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Columbia Missourian

Five ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week?

By Danny Lawhon
April 11, 2008 | 11:22 a.m. CDT

Taxing Revelations

Considering the anxiety tax season brings most Americans, reporting that the IRS has indirectly found ways to put taxpayers in a fouler mood than usual this week is certainly saying something.

Just a week before the April 15 income tax deadline, Treasury watchdogs warned on Monday that the poor controls over IRS computers could allow a disgruntled employee, agency contractor or outside hacker to steal taxpayers’ confidential information.

In fact, the report from the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says a hacker could even “gain full control of the IRS network.”

Investigators did not cite any specific cases of wrongdoing within the IRS, Associated Press reports stated. But they suggested that improper oversight could result in someone obtaining sensitive information unbeknownst to anyone else.

The Inspector General’s office faulted the IRS for not adequately reviewing audit logs that could help identify questionable activity in the system. The IRS responded Monday, issuing a statement saying it has “extensive intrusion-monitoring capabilities to watch for potential breaches.”

The report follows a January study prodding the tax agency to fix dozens of information security weaknesses that left taxpayer records vulnerable to tampering or disclosure.

What irks you more — the headache of paying and filing income taxes or the news that your personal tax information could be at risk?

A Biodiesel Breakout

The biodiesel fuel blend pumped into the city of Columbia’s diesel vehicles might be spreading statewide.

A bill making its way through the Missouri legislature would require all diesel fuel sold in the state after June 2010 to be the same blend of B5 fuel (5 percent soybeans, 95 percent diesel) used in the city.

The bill cleared the state Senate March 27 and was sent to the House Transportation Committee. The bill is modeled after a law that took effect in January, which requires all of Missouri’s gasoline to be a 10 percent ethanol blend.

Proponents of the bill say a B5 blend lowers emissions, puts downward pressure on the price of diesel fuel and spurs rural economies by creating jobs and raising soybean prices. Opponents say biofuels drive up food costs.

Leon Schumacher, an MU professor who has researched biodiesel’s effect on vehicles, says the fuels leave engines in a similar state after 100,000 miles as diesel fuels do. There is also no net difference in cost for the 440,000 gallons of B5 fuel the city uses each year, said Eric Evans, the manager of city-owned vehicles.

If you had a diesel vehicle and had an alternative fuel option, what would prompt you to use it?

Home-schooled and college-bound

Homeschooling in the United States is beginning to catch the eyes of universities nationwide.

In the past decade, the number of home-schooled children has increased from an estimated 850,000 to nearly 2 million. In Missouri, the number of children schooled at home has more than doubled as well, according to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Earlier this year, Columbia held the first Post-Secondary Education Fair for home-schooled students at Woodcrest Chapel. Columbia College also hosts seminars to encourage home-schooled children to pursue a university education. Columbia College admissions counselor Kathy Monnig also serves as a home school liaison.

Monnig said colleges are more home school friendly than they were 15 years ago, and she thinks colleges and universities will make strategic plans for recruiting home-schooled students in the coming years.

Missouri neither requires parents to have a teaching certificate to educate their child nor has standards for home-schooled students to meet or required tests for them to pass. MU, which brings in around 10 home-schooled students a year, according to an admissions representative, requires a score of 24 or better on the ACT to accept home-schooled students.

What credentials should parents be required to have in order to educate their child at home?

Election Roundup

This spring’s election addressed several issues that have the potential for extensive ramifications for Columbia’s future.

Tom Rose kept his seat on the Columbia School Board, but Darin Preis lost his position. Rosie Tippin and Ines Segert were new arrivals to the board, replacing Preis and David Ballenger, who had earlier decided to step down.

The new board members will be put to work early. An additional $5 million more in benefits, supplies and employees will need trimming from the school district’s already depleted budget after a 54-cent tax levy was soundly rejected by 62 percent of voters. In a community that has usually approved school tax and bond issues, the refusal to approve the levy sent a strong statement.

Paul Sturtz unseated Almeta Crayton in a race for the First Ward’s seat on the Columbia City Council. Sturtz, co-founder of the Ragtag Cinemacafe and the True/False Film Festival, defeated the three-time incumbent with more than 60 percent of votes. Laura Nauser won an unopposed bid for a second term in the Fifth Ward.

Finally, two ballot issues to pay for sewage treatment in Columbia and Boone County were passed overwhelmingly, receiving over three-quarters approval.

For better or worse, which of the local election issues will have the most impact on Columbia in the long run?

No Longer a Sanctuary?

Missouri cities that generally have been sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants may no longer be safe havens if the state House of Representative’s omnibus immigration bill is passed.

The bill, which must undergo a final vote before being passed to the Senate, includes stripping state grants from cities with sanctuary policies, which generally allow city employees to refrain from informing the federal government of any undocumented immigrants living in the community.

Rep. Robert Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, the bill’s main sponsor, said sanctuary policies openly violate at least two sections of federal law, with which the bill seeks to comply. He said the bill could also prevent criminal behavior.

The bill would require commercial driver’s license tests to be written in English. Police would be required to verify the immigration status of those they arrest, and Highway Patrol officers would need to be trained in immigration law enforcement.

Some House Democrats fear what would happen to a city should it be investigated for having an unwritten sanctuary policy, citing difficulty to either prove or defend its existence.

This is not the first immigration legislation to hit the House, which recently passed a bill banning undocumented immigrants from attending state colleges and universities.

Should city employees in Missouri be punished for not reporting undocumented immigrants to the federal government?