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Spread of Zika: Impact on Southern States
The Zika epidemic has garnered extensive international attention since the current outbreak was first confirmed in Brazil in May 2015. Since then, active Zika transmissions have been documented in more than 30 countries across the Americas region — including South, Central and North America and the Caribbean — with more cases in new areas expected to follow in the coming weeks and months. In response to the sudden outbreak of the Zika virus and the health complications associated with it, the World Health Organization declared, on February 1, 2016, that the virus constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. By some estimates, up to 4 million people in the Americas may contract the virus by the end of 2016.
In the United States, the only reported cases of the Zika virus have been associated with those who recently traveled to countries with known outbreaks. However, health experts have warned that localized transmissions in the United States are probable in the coming months as temperatures rise and mosquitoes carrying the virus expand into new territories. As a result of relatively favorable climate conditions for the disease-carrying Aedes mosquitoes, many SLC member states are particularly vulnerable to limited outbreaks over the next several months.
The Role of State and Local Government in Broadband Deployment
On January 29, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) redefined "broadband internet." Under the new definition, broadband internet connection must meet benchmark speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. Such speeds allow multiple users (or devices) within a household to browse the web and stream video simultaneously, or allow a single user to stream high definition video. The Commission's redefinition of broadband—more than six times its previous download speed benchmark of 4 Mbps—reflects the growing ubiquity of the Internet and aims to ensure the infrastructure has the capacity to meet new, data-intensive usage and its derived benefits.
This SLC Regional Resource examines the role of states in broadband deployment and its relationship to municipal and federal initiatives, with particular attention to the needs of rural areas, and the successes of Southern cities and towns. Notably, this SLC Regional Resource focuses on government-owned broadband infrastructure and direct service provision, though other policies and incentives are discussed broadly. It does not address private alternative internet service providers.
Heroin Epidemic in SLC Member States: Finding Solutions
While the heroin epidemic largely has been concentrated in the Northeast, Appalachian, and Midwest regions of the country, substance abuse is an issue that crosses multiple areas of public policy, including behavioral and public health, criminal justice, and social services. As the South continues to lead the way in criminal justice reform, lessons from the plight of other regions allow SLC lawmakers to build on their efforts to combat prescription drug abuse and take a proactive stance in the heroin epidemic. In recent years, this awareness has led many SLC states to pass laws which expand availability and access to drugs that can help treat an opioid overdose and provide limited immunity from prosecution for individuals who seek medical assistance for themselves or another person experiencing an opioid overdose. This SLC Regional Resource examines what the SLC member states are doing to combat the heroin epidemic and what policies and/or practices can be implemented to mitigate its side effects and ensure a long-term solution.
Special Education School Vouchers: A Look at Southern States
School choice continues to generate debate in state legislatures, even as several states move toward offering their students options beyond the K-12 public school setting. However, given the particular circumstances of children with special needs, less debate and controversy has surrounded the implementation of school choice programs for students in special education classrooms. Since state governments have a constitutional obligation to provide an education to all children, creating more educational options for children with special needs has the most potential for providing them the best education possible. Meanwhile, considering that the average annual cost of a special education student is $9,369 above the norm, the provision of legally required additional services for special needs students can prove costly for public schools with a small student population, where economies of scale are not feasible. Allowing and supplying additional school options for special education students, in these cases, may provide savings for schools unable to provide cost-effective specialized services for the limited number of students requiring them.
This SLC Regional Resource examines the strategies taken by Southern states to increase school options for special education students through the implementation of state-funded school voucher programs, focusing on their many forms and variations, and addresses school voucher programs that provide direct payments or reimbursements to private alternative schools or parents and legal guardians, respectively. While several strategies beyond school voucher programs, such as tax credits and educational savings accounts, have been implemented as additional strategies to increase school choice, these programs are not included within this Regional Resource.
Inland Ports and Waterways in the
SLC Member States
According to June 2015 statistics released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 40 of the top 100 U.S. ports (coastal, Great Lakes and inland) in terms of tonnage are located in states belonging to the Southern Office of The Council of State Governments (CSG), the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC). Impressively, seven of the top 10 ports were SLC state ports. The Port of South Louisiana and the Port of Houston rose to the top, ranking first and second, respectively. While the SLC has focused on ports, the economic influence of ports and the potential impact of the expansion of the Panama Canal on ports in the South for more than 15 years, this Regional Resource reviews an important allied field: emerging trends linked to the nation's, and specifically the region's, inland ports, waterways and related infrastructure.