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Kevin McCarty to resign from insurance post

January 05, 2016, 11:50 AM

From Tallahassee Democrat

“Indeed, while we may have been critical of some of his regulatory decisions over the years, he has effectively overseen the state’s complex and politically charged insurance system with fairness and restraint,” R Street Institute Florida Director Christian Camara said in a release. “Undoubtedly, he deserves credit for restoring sanity and stability to Florida’s shaky insurance marketplace.”

Nashville tops national ridesharing scorecard with innovative attitude

January 05, 2016, 9:00 AM

When it comes to an inviting regulatory environment for transportation innovators like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, Nashville is the best city in the nation.

According to a report recently released by the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, Nashville has commonsense ridesharing regulation with few of the hostile rules adopted in other jurisdictions that serve to restrict access.

In fact, the only negatives about Nashville’s regulatory environment were insurance requirements during the periods when a driver is matched with and actively transporting a fare that are slightly high. Nashville’s overall score of 97 was two points higher than Memphis and a full 12 points higher than Atlanta.

As a native son of Tennessee, born in Memphis and raised outside of Nashville, I’ve seen the benefits of Nashville’s entrepreneurial streak. Whether it’s the hustle of the music industry or the fast pace of change in the health care and software sectors, Nashville has never shied from change.  In that sense, R Street’s report isn’t surprising.

Yet Nashville’s welcoming and accommodating attitude toward innovative business models shouldn’t be taken lightly.   Over the past several years, I’ve called Alabama home.  Just a few hours down I-65, Birmingham serves as a sharp contrast to Nashville’s willingness to shake up the marketplace to meet the needs of its residents.

Birmingham’s City Council recently was dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age transportation network companies. Even as part of the new ordinance they passed a few weeks ago, they only permitted a six-month operating period, after which the new rules and market operations will be re-evaluated.

The difference in attitude between the two cities couldn’t be any more pronounced. One is finding ways to grow and bring in new industry; the other is offering one excuse after another as to why a technological convenience embraced by cities across America isn’t acceptable for its citizens.

As Nashville literally is struggling to find enough people to fill all the jobs it is creating, more than 30 percent of Birmingham’s population suffers in poverty.

That’s the difference between pursuing policies that encourage creative business models and competition and stubbornly preserving the status quo for fear of the unknown. It’s a simple distinction, but it makes all the difference in the world.

While my R Street colleagues and I happily tip our hat to Nashville’s success in crafting positive transportation regulations, I’m secretly hoping that some of the city’s eye to innovation makes its way a little further south.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Texas’ insurance rankings are cause for concern

January 04, 2016, 9:05 PM

They say everything’s bigger in Texas. Unfortunately, this is true of the monthly insurance bill. Premiums for homeowners’ insurance are the third highest in the nation, with premiums 60 percent above the national average.

Government regulation of the insurance industry is bigger too, which is somewhat curious given the state’s general aversion to government intrusion into the free market. According to the R Street Institute’s recently released 2015 Insurance Regulation Report Card, Texas ranks 47th in terms of how effectively and efficiently it regulates the business of insurance.

Why does Texas rank so low? Part of the answer has to do with Senate Bill 900, a reorganization of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association passed by the Legislature during the 2015 session. The association is a government-created agency that offers windstorm insurance coverage to residents of certain Texas coastal counties. It’s supposed to be an insurer of last resort, but over the past decade the number of policies has grown rapidly.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association now covers approximately 60 percent of residents in a 14-county Texas coastal region. This rapid expansion is related to the agency’s below-market rates. Only a few years ago, its rates were 40 percent below the level needed to meet expected payments. While the agency has made substantial progress in recent years, rates are still below actuarially sound levels.

Instead of dealing with these fundamental problems, however, SB 900 shifted more of the costs of the program onto private insurers, increasing assessments on insurance companies to pay Texas Windstorm Insurance Association claims. The costs of these assessments will, of course, inevitably show up in higher insurance premiums throughout the state.

But new legislation is not the state’s only problem when it comes to insurance. Close to half of Texas’ property-casualty insurance market is being written by thinly capitalized firms whose premium-to-surplus ratio exceeds 100 percent. The Texas FAIR plan, a more generalized insurer-of-last-resort program available statewide, nearly doubled in size between 2011 and 2014. Also counting against Texas were longstanding issues, such as the limited flexibility in ratemaking that is impairing the state’s file-and-use system.

Texas also needs to look ahead to growing future risks. Litigation historically has sometimes been as big a threat to Texas’ insurance system as have storms. Just over a decade ago, losses from mold claims were as bad as years with major storms. Total losses during the peak years of the mold crisis in 2001 and 2002 were surpassed only by 2008’s Hurricanes Ike and Dolly.

Now, a new litigation crisis may be brewing, this time involving hail. Hail claims have increased 84 percent since 2010, and litigation over hail damage has exploded in certain parts of the state. An analysis by attorneys G. Brian Odom and Tyler McGuire found that, while 2 percent of insurance claims historically have resulted in litigation, for recent claims in Hidalgo County, the number is 35 percent. This litigation explosion has been encouraged by current Texas law, which allows attorneys to collect large fees and penalties in hail-insurance cases. The costs of this litigation ultimately will be borne by ratepayers.

The good news, as the song says, is that there’s still time to change the road we’re on. In fact, there are a number of things the state can start doing now to improve it’s ranking for next year.

Texas can start by shrinking the size of TWIA. Continuing to move toward rate adequacy and using reinsurance would shift risk and policies back into the private market, ultimately making the program more sustainable. And nothing prevents the Texas Department of Insurance from moving toward the true use-and-file system in homeowners insurance that was envisioned by the legislature when it was passed in 2003. This move would likely also serve to shrink both TWIA and the FAIR plan and make the property insurance market more attractive to major carriers.

Texas has shown that a free-market, light-touch regulatory approach works best for both businesses and consumers. It’s time we applied the same approach to insurance.

Rethinking sex-offender registries

January 04, 2016, 9:02 PM

The attached was published originally in National Affairs Issue Number 26 – Winter 2016.

 

As they bicycled and scootered back to their homes from a trip to the local convenience store in the 9 p.m. darkness of Sunday, Oct. 22, 1989, Jacob Wetterling, his brother Trevor, and their friend Aaron Larson were accosted by a masked gunman with a raspy voice. After ordering them to lie face down in a ditch, the man told all three boys to turn over, asked their ages and examined their faces. Brandishing his gun, the kidnapper ordered Aaron and Trevor to run toward a nearby forest, threatening to shoot if they turned back. He took Jacob, then 11 years old.

Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, spearheaded an all-out effort to find her son. FBI agents, National Guard troops and volunteers descended on St. Joseph, Minnesota. Posters were hung. Jacob’s face appeared on the back of milk cartons. Tips flooded in, but no firm leads materialized.

Jacob remains missing. Mrs. Wetterling, for her part, wondered if anything could have been done differently. The answer, she believed, came in part from what the police told her: If only they had a list of suspects — a registry — they would at least have a place to start.

Mrs. Wetterling proved herself an effective lobbyist: In 1991, thanks largely to her efforts, the state of Minnesota established the nation’s first public sex-offender registry. Three years later, President Bill Clinton signed the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act that required all states to establish their own registries. Votes to establish and fund state registries and maintain national standards passed with almost no dissent.

The registries grew over time. Megan’s Law, a 1996 amendment to the Wetterling Act, required community notification for certain sex offenders and placed many records on the then relatively new World Wide Web. In 2006, another new law, the Adam Walsh Act, established new national standards for the registries, assessed penalties on states that didn’t follow them, built a national Internet database of offenders, established an office to track them, and expanded the registries. Today, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico maintain registries. The practice has spread internationally, and the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have all established registry systems of their own.

Life on a registry imposes many burdens on those required to take part. Individuals included on registries must inform police or other public-safety officials of their places of residence and work. Failure to register in a timely fashion can result in additional felony charges. They must obtain permission to move and, often, to travel. Most have their names posted in publicly accessible Internet databases. A number of states — including Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Nevada — require some classes of sex offender to have special state ID cards or driver’s licenses identifying them as such.

Many states and localities have laws forbidding sex offenders from living anywhere near schools or day-care centers, which often requires them to live far outside any city or reasonably dense suburb. Many are even barred from homeless shelters. Positions that bring sex offenders into regular contact with children — nearly all jobs at schools — are also off-limits. In many places, people on registries cannot patronize sexually oriented businesses, own firearms, and even hand out candy on Halloween. Laws to increase penalties on registered sex offenders even further — restricting them from visiting playgrounds or barring them from living with their own children — also have widespread public support. Indeed, it appears that no proposed sex-offender registration law has ever failed a free-standing, regular-order floor vote in any state legislature. No state that has passed a sex-offender registration law has ever repealed it, and no law has ever been weakened in a substantial way — even when stories emerge of serious consequences for former offenders. In California, for instance, which keeps some of the most detailed public statistics on sex offenders, 20 percent have no place to live as a result of residency restrictions. Such stories evoke little public sympathy and inspire few calls for reform.

In short, few new public policies have become so widespread so quickly or attracted such unanimous support from across the political spectrum. The reason for this is obvious: All parents are horrified by the thought of their children being snatched from them and sexually abused. Sexually oriented crimes committed against children are, for deep-seated cultural and perhaps innately human reasons, considered particularly grave violations of human dignity.

The registries have, in an important sense, worked: Patty Wetterling’s successful crusade correlated with improvements in public safety. Rape rates, tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, declined from roughly 37 per 100,000 in 1995, after the first national registry law passed Congress, to about 26 per 100,000 today, a 30 percent drop. Even as the population has grown by roughly 13 percent, the number of child sexual-abuse cases fell from about 88,000 in 1999 (the first year for which the Department of Health and Human Services collected data on a national level) to fewer than 61,000 in 2013. While these numbers (and any others associated with sex crimes) are probably best considered as relative measures since so many sexual offenses go unreported, they reflect a significant drop in the offenses that registries are intended to prevent.

Despite all this good news, however, a closer look at sex-offender registration reveals a more nuanced and disturbing story. Although effective in some respects at reducing crime, today’s sex-offender registries do not work as well as they could. Current registries are too inclusive, are overly restrictive, and end up hurting some of those they are intended to help. With some common-sense reforms, sex-offender registries could become far more effective in improving public safety.

Lawmakers and public-safety advocates should consider reforms to limit the number of people in the registries. Though it may seem counterintuitive, they must roll back some of the restrictions placed on those who register if we are to have any hope of reintegrating them into society. We must do more to keep the most dangerous offenders out of schools, and we must monitor the most potentially dangerous criminals more closely and even increase the use of the most severe sanctions (like lifetime civil commitment) that are currently available. Registration of sex offenders can be an effective law-enforcement tool, but overregistration and overly restrictive rules on all those who are registered may do more harm than good.

A COMPOSITE SKETCH

Any examination of the registries must start with a look at the demographics of sex offenders who target children; they are far different than many people imagine. Sex offenders come from all walks of life. People convicted of sex offenses are slightly more likely to be white than nonwhite, relative to other felons. They have slightly higher levels of income and educational attainment (most are high-school graduates) than those incarcerated for other serious crimes. Insofar as they pursue adult sexual relationships at all, the overwhelming majority are men sexually interested in women. But few broad demographic characteristics give evidence as to who is likely to become a sex offender.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ overview of sex offenders, most sex offenders targeting children have some sort of prior criminal record. Only about 15 percent, however, have been convicted of another sex offense, and only about a third of these prior offenses involve children. Among violent sex offenders, a category that includes all those who have sex with someone under the age of consent, the BJS data show that over 40 percent are arrested again within three years for some crime, but only about 5 percent actually commit another sex offense within three years. Indeed, just over 3 percent of released child molesters are arrested within three years for committing another sex crime against a child. When nonviolent sex offenders — a category that includes those who deal in child pornography and expose themselves in public — are included in the dataset, recidivism rates drop substantially. And by all accounts, the recidivism of sex offenders is well below that of felons in general.

This does not mean, as some left-of-center academics seem to contend, that convicted sex offenders pose no danger to society and should not be monitored. They are at least 50 times more likely to commit sex offenses than are randomly selected men from the population as a whole. According to scholar Emily Horowitz, roughly 90 percent of sex offenders know their victims. Random kidnappers, like the man who took Jacob Wetterling, are quite rare. By most estimates, about a third of victims are family members of their abusers and most of the rest are victimized by someone else their parents know. Pedophiles seldom “kidnap” victims, as seen in movies and portrayed in popular novels. The Polly Klass Foundation estimates that fewer than 100 children are kidnapped by strangers each year in the manner that Jacob Wetterling was. Many of these “stranger kidnappings” involve children who were sitting in the back seats of stolen vehicles or interrupted another crime in progress. Parents wanting to protect their own children should worry much more about their own friends and relatives than random strangers.

Although no pedophile, by definition, has a healthy adult sex life, about 98 percent of male pedophiles, who account for over 90 percent of all pedophiles, classify their adult relationships as heterosexual or predominantly heterosexual.

