school snacks.


Clif Bar’s full-time nutritionist and other experts added calcium, iron, foliates and whole grains to the Z-Bar and
left out hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup and other additives commonly found in school snacks. The
whole grains and natural sweetener allows Z-Bar to be absorbed at a constant rate, which is more conducive
to learning.


“It’s a great all-around snack and will keep [students] going but isn’t going to give them the spikes and drops of
other snacks they’re used to eating,” said Ann Hamilton, brand manager for Clif Kids.
The company is riding the tide of efforts by public health advocates to eliminate fatty snacks and syrupy soda
from school grounds. Sales of Z-Bar this year are expected to double last year’s total, Hamilton said.


California has since strengthened SB19, which included a set of advisory guidelines on school food nutrition as
part of a statewide pilot project. The project revealed that no middle or high school that adopted the standards
lost revenue from selling healthier foods. Buoyed by that success, lawmakers in 2005 passed SB12, which
makes the same parameters on calories and sugar mandatory. It goes into effect July 1, 2007.


Catherine Gavin, a registered dietician at The Pfeiffer Treatment Center, a Chicago clinic that treats learning
and behavior disorders with nutrient and biomedical therapy, applauded the Z-Bar’s tie-in to SB19.


“I think it’s very good that they’re following the legislation – that they’re actually listening,” she said. “It’s a
positive that they’re trying to produce better-quality foods for our children. It’s just a shame that it took the
obesity epidemic for this to actually hit home.”


Still, food produced to government specifications doesn’t sit well with consumer freedom advocates who warn
of a first step towards a “nanny state” where personal choice and responsibility are inhibited.


“Having a senate bill stamped on a product – now I know it’s not regulated or required and these companies
should be able to market products however they want – smacks of a straight-up Orwellian, Big Brother
situation,” said J. Justin Wilson, a senior research analyst at The Center for Consumer Freedom, a D.C.-based
nonprofit coalition that seeks to protect consumer choice.


Wilson contends that bans on sweet treats can be counterproductive because they position the outlawed snack
as a “forbidden fruit.” Reports show a candy black market can develop – as it did in some Texas schools when
that state instituted a ban, he said.


“It doesn’t take a village of government regulators and bureaucrats to teach our children how to eat by banning
substances outright,” Wilson said. “But rather it takes responsible parents teaching children to make
responsible decisions about the food they eat. And perhaps that means exposing them to the reality they’ll face
in the real world and outside the school system.”


Connecticut Senate President Donald E. Williams (D), who championed stringent nutrition guidelines similar to
California’s SB19 that were enacted this year in his state’s schools, said the popularity of a food item modeled
on state legislation is a marked improvement from the years when the junk food industry held sway over what
could be offered in schools.


“[The Z-Bar] helps create awareness that legislation can result in moving the private sector, even to the extent
where they will create products specifically to meet these healthier standards,” Williams told Stateline.org.




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While Connecticut’s new law mandates that schools rid their cafeterias of soda and other empty-calorie drinks,
it also provides incentives for schools to adopt voluntary healthy snack standards, including increased
reimbursement for school lunches. Half of the state’s schools have agreed to participate in the voluntary
portion, Williams said.


He scoffs at suggestions students should learn good eating habits through exercising personal choice, and
said schools assume some responsibility for student health and well-being.


“No parent is going to sit down at dinner time and say, ‘Here’s your choice: a chicken breast with broccoli, or
ice cream and a Snickers bar. It’s up to you as my child to exercise your good sense here.’ That’s not how
parents operate,” Williams said.


The prevalence of what public health advocates classify as unhealthy snacks and drinks has been a difficult
trend to reverse.


Eighty percent of nearly 10,000 vending machine slots surveyed in a 2004 Center for Science in the Public
Interest (CSPI) report contained candy, chips, cookies, snack cakes and pastries, which CSPI characterized as
having “poor nutritional quality.”


CSPIs June 2006 “School Food Report Card” flunked 23 states for failing to enact any standards for schools
on food sold outside meals beyond the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) policy, which CSPI called
“outdated.”


But the shift toward healthier food in schools has sympathetic ears on the state and federal level.


The Alliance for a Healthier Generation – a joint initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation and American
Heart Association – announced an agreement this month with Dannon, Kraft Foods, Mars, PepsiCo and the
Campbell Soup Co. to decrease the sugar, sodium, caloric and fat content of some of their food products sold
in schools. In addition, Mars will introduce a whole new line of healthier snacks.