It’s not clear, however, if it’s correct to think of any pedophile as “gay” or, for that matter, “straight.” An influential, although hardly uncontested, body of research led by Fred Berlin of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine suggests that pedophilia itself is a sexual orientation that, like heterosexuality or homosexuality, results from a complex interplay of difficult-to-measure social, environmental and perhaps genetic factors. If this is the case, then, like other sexual orientations, it may well be essentially impossible to modify in adults. Even if true, however, this finding would not mean that people who are attracted to children are uncontrollable and untreatable: People with all sorts of sexual orientations can abstain from sex altogether. And this is precisely what we would expect pedophiles to do if they cannot overcome their attraction. Furthermore, it’s not entirely clear (and may be impossible to know) whether every person convicted of molesting a child is a pedophile by “orientation.” A large number of people may engage in sexually pathological behavior involving children for reasons such as a sex addiction, a desire to transgress social rules, or a non-age-related sexual fetish rather than an attraction to children per se.

Whatever the case, pedophiles exist, molest thousands of children each year, and pose a clear and present danger to society.

EFFECTIVENESS AND CLUTTER

The correlation between widespread sex-offender registration and falling rates of sex offenses does not establish that the offenses have declined because of registration. The falling rates of rape closely track a decline in all forms of violent crime. One could name any number of theories explaining the causes of the overall drop in violent crime. They include but aren’t limited to better policing, higher rates of incarceration, demographic trends, bans on lead-based paint and gasoline, changes in the architectural design of cities, the wider legalization of elective abortion, and cultural shifts that more harshly sanction violent behavior. Reductions in child sexual abuse also closely track a more-or-less equal reduction in non-sexual abuse of children.

The best research on the efficacy of sex-offender registration does show positive effects, in terms of reduced sexual offenses. What appears to be the single most comprehensive, robust, and recent review of the national data, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Law and Economics, finds registration reduces the number of sex offenses by about 13 percent, after controlling for a number of relevant variables. But while the literature finding a causal reduction from registration is reasonably robust, this result is by no means universally confirmed. A more limited study published in the same journal that confined its work to Washington, D.C., found no effect at all. It’s also not clear in which direction the causation flows. Since 95 percent of sex offenses are committed by people who have not committed a prior sex offense, a large part of the value of registration may come from deterring some number of sex offenses by people who might otherwise commit them.

Most important, virtually no well-controlled study shows any quantifiable benefit from the practice of notifying communities of sex offenders living in their midst. No study of the practice has shown notification, as opposed to registration, to have deterrence value in preventing sex offenses. The literature does show overwhelming evidence of large costs to neighbors in the form of reduced real-estate prices. A major study published in the American Economic Review measured an average 4 percent loss in the value of homes within a tenth of a mile of a sex offender. While there are some anecdotal cases of community notification helping to catch individual sexual predators, it’s not clear that any sex offender who reoffended has ever been caught by neighbors solely because of public notification of his presence. In other words, the biggest quantifiable cost of sex-offender notification appears to be borne by the neighbors it is intended to help, with no measurable improvement in public safety.

When it comes to the most important presumed function of the registries — keeping pedophiles out of schools — they seem to be failing dramatically. Although 46 states and the District of Columbia maintain procedures to keep pedophiles out of schools (and nearly all sizable school districts in the remaining four states have procedures of their own), a Government Accountability Office report found the system simply doesn’t work and has allowed hundreds of sex offenders into direct contact with children.

Possibly due to bureaucratic confusion stemming from a patchwork of government agencies that lacks a single point of contact, a surprisingly large number of pedophiles find work in school settings with the very types of children they victimized. Some state laws and union contracts may even limit schools’ ability to fire pedophiles or parents’ ability to sue. Fear of lawsuits can instead lead some districts to counsel sex offenders out of jobs and subsequently send them on to other districts with letters of reference. In a typical year, school personnel commit roughly 400 sexual offenses against students. While the monitoring of sex offenders in society may be too harsh in some respects, efforts to monitor them in schools do not seem extensive enough.

While some people on the registries certainly are public threats, many are not. Journalist and lawyer Chanakya Sethi found that 12 states require registration for urination in public and six states do for prostitution-related offenses. Teenagers who have consensual sex with other teenagers can be forced to register (sometimes for life) in 29 states. Numerous states permit and some even require registration for kidnapping, even where it has no sexual element. Consensual incestuous sex between adults (while deeply abnormal) can require registration, even though it presents no public danger.

Most disturbingly, about 40 states put juveniles on sex-offender registries, and Nicole Pittman of Impact Justice has found that six states can require juveniles to register for life. Indeed, the federal Adam Walsh Act created some incentives for doing exactly that. At least 5 percent and perhaps as many as a quarter of all people on the registries around the country are there for offenses for which they were tried as juveniles. Many of the offenses these juveniles have committed are as trivial as indecent exposure. In Pittman’s fieldwork, she has uncovered numerous children younger than 10 years old who have ended up on the registry for “assaults” that involved games of “doctor” and other sexually oriented play they may not have even understood. In 2015, one Michigan judge handed down a sentence of 25 years on the sex-offender registry to a young man who, at 19, had consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl who had claimed to be 17. (After a public outcry, the judge reluctantly agreed to reconsider his sentence.) Prosecutors in Archbold, Ohio, brought charges that could have resulted in mandatory registration for high-school students caught exchanging nude “selfies.”

Certainly, some juveniles may commit heinous and violent sex crimes for which registration is appropriate. Where that is the case, all states but New Mexico allow people under the age of juvenile jurisdiction to be tried as adults for at least some sex offenses. But the presence of non-violent and non-threatening juveniles on sex-offender registries contributes to registry “clutter” that makes it difficult for police and social workers to monitor the truly dangerous sex offenders. Phillip Garrido, who kidnapped and held Jaycee Dugard in his backyard for 18 years and abused her repeatedly, is a good example of someone who slipped through the cracks. He was on a sex-offender registry for prior incidents of molestation and kidnapping. His home was visited by parole officers and social workers numerous times. But, overtaxed by the need to monitor California’s more than 83,000 registered sex offenders, officials never performed the thorough search of his house that would have located Dugard. Instead, it took sharp-eyed officials at the University of California, Berkeley, to bring about her eventual rescue. In a time of stretched budgets, effectively monitoring truly dangerous sex offenders is going to require pruning the registries.

People looking at the system of registration are thus left with a paradox: It seems to do some good, but many of its features also do a great deal of harm. Ending the registries would be both unwise and hugely unpopular, but responsible policymakers should focus on some sensible ways they could be improved.

REDUCING THE REGISTRIES

Making the registries more effective should start with reducing the number of offenders listed. Removing those who do not pose any particular public danger would both remedy the injustices done to them and improve public officials’ ability to monitor those who remain. Two groups in particular deserve speedy release from the registries: those convicted of minor, sometimes non-sexual offenses and those whose convictions were handed down by juvenile courts.

Adults convicted of offenses like indecent exposure, public urination, prostitution or soliciting prostitution, kidnapping their own children as part of a custody dispute, and consensual incest with other adults all deserve various forms of social censor or punishment or both. But there’s no evidence they pose public dangers beyond those associated with these relatively minor criminal offenses. None of these behaviors have been linked to child molestation or violent sexual assaults anywhere in the academic literature. Requiring such offenders to remain on registries wastes public resources, ruins lives, and does nothing to improve public safety.

For many of the same reasons, people convicted in juvenile court should, as a class, be removed from registries; their continued presence is perverse and undermines the purpose of the juvenile justice system. Juveniles who act out sexually get branded as “pedophiles” under laws that consider victims’ ages but not those of offenders. A 17-year-old boy who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl might need counseling or punishment from his parents, but he certainly isn’t a pedophile. Two teenagers who swap naked “selfies” may deserve to lose their smartphones, but they certainly aren’t “child pornographers.” Laws that fail to take these obvious realities into account impose huge consequences on juveniles convicted of sex offenses: the threat of being banned from living with their own siblings, being forced into foster care, and expulsion from their high schools (the same schools doing such a poor job of ensuring that pedophiles don’t get hired). None of these collateral consequences does any good for society, for the offenders or for their victims.

Moreover, the long-lasting, sometimes lifelong, nature of sex-offender registration runs counter to the purpose of the juvenile justice system. Juvenile courts are intended primarily as therapeutic and rehabilitative mechanisms. They have looser rules of evidence than adult courts; they maintain far fewer public records; and, at least in theory, they hand out sanctions based on the “best interest” of the accused, rather than a desire to punish. Only a few states allow jury trials in juvenile court, and even then they are quite rare. Most states allow juvenile records to be sealed; the process is sometimes even automatic. Even people with unsealed records typically retain the rights to vote, receive government benefits and live where they choose.

If prosecutors or police believe that a juvenile is so dangerous that he merits long-term registration, they ought to avail themselves of procedures to try him in an adult court. Any other standard undermines the very idea of maintaining a distinct system for younger offenders.

Estimating precisely how many offenders would be removed from registries as a result of this change in policy is difficult. Registries rarely report the age at which their registrants were convicted. What data do exist suggest that those convicted as juveniles make up as much as a third of registered offenders in the 40 states that have some form of juvenile registration. It’s estimated an additional 10 percent of non-juvenile registrants are guilty of offenses that pose no obvious public harm, although this may differ a good deal from state to state. Whatever the ultimate figure, it would be easy to reduce the size and scope of sex-offender registries — and the hardships imposed on those who have committed only minor offenses — while actually increasing public safety.

By any count, however, the majority of people on the sex-offender registries are adults who committed reasonably serious crimes. They are more likely than members of the population as a whole to commit such acts again, even though most of them will not. Of course, the same can be said of almost anybody with any sort of criminal record. As with other people who commit crimes, it’s unfair and unjust to brand all sex offenders as social pariahs for the rest of their lives, particularly since they have lower recidivism rates than other types of felons.

Making it impossible for sex offenders to live in most places contributes directly to their becoming homeless, which in turn makes them harder to track — and harder to keep away from potential victims. Far-reaching residency bans, although politically popular, simply do not pass the most basic cost-benefit test. Every dataset makes clear that children are far more likely to be sexually abused by family members than by strangers who happen to live near their school or day care center. Judges, police, and probation officers can and should still be able to require many classes of sex offenders to stay off school grounds during school hours and avoid other areas where children congregate (something modern GPS-monitoring can assure cheaply and easily), but blanket residency restrictions simply do not serve any valid public-safety purpose.

Forcing convicted sex offenders to the margins of society also tends to remove them from the orbit of family, friends and houses of worship, making it more likely that they will turn to crime again. For instance, it’s difficult to see why sex offenders should be automatically denied commercial driver’s licenses or barred from working as insurance agents. Aside from obvious restrictions on working with children and perhaps carrying out certain medical tasks, most restrictions on sex offenders should be tailored to fit individual circumstances and levels of dangerousness. Restrictions on professional licensing should be set to fit the specific sex offense, rather than applied to every person convicted of any sexually oriented crime.

Moreover, the lack of any evidence that public notification reduces crime, coupled with its negative effects on property values, counsels in favor of restricting the practice. Notification helps attach an unnecessary stigma even to those convicted of only minor sex offenses. A person who sexually gropes a stranger once has done something wrong and perhaps traumatizing, but he does not pose the same public danger as a murderer, who is not required to notify his neighbors of his prior conviction. Yet, because of registries, he faces a greater public stigma than a murderer. Eliminating public notification completely would face huge political hurdles and, given the ease with which information already on the Internet can be preserved, is probably impossible anyway. The most practical change might be limiting mandatory community notification and Internet recording to actual predators over the age of 21 who have sexually assaulted young children. Even in these cases, the value of notification likely comes more from the fact that the public wants it than from any demonstrable benefit it actually provides.

On the other hand, efforts to keep sex offenders out of schools ought to be enhanced and improved. Finding the resources to do this would be reasonably easy if much of the excess currently cluttering sex-offender registries were removed. In this context, a new, bipartisan proposal by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey deserves serious consideration. The bill would set federal standards to prevent child predators from working in schools and would penalize states where districts try to “pass the trash,” or counsel sex offenders to resign quietly before they are sent along to other schools with positive letters of reference.

THE WORST OF THE WORST

For serious offenders, who constitute the majority of those currently on sex-offender registries, the practice of registration offers a deterrent value that appears effective at reducing sexual assault and child sex-abuse rates. Three careful and deliberate policy changes could help law enforcement deal more effectively with these truly bad actors: increased mandatory outpatient treatment; increased use of indefinite civil commitment for the worst offenders; and more targeted focus of federal resources on serious, mostly Internet-based child predators and other serious sex offenders, rather than the child pornographers who currently make up the lion’s share of the federal case load.

Insofar as sexual attraction to children is an essentially fixed sexual orientation, it may be impossible to truly “cure” it. Comprehensive literature reviews led by a team from the University of Illinois at Chicago have mixed findings: While the best-run treatments do reduce actual recidivism among sex offenders, the reduction is only by about one-third, and even then it’s far from clear that pedophiles are made to let go of their sexual attraction to children altogether.