Activists also are pushing for a piece of bipartisan legislation (S. 2592/H.R. 5167) pending in both houses of
Congress that would require the USDA to update its nutrition standards for food sold in school vending
machines and school stores.


“They realize there has been very little done with the school food systems’ guidelines and legislation since the
late 1970s,” said Hamilton of Clif Bar. “We know so much more about nutrition today than we did 30 years ago.
And to have these really outdated guidelines for what we’re feeding our children is just very, very sad.”


Joseph Popiolkowski, a former Stateline.org staff writer, is a graduate student at the University of Southern
California in Los Angeles.




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Comment on this story in the space below by registering with Stateline.org, or e-mail your feedback to our
Letters to the editor section at letters@stateline.org.




Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More states sold on reforming gift cards
By Philip Ewing, Special to Stateline.org


It has taken a few years, but state legislatures are catching up with glitches in the popularity of gift cards, the
quick-fix solution for those too befuddled or time-pressed to find the perfect present.


At least 25 states have strengthened their consumer protections for the credit-card-sized scrip that more
Americans now give in lieu of a hand-picked, boxed-and-bowed gift, according to the National Conference of
State Legislatures. U.S. shoppers are expected to spend as much as $72.8 billion in 2006 on gift cards. But
only in three states can consumers be guaranteed that their gift cards will be worth full value when they go to
spend them at a store, restaurant or online.




Around the country, expiration dates and “processing fees” are the bane of gift card users. Shoppers might find
the value of their cards eaten away by fees charged by retailers and banks – or stripped to zero if too much
time elapses between when the cards were purchased and redeemed.




Starting in 2004, lawmakers in many states began responding to consumer complaints by introducing bills that
would have forbade all fees and made the cards’ value perpetual. But that type of legislation rarely survived,
and today only Connecticut, Montana and Rhode Island prohibit all fees and expiration dates. California, which
started the movement with its gift card law of 1996, prohibits expiration dates but allows fees in certain
circumstances.




More typical is Kansas’ new law, an example of the compromises that lawmakers and business groups often
reach on the gift card question. Sponsored by state Rep. David Huff, a Kansas City-area Republican, the idea
for the law came in 2003, after one of Huff’s constituents bought his wife a $100 gift card to a spa and the card
expired before she could redeem it, meaning the money was lost.




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Huff introduced a bill that would have prohibited gift cards from expiring and taken effect on July 1, as with
most Kansas legislation. But after lobbying from retailers’ groups, the final bill only guarantees that cards will
be valid for at least five years after purchase, and involve no fees within one year. Also, the new law won’t take
effect until Jan. 1, 2007, after this years holiday shopping season.




“They were not that enthused,” Huff said of businesses’ reaction to the bill.




Huff said part of the opposition came from businesses that count on a certain number of gift cards to be
forgotten under Christmas trees or to flutter out of birthday cards. Unredeemed cards can add up to a lot of
pure profit: Home Depot, the nation’s second-largest retailer, announced in 2005 it had made $43 million from
gift cards it didn’t expect to be redeemed. About 10 percent of the value of gift cards in the United States goes
unredeemed each year, said Dennis Moroney, an analyst with the financial research firm TowerGroup.




There are two main types of gift cards: store-issued cards that work like cash when redeemed at cash registers
or online, and cards issued by banks and credit businesses such as Visa or American Express that can be
redeemed anyplace that takes credit cards.




Retailers’ groups say that the fees go to third-party vendors who handle and process the cards, and complain
that the variety of different state regulations can confuse consumers. Advocates for bank-issued gift cards say
fees and limited-use dates help keep the cards’ overall costs down for consumers. Unlike retailers’ cards,
banks and credit card companies charge an upfront fee for gift cards in addition to the value buyers add.




Some large retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target and The Gap, voluntarily don’t charge service fees or impose
expiration dates on their gift cards. Chain restaurants also avoid the restrictions, according to the National
Restaurant Association; even if restaurant patrons wait a few years to redeem a gift card, they tend to spend
more money than the card is worth.




                                                     Page 5
Contact Philip Ewing at pewing@stateline.org.Comment on this story in the space below by registering with
Stateline.org, or e-mail your feedback to our Letters to the editor section at letters@stateline.org

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Anti-tax ballot box revolt stifled
By Pamela M. Prah, Stateline.org Staff Writer


A nationwide campaign to use the ballot box to rein in state spending has fizzled even before voters had a
chance to weigh in on Nov. 7.