Interestingly, after adjustment for a variety of variables, outpatient treatment outside of secure facilities appears to work even better than forcing treatment behind bars. In fact, a number of studies show that treatment for sex offenders behind prison walls is counterproductive. This suggests it may be better to focus prison sentences for child molesters almost entirely on deterrence and punishment, while augmenting treatment efforts outside the jailhouse walls. For those who fail to participate in treatment programs, a version of the rapidly spreading “swift and certain sanctions” regimes — which provide short, often immediate jail stays every time an offender slips up — may provide an incentive to stick with the program and receive treatment. They have worked to encourage many drug addicts to break their habits, and they may help pedophiles in the same way. Many offenders who are removed from registries or kept on law-enforcement-only registries might continue to be subject to long-term GPS monitoring to keep them away from schools and other areas where they might pose a threat.

Some sex offenders may be resistant to all treatment and unable to control their urges to molest children. In these cases — which comprise a small but non-trivial percentage of sex offenses — moves toward increased civil commitment may make sense. All states allow for civil commitment of the dangerous mentally ill in hospital-like settings when the individual is deemed to pose a risk to himself or others. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that provide for an additional level of review following the release of certain sex offenders. A small number of offenders at very high risk of offending again can, under these regimes, be detained indefinitely in hospital-like settings.

Such treatment, of course, is advisable only as an absolute last resort. But just as it’s possible to detain a mental patient who experiences a drive to kill or maim others, it should also be possible to detain someone in situations where expert testimony convinces a court that they will commit sexual violence if released. A mandatory review process for certain grave sex offenses may be desirable. In exceptional cases, civil commitment of a tiny number of particularly dangerous juvenile sex offenders (who might otherwise be released with no public record) might be justified as well. Indefinite civil commitment is a very powerful tool to put in the hands of the state, and, certainly, it carries a risk of being overused. But it should not be ruled out in all cases for sex offenders, and its use likely deserves expansion.

The most difficult cases to deal with involve individuals found guilty of possessing child pornography. It goes without saying that any use of sexual materials involving children deeply offends social norms, and its mere possession ought to be subject to significant criminal sanction. Despite efforts of many left-leaning researchers to minimize the problem, furthermore, it is a truly serious one that has grown with the Internet. Indeed, a recent study of the “Dark Web” conducted by scholar Gareth Owen found that roughly 80 percent of users visiting the secret websites that use untraceable Tor network technology were seeking child pornography.

But current laws involving child pornography — often prosecuted under federal law — may need to be updated. Child-pornography laws were written largely with the idea of prosecuting those who distributed magazines, print photographs, videotapes, and celluloid film strips depicting minors in sexual situations. Today, nearly all child pornography gets shared on peer-to-peer networks that make all consumers “distributors” simply by virtue of participation.

The average sentence for child pornography is now nearly eight years, longer than the average sentence for rape, which is just over five years. Whatever harm looking at a picture of a child in a sexual situation causes (and it’s significant), it is probably not greater than the harm resulting from actual sexual assault. Nonetheless, the BJS finds that child-porn offenses make up 70 percent of the federal sex-offender registry caseload.

Rather than try to effect a change in federal law or prescribe punishments federally, it would be better to focus federal resources on the greatest dangers. These include human-trafficking rings and actual predators who lure children across state lines. Meanwhile, states should be encouraged to take on a greater share of the child-porn caseload and decide punishments based on local attitudes and beliefs. In any case, mere possession of child pornography should remain a reasonably serious crime, albeit one that is dealt with, for the most part, on the local level.

ADDRESSING THE REAL PROBLEM

The practice of requiring sex offenders to register with law-enforcement officials is effective and has contributed to a sizable drop in sex offenses committed against children in the United States. Notifying the public of sex offenders, on the other hand, is ineffective and should be limited if not eliminated. The registries that exist, furthermore, do tremendous harm to some people who, although clearly guilty of various wrongs, do not pose a significant threat to children or anyone else in society.

The nation needs to reconsider its headlong rush into ever-expanding sex-offender registration and target the registries more carefully at the most genuinely dangerous individuals. Certain petty restrictions should be dropped and many individuals should be deleted from the registries in order to minimize unnecessary damage to individuals and communities and to allow law enforcement to focus on the most dangerous offenders. In certain cases, serious punishments, including indefinite civil commitment for certain offenders, also ought to be expanded. Efforts to keep sex offenders out of schools also deserve expansion.

More than two decades after her initial success in establishing Minnesota’s registry, Patty Wetterling — now a political activist who has run twice for Congress — expresses second thoughts about the registries she fought to establish. While she still supports the idea of the registries, Wetterling thinks they have gone too far and should drop juveniles and many other categories of offenders. “We can’t just keep locking [sex offenders] up,” she told Minneapolis’s City Pages in 2013. “That doesn’t change the problem.”

 

Attack on e-cigarettes as gateway products draws from same old playbook

January 04, 2016, 4:46 PM

False claims that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking dissuade smokers from switching to safer smokeless products, leaving them at greater risk of fatal disease. The prohibitionists’ playbook was developed some 15 years ago, when Dr. Scott Tomar, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Florida, published a smokeless tobacco study with a pronounced “gateway” spin:

Some men may use snuff to quit smoking, but U.S. men more commonly switch from snuff use to smoking. Some smokers may use snuff to supplement their nicotine intake, and smokers who also use snuff are more likely than nonusers to try to quit smoking but tend to have less success.

At the time, my letter to the editor, which was not published, noted:

Recently, Tomar reported that 1998 National Health Interview Survey data show that snuff users are three to four times more likely to have quit smoking than have-never users. However, he also suggested that more American men switched from snuff use to smoking than vice versa. We disagree with some of Tomar’s interpretations of the available data and offer alternative explanations for his findings.

Tomar suggests that the data show that snuff use is a ‘gateway’ to cigarette smoking among adolescents and young men because ‘former’ snuff users were current smokers in this adult survey. However, Tomar has inferred causation solely from temporal patterns (post hoc, ergo propter hoc). If snuff had been a ‘gateway’ to smoking for some individuals, they would have been much older when they started to smoke than smokers without a snuff history. The survey shows no such difference, suggesting that snuff was merely an adjunct for some smokers. More importantly, Tomar did not evaluate the gateway possibility for other forms of tobacco use. For example, survey data also reveals that pipe smoking was much more of a ‘gateway’ than was snuff. Yet it is obvious that few adolescents initiate tobacco use by smoking a pipe. A more reasonable interpretation of all the available information is that there is a subset of smokers who additionally have used other forms of tobacco.