While voters in Maine, Nebraska and Oregon will consider ballot measures that cap increases in state
spending, similar “Stop Over Spending” initiatives got booted off ballots in Michigan, Montana, Nevada and
Oklahoma primarily because of concerns about the validity of the signatures.


The paltry number of states that have spending limit measures on the ballot is a far cry from the nearly two
dozen states that conservative political strategists and grassroots anti-tax crusaders had hoped for when the
year began.


“We’ll be back in all those states,” said Grover Norquist, whose Americans for Tax Reform group is a lead
organizer of the state ballot measures. He blamed “annoying technicalities” for knocking off the spending limit
measures in those states.


The measures also won’t appear on the Ohio, Missouri and Rhode Island ballots. In Ohio, Secretary of State J.
Kenneth Blackwell and Republican candidate for governor, pushed to have voters consider a constitutional
amendment to cap state spending, but decided to settle for a less sweeping plan from the Legislature after the
issue generated opposition on the campaign trail.


In Missouri, the secretary of state ruled that signature gatherers failed to follow specific rules and refused to put
the measure on the ballot. And in Rhode Island, the state high court said Republican Gov. Don Carcieri
exceeded his authority by putting a non-binding spending cap on the ballot.


Sujit CanagaRetna, a tax and budget expert at the Council of State Governments, said Colorado’s experience
with its strictest-in-the-nation spending limit “pulled the wind out of the sails” of the campaign in other states.


Colorado voters in 2005 decided to suspend for five years their Taxpayer Bill of Rights, commonly known as
TABOR, agreeing the limits were cutting too deeply into education, transportation and other programs.
“TABOR strangled the state budget slowly, squeezing tighter every year, said Nick Johnson, who heads up the




                                                      Page 6
state fiscal project of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


TABOR ties the growth in state revenue to population plus inflation and requires the state give back to voters
any extra revenue, but Johnson says that formula doesn’t capture the growth in the costs of the goods and
services that the state buys. So each year, he says, the state is forced to spend a little less and the gap grows
over time.
TABOR opponents say Colorado dropped from 35th to 49th in the nation for K-12 school funding because of
TABOR. Supporters, however, credit TABOR for making Colorado an economic powerhouse in the West.


Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, which promotes state spending caps, rejects the
notion that the low number of TABOR-like ballot measures this November is a public repudiation of TABOR.
“People didn’t have an opportunity to have a debate on the merits of the proposal. It’s premature to make a
judgment call,” he said.


Maine’s ballot measure is the most similar to Colorado’s in that it requires voter approval before taxes can be
increased and applies to both revenues and expenditures by state and local governments. Nebraska and
Oregon measures only apply to state expenditures and tax hikes do not require voter approval.


Track these spending limit measures and other statewide ballot measures on Stateline.org’s Election guide,
which also features races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state.


Colorado’s experience with TABOR is playing prominently in all three states. In Maine, for example, supporters
of the TABOR-like measure recently unveiled a television ad featuring Republican Colorado Gov. Bill Owens,
who in the commercials says he “wants to set the record straight” about TABOR. “The Taxpayer Bill of Rights
has been a tremendous success here in Colorado – more jobs, lower taxes and young people choosing to stay
in our state,” the governor said, failing to add that he supported TABOR’s suspension. Owens is term-limited
and legally prevented from running this November.


In Oregon, Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D), who is running for re-election, has invited wealthy New York real estate
developer Howard Rich to debate the spending limits measure that Rich helped put on the Oregon ballot.
Kulongoski opposes the plan. Rich, who has served on libertarian-leaning organizations such as Americans
For Limited Government, the Cato Institute, and Club for Growth State Action, declined Kulongoski’s invitation.


Rich also has been a chief backer of TABOR-like measures in other states, including Maine and Nebraska,
and property rights measures on several state ballots.


In Nebraska, Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Hahn opposes the “Stop Over Spending Nebraska”
ballot initiative saying, “This proposal is not fiscal surgery, it is irresponsible butchery.” The Associated Press
reported.




                                                      Page 7
CanagaRetna of the Council of State Governments predicts TABOR’s “fiscal straitjacket” will likely have to be
tweaked to garner more support.


Norquist disputes that TABOR is inflexible or that the measure has failed in Colorado. “Colorado shows that it
can be flexible” because technically TABOR remains in effect. While Colorado voters temporarily shelved
TABOR’s mandate to return extra revenue to taxpayers, they kept in effect the provision that prohibits a tax
hike without voters’ approval. “It’s still working,” Norquist said.


Contact Pamela M. Prah at pprah@stateline.org
Comment on this story in the space below by registering with Stateline.org, or e-mail your feedback to our
Letters to the editor section at letters@stateline.org.
For all of Stateline.orgs coverage of the 2006 state elections visit our 2006 elections special section.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Calif., Ore. voters to decide parental notice
By Christine Vestal, Stateline.org Staff Writer


Voters in California and Oregon will decide Nov. 7 whether to join 35 other states in preventing teenage girls
from getting abortions without a parent’s knowledge.
 While a Sept. 25 poll funded by a Portland television station indicates a majority of Oregon voters intend to
approve the measure, California’s electorate is split over the emotionally-charged issue, according to a recent
non-partisan survey by The Field Poll.
 Both ballot initiatives – Oregon’s Measure 43 and California’s Proposition 85 – would require physicians to
notify parents at least 48 hours before performing an abortion on their minor daughter. Both make no exception
for rape or incest and automatically waive the requirement in medical emergencies.
 If voters in Oregon or California approve the measure, it will be the first restrictive abortion law to be adopted
in either state in more than a decade, according to The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that
supports abortion rights.
 In both states, voters rejected similar proposals in the past: Oregon in 1990 and California in 2005. Florida
voters approved a 2004 ballot measure requiring parental consent before performing an abortion on a minor
and in 1998 Colorado voters approved a parental notification measure.
 Proponents of the parental notification measures say the initiatives would protect the health of girls 18 and
younger and discourage them from behaviors that lead to unwanted pregnancies.
 Rather than protecting their health, opponents argue parental notification requirements endanger the health of
minors by causing them to delay abortions or seek illegal procedures. They also maintain that fear of parental
notification has had no affect on the number of unwanted pregnancies.
 Both proposals on the ballot this year comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling by allowing girls the option of
seeking a so-called judicial bypass, if they do not want their parents to be notified. If the bypass option is
elected, a girl can explain to a judge why she believes an abortion is in her best interest. If the judge considers




                                                     Page 8
the girl mature enough to make the decision, a waiver of parental notice or consent must be made within a
short time, typically 48 hours.
 States have passed two types of laws aimed at involving parents in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.
Parental consent laws require one or both parents to approve of the procedure in writing. Parental notification
laws, such as the ones on the ballots in Oregon and California, simply require that doctors notify parents
before performing an abortion on a minor.


 The first law requiring parental involvement in an abortion decision was passed by Utah in 1973. Other states
followed, resulting in a total of 35 states with laws requiring parental consent, parental notification or both.
 Oregon, New York, Vermont, Washington, Connecticut and Hawaii are the only states with no law requiring
parental involvement in a minor’s abortion decision.
 Nine states – California, Alaska, New Hampshire, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, Montana, Idaho and
Nevada – have passed parental involvement statutes that were immediately rejected by courts for violating
privacy and equal protection clauses in their state constitutions. Californias suspended law was enacted in
1987.
  In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth ruled that state laws
requiring parental involvement must ensure that women’s health is protected by including an exemption from
either requirement in medical emergencies and by giving girls the option of seeking a judicial bypass.
 This year the high court upheld that decision, ruling in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England
that a New Hampshire parental notification law must allow doctors to quickly perform an abortion without
notifying parents in medical emergencies. The case was sent to a lower court to determine whether state
lawmakers intentionally left out the medical emergency waiver. If so, the court said the law would be
overturned.
 In an unusual case, the Illinois Supreme Court last month issued judicial bypass rules for a 1995 parental
notice law that was enjoined by a court for lacking a bypass mechanism.
 Although the state’s high court previously said that lawmakers, not judges, should prescribe the rules, Chief
Justice Robert Thomas called into a Christian radio show last month and announced that the court would write
the long overdue rules to allow Illinois, like every other Midwestern state, to enforce its parental notice law.
State Attorney General Lisa Madigan is reviewing the case to determine whether to ask the lower state court to
resurrect the eleven-year-old law.
                                          Twenty-three states enforce parental consent laws requiring at least
one parent to sign a statement approving of the procedure, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a
legal advocacy group that promotes abortion rights. Of the 23, Mississippi and North Dakota require both
parents to approve the procedure.
 Twelve other states enforce parental notification laws. Utah enforces both consent and notification laws.
 Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin allow girls alternatives to parental consent such as the
consent of a grandparent or sibling, a doctor-authorized waiver, or state-approved counseling.
 Colorado, Delaware, Iowa and West Virginia offer girls the same type of alternatives to parental notice
requirements.Comment on this story in the space below by registering with Stateline.org, or e-mail your
feedback to our Letters to the editor section at letters@stateline.org. Contact Christine Vestal at




                                                    Page 9
cvestal@stateline.org.For all of Stateline.orgs coverage of the 2006 state elections visit our 2006 elections
special section.