Tomar interprets his findings as evidence that switching smokers to ST is not a workable public-health strategy. We point out that for more than 20 years, the dominant public health message from tobacco prohibitionists has been that ST use is as dangerous as smoking. This erroneous, even dangerous, message is reinforced by the mandated warning on packages of ST (‘This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes’). Most smokers have accepted this message and continue to smoke. Tomar’s study only confirms this and suggests further, and unfortunately, that some ST users also accepted it and switched to cigarettes. Tobacco users need to be told the truth – that ST use is associated with only 2 percent of the mortality risks of smoking, and that it is an effective form of nicotine substitution for smokers unable to achieve abstinence. Only then can a harm-reduction strategy be tested and judged.

Prohibitionists today use the same groundless gateway attack to vilify e-cigarettes, even as teen smoking is dropping at an unprecedented rate.

2016: A look ahead at the year in government

January 02, 2016, 4:31 PM

From San Diego Union-Tribune

“The safety gains of self-driving cars — as well as the associated savings in health care, litigation and insurance costs — are tied closely to eliminating the leading cause of automotive death and destruction: human drivers,” wrote Ian Adams, director of the R Street Institute’s Sacramento office, in a recent Sacramento Bee column. Caltrans wants to be sure these cars don’t drive themselves into accidents.

 

Reflections on a year gone by

January 01, 2016, 4:13 PM

It’s dark and quiet at my house right now. Alabama just won the Cotton Bowl with a shutout. My wife and I watched the ball drop in New York, and I have less than an hour to put forth any last minute thoughts for 2015.

This one isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. This year has been tough. Period.

Honestly, I’ve had my fill of all the fighting and anger. It’s tiring.

I’m a conservative guy who loves his family, thinks free markets really do work and believes we need to do a better job at loving each other.

Yes, I know that might seem like a strange combination, but give me a minute to explain.

While I don’t like the liberal solution of promising people more government stuff to improve their lives, I’m not interested in defending the capitalist who doesn’t care about his or her community.

It’s more than opposing cronyism.

I believe that people who profit from free markets in a nation like America ought to take care of their employees, ensure that they’re caring for the environment and show people that a free marketplace really can produce better outcomes for the average person.

It boils down to this: Do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. We need more people in politics who understand how to do that instead of religiously adhering to partisan talking points.

I’m not interested in hunting RINOs or blasting our president who is about to leave office. That’s not productive.

As I sit here in the darkness of my living room, I’m struck with the reality that we need patriots. They aren’t simply people who agree with our perspectives; they’re the kind of leaders and voices who are willing to sacrifice their own convenience, income and political expediency to ensure that America is a beacon of opportunity for generations to come.

I think about people like my friend, Major David Lasseter, who risked life and limb in Iraq to keep us safe. I’m moved by Gunnery Sergeant Ivan Ponce about to leave behind his family while deployed. They believe in the greatness of America and so do their many brothers and sisters in arms.

It’s time we do the same.

Yeah, we’re going to argue. We’re definitely going to disagree. That’s always the challenge for free people.

But it doesn’t mean we can’t treat each other well. It doesn’t mean we can’t try to build our future together.

I could make you mad. Trust me; it isn’t hard. I could throw some bombs at the political left or post some diatribe about how awful it is to be alive today in America. I’m not interested in taunting those who disagree with me, and I actually think our country is pretty amazing. For as much as I write about our political class, I’m more interested in the rest of us. I wonder if we’ll be able to see past the media haze and rhetorical war to rally around the concept of building a more perfect union.

My sons might be beasts when they’re awake, but I look at them asleep in bed, and they’re angels. I want them to have a future. I want them to be free, but I want them to have hearts that care deeply for their fellow man.

In the coming year, we have too much at stake to be petty. It’s more than an election year; it’s a chance to change our stars. Together, we can chart a better course. We can look out for each other a little more, be more tolerant of our differences, and build a better tomorrow.

That’s a tall order, but I’m willing to be the optimist. Here’s to a happy, healthy and productive 2016!

Comments to FDA on regulating tobacco products as drugs

January 01, 2016, 2:54 PM
Summary Recommendations:
  • FDA should redefine smoking as a behavior, not a disease, and regulate all tobacco-related and nicotine-delivery products accordingly.
  • FDA should migrate all regulation of tobacco-related and nicotine-delivery products to the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), with the partial exception that those choosing to be marketed as drugs must also meet the safety, efficacy, research and documentation requirements of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER).
  • If implementation of these recommendations is deemed inconsistent with the current text of the FDA tobacco law, action should be taken to amend the law as needed to implement these recommendations for the purposes articulated in this comment to FDA.
Introduction:

The current division of regulatory responsibility between the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) and the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) has fostered a dysfunctional and scientifically unsound regulatory process by which tobacco products regulated by CTP are deemed to have harms, but no potential benefits, and products regulated by CDER are deemed to be unattractive to teens and other non-smokers, safe and effective, no matter how strong the evidence to the contrary.

E-cigarettes and related vapor devices (e-cigs) are most likely responsible for the recent record reductions in both teen and adult smoking in the United States, United Kingdom and Poland. These data are fully consistent with the hypothesis that most, if not all of the major reductions in cigarette use by teens are most likely due to the ever-increasing popularity of e-cigarettes for both current smokers and potential smokers experimenting with tobacco-related products. The fact that this same phenomenon is being observed in three very different countries with very different cultures and regulatory environments further supports the premise that these record reductions are, indeed, due to the skyrocketing use of e-cigs.

Despite this evidence, public health authorities continue to condemn e-cigarettes. FDA has even proposed deeming regulations which, if implemented, would likely eliminate the entire American e-cig industry by imposing requirements that would be physically impossible for any e-cig manufacturer to meet in the context of a pre-market application. This action, if successful, could reverse the recent record reductions in both teen and adult smoking.

The implications of FDA continuing to think of smoking as a disease are substantial. The current situation is one in which CTP thinks only in terms of potential harms of tobacco-related products, and CDER only considers benefits that can be documented by means of randomized clinical trials of individual substances to secure short-term smoking cessation. This leaves no place within FDA to consider benefits such as harm reduction and population health impacts that cannot be addressed by randomized clinical trials. This leaves no place within FDA that can consider benefits of a class of products, rather than one stock keeping unit (SKU) product at a time. Reframing smoking as a behavior, not a disease, and placing all regulation of all tobacco-related products in a single center with the flexibility to design and research and evaluation studies other than randomized clinical trials is a necessary first step if we are to ever enjoy the benefits that THR can offer.

The only partial exception to this rule would be to allow manufacturers who desire to market their nicotine delivery products as drugs to continue do so. Those who chose this option should also be required to meet all CTP requirements relative to marketing, impact on users and non-users, post-market surveillance, etc. This partial exception envisions regulation by CTP with CDER oversight to assure their requirements have been met.

Postal union chief calls for post office banking

December 30, 2015, 4:27 PM

From Heartland

Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow with the R Street Institute, says postal banking is an outdated idea, better left in the history books.

“The postal banking system was established back when private banks did not insure deposits,” Kosar said. “People put their money in the postal bank because it was safe. Congress created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933, and it guarantees customer deposits to private banks. By the time that Congress closed the postal bank, few Americans were using it.”

Make a year-end donation to R Street, get a free gift!

December 29, 2015, 10:54 AM

Get the mug everyone has been talking about. Make a tax-deductible donation to R Street of $50 or more and we’ll send you your choice of these premium drinking vessels.


Donation Amount Donate $50 — $50.00 USDDonate $100 — $100.00 USDDonate $1000 — $1,000.00 USDDonate $5000 — $5,000.00 USD Mug Style I’ve Got Your Energy Policy Right Here Freedom Is My Second Favoriate F Word




Please note: R Street is a Section 501(c)3 nonprofit and your gift may qualify as a charitable deduction for federal income-tax purposes. The tax deduction is limited to the excess of the contribution over the fair-market value of any items received in exchange for the donation. The estimated value of goods or services provided in return for your donation is: $4 per mug.  Please keep this written acknowledgment of your donation for your tax records. Questions about donating? Please contact us.

@RSI, this is great. Thanks for my new favorite mug. pic.twitter.com/lajMCrMP4E

— Morgan Scarboro (@morganrscarboro) September 30, 2015

another year, another classic coffee mug from the fine folks at @RSI pic.twitter.com/mdxFTHLdmj

— michael petricone (@mpetricone) December 22, 2015

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China, US signal a cyber policy ‘arms race’

December 28, 2015, 4:00 PM

From SC Magazine

“It’s race to the bottom,” said Nathan Leamer, a policy analyst and the outreach manager for the R Street Institute, in speaking with SCMagazine.com. “We’ve opened the door to other countries racing to pass bad cybersecurity policy.”

 

Kasich signs Ohio TNC bill into law

December 28, 2015, 11:37 AM

Ohio has officially become the 28th state to pass legislation regulating transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, as Gov. John Kasich signed H.B. 237 into law Dec. 23.

The law establishes the state’s Public Utilities Commission as the statewide regulator of ridesharing services and requires companies to obtain a $5,000 permit to match drivers with potential passengers via smartphone applications. Any limousine and taxicab companies that employ digital apps likewise would be eligible for the same regulatory treatment, although local rules would continue to apply where cars are hailed on the street or ordered via telephone.

During the so-called “Period 1,” when a driver is logged in to a TNC app but not yet matched with a passenger, the law sets minimum bodily injury coverage requirements of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident, and a minimum requirement of $25,000 for physical damage liability. From the moment a match has been made until the fare is dropped off at his or her destination, the minimum is $1 million of liability coverage. Coverage must be provided by an insurer rated at least A- by A.M. Best Co. or A by Demotech, and can be obtained either by the driver, by the company or some combination of the two.

The law also requires drivers to submit to criminal, sex-offender and driving history background checks. Drivers are not to be considered employees or agents of TNCs, except where explicitly agreed to by contract.

State capital Columbus performed poorly in R Street’s Ridescore 2015 report, released earlier this month. It received a D grade in TNC friendliness and a C+ overall. Cleveland received an A in TNC friendliness and an overall grade of B.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

DMV won’t unleash robocars on CA roads

December 26, 2015, 3:41 PM

From CalWatchdog

Beltway observers hoped to land objections to the California regulations that might reverberate at the federal level in the future. “As currently constructed, these proposed rules work at cross-purposes with operator and passenger safety and with the state’s desire to ensure a livable planet in the future,” wrote R Street’s Ian Adams in a Sacramento Bee op-ed. “But given some thoughtful modifications, they could present a real opportunity for California to lead the world into its next era of transportation.”

Price controls will slow drug innovation

December 24, 2015, 4:33 PM

From San Diego Union-Tribune

Navigating the regulatory regimen is “hugely expensive,” said Ian Adams, Sacramento director of the R Street Institute, a right-of-center think tank. This is “some of the most sophisticated science going on in the world” and researchers don’t know if any investment will pay off.

Season’s greetings from R Street

December 24, 2015, 9:35 AM

All of us here at the R Street Institute would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas; Happy New Year; a Chag Chanukah Sameach; a Cheerful Maunajiyaras; a Joyous Kwanzaa; a Blissful Rohatsu (also known as Bodhi Day); a Good Winter Solstice; a Festive Festivus; to those who celebrate the Vietnamese New Year of “Tet,” we say “Năm mới dồi dào sức khỏe”; and of course, a Bountiful Canadian Boxing Day, eh?

Every year at this time, we at R Street scatter to the four winds for a week or so, turning off the lights at our home office until the new year begins. New content will be light-to-nonexistent for the next week and a half, but we’ll be back up and running at full speed Jan. 4, 2016.

Until then, I leave you with five of my favorite Christmas songs, of which I hope you haven’t already grown tired.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Gov. Bentley’s beach house blunders

December 23, 2015, 10:29 AM

The 2010 BP oil spill damaged plenty of things along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The governor’s beach house wasn’t one of them. But here we are, spending BP money to fix it up.

No other governor has been willing to touch the dilapidated eyesore, which was abandoned after damage from Hurricane Danny in 1997. Most have been sufficiently politically astute to realize that renovating a beach house isn’t a sound priority for a cash-strapped state. Nor did any governor want to let the property revert to its prior owners, as required if it isn’t used as the governor’s retreat.

So there it sits and slowly falls apart.

But Gov. Robert Bentley won’t stand for that any longer. It is, in Bentley’s eyes, an absolute embarrassment to all five of the people who actually know where the governor’s beach house is located. After all, what would business and industry think if they knew our governor’s 7500 square foot beach house was in such sorry shape?

Don’t worry. The governor apparently intends the $1.5 to $1.8 million beach house restoration to be an “economic development” initiative. Because nothing entices entrepreneurs to do business in Alabama quite like driving halfway between Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan to visit a beach house in a random subdivision for a state-sponsored vacation.