Friday, October 20, 2006

Ballot blunders abound as election nears
By Eric Kelderman, Stateline.org Staff Writer


While everyone is worried about high-tech glitches fouling the vote counts this Election Day, some of the
biggest fumbles on the way to the ballot box are turning out to be of the man-made variety.


A missing “l” in the word “public” forced Ottawa County, Mich., officials to blush and reprint 170,000 ballots
with the proposed state constitutional amendment – at a cost of $40,000.


 A good editor also could have helped Denver, which sent out 44,000 absentee ballots with the boxes for “yes”
and “no” reversed on a ballot initiative to remove deadlines to challenge recall petitions. The next day, election
officials discovered more bad news on the ballot: The suggested postage for its return was insufficient.


 The 2006 election may be a watershed test of America’s switch to electronic voting systems with computers
and touch-screen machines, but it’s old-fashioned things like editing errors, nomenclature and insufficient
postage that are still causing a healthy share of headaches for election officials.


 Millions of dollars are often spent trying to keep candidates and issues off of the fall ballot, but in Tennessee,
the last two paragraphs of a constitutional amendment to allow local property-tax freezes for citizens 65 or
older were not included in the electronic version that voters will see on Election Day. Instead voters will have to
read printed copies of the complete amendment at polling stations.


 In Kansas, some simple language omissions could invalidate Hispanic voter registrations. A comparison of
Spanish-language voter registration forms with English ones by the Wichita Eagle revealed that the Spanish
version failed to warn voters that in incomplete form could be rejected.


 About 5,000 absentee ballots are being replaced in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, because of even simpler
typographical errors. Those problems were discovered after officials realized that the party affiliations for two
candidates in a state House race had been switched.




                                                     Page 10
 The single issue of whose name appears first on the ballot has created a brouhaha in New Hampshire that
has involved the intervention of the secretary of state, a rare special session of the state Legislature, and the
attention of the state Supreme Court. A candidate whose name is placed at the top of the ballot typically
receives the most votes, said Paul Twomey, an attorney who filed suit to change the system. Republican
candidates used to be listed first; now three parties – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans will each
enjoy the pole position on a third of ballots statewide.


 In Florida’s 16th Congressional District, former Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s name will remain on the ballot
even though he resigned after reports about his communications with underage volunteers on Capitol Hill. But
a judge has ruled that election officials may not post signs at polling places informing voters that a vote for
Foley is a vote for state Rep. Joe Negron, the GOP’s replacement candidate.


 Maryland officials have been deluged with requests for absentee ballots, after major glitches in the September
primary elections. In Montgomery County, the states most populous jurisdiction, elections officials have hired
an additional 15 temporary workers to deal with the increase in absentee voting and they are waiting for an
additional 7,000 ballots to meet requests, according to The Gazette newspapers.


 The boost in absentee balloting is due to one of the nations most spectacular voting blunders this year.
Thousands of small plastic cards needed to vote on the touch-screen machine were not sent to the countys
238 precincts. That was just one of several problems that delayed voting in the states most populous
jurisdiction, and caused politicians on both sides of the aisle to call for widespread absentee voting.


 Like all states, Maryland was required to replace its punch-card voting machines by this year in order to meet
the requirements of the 2002 Help America Vote Act -- passed after the 2000 presidential election debacle in
Florida. Unlike Maryland, many states and counties waited until this year to switch their equipment -- nearly a
third of the nations registered voters will face new ATM-like touch-screen voting machines or optical-scanners
that read paper ballots marked with a pen, according to the latest estimates by Election Data Services.


That historic shift in voting equipment has stressed state and county election officials as well as voting
machine manufacturers in the midst of the most heated mid-term elections in 12 years.


 States are experiencing a confluence of new technology and regulations this election season, said Tova
Wang, a fellow at the nonprofit Century Foundation. “At least some of the elections will be closely decided,
control of Congress hangs in the balance and we have a whole slew of new voting machines and new voting
rules. There are a number of problems that we know from the past may arise that states have not addressed,
even in 2006," she explained.


Related stories:




                                                     Page 11
Punch cards out, paper trails in


Integrity of electronic voting questioned


 Comment on this story in the space below by registering with Stateline.org, or e-mail your feedback to our
Letters to the editor section at letters@stateline.org.


Contact Eric Kelderman at: ekelderman@stateline.org.



Sunday, October 22, 2006

Reducing the crime rate -- a dramatic new formula
By Neal Pierce


CHICAGO -- Americas most effective crime-fighting tool may not be more police. Or efficient DNA labs. Or
tougher laws. The big breakthrough, instead, might be in making one-timers of potential repeat offenders.Think
about it, and the ideas a slam-dunk. More than 95 percent of the 2-million-plus people we now hold behind
bars will eventually be freed. Indeed, 650,000 a year, many convicted under the ``get tough laws of the 1970s
to 1990s, are now returning to U.S. towns and cities. And recidivism is high. Across the U.S., roughly 60
percent of released prisoners commit another crime, and over 50 percent return to prison within three
years.Breaking that pattern is a challenge. Most released prisoners have meager educations. Majorities are
likely to have been on drugs while in prison. They walk back on the street with practically no money, no drivers
license, oftentimes an alienated, angry family. Many have mental problems. And a job? Imagine telling an
employer youre a just-released felon.Even worse, the power of law may be a felons biggest job barrier. In
Illinois, state laws historically provided long lists of jobs that ex-felons couldnt hold -- from speech specialist to
horsemeat dealer, roofer to athletic trainer, embalmer to acupuncturist. The law even forbade ex-felons from
working as barbers -- although some state prisons teach barbering so that prisoners can cut each others
hair.Surveying the Chicago area, where tens of thousands of ex-prisoners return yearly, the business-led civic
action group Chicago Metropolis 2020 decided the issue of prisoner re-entry had to be taken public in a big
way. Criminal justice issues usually arent on the agendas of either regional leadership or business groups, but
Metropolis senior executive Paula Wolff had a convincing case.First, she argued, an economically viable
region has to be safe -- no one wants to live or build a business where crime dangers are high. Second, a
region cant be strong for economic development if a big chunk of potential workers is excluded from the labor
pool. And third, the convict-imprison-reimprison treadmill is a bad use of scarce tax dollars. One of every $20
of Illinois general revenue fund, she noted, goes for corrections. Add together the imprisoned and the paroled
and those on probation and the total is 245,000 persons -- enough to be Illinois second largest city.In an early
step, Barack Obama, then a state lawmaker, introduced successful legislation to let ex-prisoners who were
guilty of just one felony get a certificate of rehabilitation and gain easier access to occupational licensing. For
the first time in decades, the ``lock-em-up-prone Legislature embraced the word ``rehabilitation. Now some 27




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previously forbidden occupations are open to ex-felons and the laws been shifted around to put the burden of
proof on state agencies to show why a felons license application shouldnt be granted.Mayor Richard Daley,
with Metropolis and the business community urging him on, created a caucus on prisoner re-entry. The group
resembled a town hall of Chicagoans -- department heads, police, jail and probation officers, health experts,
leaders from business and nonprofits, and even some formerly incarcerated persons and their families. The
imperative of a new approach to ex-prisoners became clear -- learning, for example, that 50 percent of those
returning went to six distressed communities, all predominantly African-American, settings already plagued by
crime and poverty.The group also learned how many tough barriers ex-prisoners often face -- substance
abuse, lack of housing, depression and the fact they may never have held a job in their lives.A broad range of
ideas for helping released prisoners emerged, from drug and mental health treatment to family support groups.
Daley endorsed those ideas last winter and the city also opened itself to hiring released prisoners except
where theres clear reason not to (a convicted sex offender as a school bus driver, for example). Now theres a
parallel statewide program to assist returnees, led by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.But increasingly, experts believe
early assistance for prisoners -- quickly after their release -- can be critical. Now the Chicago-based Joyce
Foundation has announced a multimillion-dollar, large-scale test at sites in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and
Minneapolis-St. Paul. Groups of freshly released inmates will be given subsidized, wage-paying jobs for
periods of up to three months, combined with an array of support services and help at finding regular
employment.If the test site results prove dramatically more successful in curbing parole violations and rearrest
than regular state and local employment services, there will be a powerful argument for state and local
governments to change their ways and focus major funds into recycling inmates back into employment and
normal lives.And thats where the big payoff could come, not only for hundreds of thousands of released
prisoners annually, but for public treasuries and all of us, as the vicious cycle -- crime, imprisonment, release
and new crime and incarceration -- moves from norm to rare exception. Neal Peirces e-mail address is
nrp@citistates.com.




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