The renovation looks even more suspect in light of the fact that Bentley just lost his two Gulf Shores vacation homes in his recent divorce. If the optics of reversing course on tax hikes while Bentley’s campaign website still boldly declared “No New Taxes” was bad, this is just plain awful.

In politics, perception matters.

Regardless of the governor’s intentions, the narrative is too easy to construct and simply looks improper. No other governor has seen the residence as a critical economic development tool, but the one who does coincidentally lost his personal vacation properties a month or so before repairs began.

Either the governor simply doesn’t care about public perception anymore or he’s getting terrible counsel. Maybe, it’s both.

The money used for the project comes from one of two $25 million grants BP gave Alabama shortly after the spill. It may not be tax revenue, but it is money designed to ameliorate the impacts of the disaster. It’s shocking that years after the spill we still don’t already have better priorities spelled out for the funds.

Don’t worry. The governor apparently intends the $1.5 to $1.8 million beach house restoration to be an “economic development” initiative. Because nothing entices entrepreneurs to do business in Alabama quite like driving halfway between Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan to visit a beach house in a random subdivision for a state-sponsored vacation.

The renovation looks even more suspect in light of the fact that Bentley just lost his two Gulf Shores vacation homes in his recent divorce. If the optics of reversing course on tax hikes while Bentley’s campaign website still boldly declared “No New Taxes” was bad, this is just plain awful.

In politics, perception matters.

Regardless of the governor’s intentions, the narrative is too easy to construct and simply looks improper. No other governor has seen the residence as a critical economic development tool, but the one who does coincidentally lost his personal vacation properties a month or so before repairs began.

Either the governor simply doesn’t care about public perception anymore or he’s getting terrible counsel. Maybe, it’s both.

The money used for the project comes from one of two $25 million grants BP gave Alabama shortly after the spill. It may not be tax revenue, but it is money designed to ameliorate the impacts of the disaster. It’s shocking that years after the spill we still don’t already have better priorities spelled out for the funds.

ExxonMobil and Sierra Club agreed on climate policy—and kept it secret

December 22, 2015, 4:38 PM

From Bloomberg Business

Over the last seven years, the Obama administration has written rules that govern climate pollution, from tailpipes to smokestacks. Libertarian conservative groups such as the Niskanen Center and R Street have become vocal proponents of a carbon tax. Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican from oil-rich North Dakota, recently proposed that Congress adopt a carbon tax to replace Obama’s EPA regulation.

DC Gets Top Marks For Uber-Friendly Policies

December 22, 2015, 4:36 PM

From District Source

DC, the top-rated city in 2014, again came out on top with a seven-way tie for “friendliness to vehicle-for-hire transportation” among 50 of the largest U.S. cities, according to a study released by the R Street Institute.

DMV is off track on proposed rules for self-driving cars

December 22, 2015, 10:00 AM

The rise of self-driving vehicles is not the much-feared rise of the machines that some make it out to be. But try explaining that to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

With direction from the Legislature and under the auspices of protecting consumers from untested products, the state’s automotive-licensing body issued proposed regulations last week intended to control how these new vehicles will hit California’s roads.

The DMV will require a licensed driver to be at the wheel in case of an emergency, a decision that may have been a response to loud calls by some consumer-safety advocates. What that idea has an intuitive appeal, it lacks in both vision and technological understanding.

The safety gains of self-driving cars – as well as the associated savings in health care, litigation and insurance costs – are tied closely to eliminating the leading cause of automotive death and destruction: human drivers.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the causes of crashes found that driver error is the single largest factor – not vehicle condition, system failure, adverse environmental conditions or roadway design. It’s ironic that, by requiring manufacturers to let drivers take the wheel in an emergency, DMV is effectively requiring them to let drivers make potentially fatal mistakes.

Immediate safety concerns aside, in the wake of the Paris summit on global greenhouse gas emissions, it bears remembering that allowing driver input will have negative long-term environmental repercussions. Even as the state strives to embrace greener vehicles, consumer acceptance of those vehicles will depend on their efficiency.

Vehicle weight is the enemy of vehicle efficiency. The cars we drive today are over-engineered into metal cocoons solely to protect us from ourselves. So long as human drivers remain behind the wheel, heavy and inefficient bodies will be needed. In a very real sense, the DMV’s regulations harm the Brown administration’s efforts to combat climate change.

As currently constructed, these proposed rules work at cross-purposes with operator and passenger safety and with the state’s desire to ensure a livable planet in the future. But given some thoughtful modifications, they could present a real opportunity for California to lead the world into its next era of transportation.

Other states, including neighboring Nevada, also are working on policies for self-driving cars. Should they embrace a less restrictive approach, California risks losing its status as the premier venue for autonomous-vehicle design and development.

The most important consideration in the DMV’s course forward should be its effect on human lives. In 2013, 32,719 Americans perished in traffic crashes. The DMV’s regulations must weigh that human toll against the potential harm of allowing self-driving-vehicle technology to reach to its full potential. At the moment, it is getting that balance flat wrong.

E-cigarette flavors needed to keep vapers from returning to smoking

December 22, 2015, 9:07 AM

WASHINGTON (Dec. 22, 2015) – The variety of flavors available for Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) like e-cigarettes are a component that keeps many users from returning to traditional tobacco cigarettes, according to a new paper from the R Street Institute.

Author Dr. Edward Anselm, a senior fellow with the R Street Institute, notes that vapers must puff more constantly in order to receive the same levels of nicotine as produced by tobacco cigarettes, which often results in symptoms such as dry mouth and throat. Users report that flavorings help combat those side effects, making them willing to stay with the ENDS products instead of going back to cigarettes.

“Vapers generally report their motivations are harm reduction and smoking cessation, and that they are well-aware that ENDS use is not completely safe,” writes Anselm. “Large-scale surveys and anecdotal evidence show that flavors help users achieve this goal.”

Anselm notes that much more study is needed of the safety of various ENDS flavorings, but little evidence to date supports a conclusion that any specific ENDS flavoring is as unsafe as tobacco smoke. He notes that many flavorings already have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as food additives, though further research is needed on the effects of burning and inhaling the ingredients.

Finally, Anselm writes that there is no data to show that flavorings attract children to ENDS products who would not otherwise smoke cigarettes. Studies on growing teenage experimentation with e-cigarettes do not account for one-time use or for minors who switch to ENDS products as an attempt to stop smoking cigarettes. Further, many jurisdictions have restricted sales of ENDS products to minors in the same way they have restricted tobacco sales.

“Although additional research is required to resolve many of the public safety questions regarding ENDS, it’s clear from the surveys of smokers who already are using the products to cease an unquestionably deadly habit that the public has made up its mind on the matter,” he writes.