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

Saturday, April 26, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:49 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Internet safety

Columbia Public Schools hosted an Internet safety night Wednesday to talk about what parents can do to protect their children from the dangers on the Internet. The assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, James Finch, made a presentation that was followed by a panel discussion and streamed online to about 50 locations nationwide.

“The Internet works the same for everyone,” Finch said. “It works the same for people in Columbia, Mo., as it does for people in Los Angeles, Calif, the same for Chicago, Ill. and the same for New York City. It is just as important to the city of Columbia as it is to all of those other cities.”

Finch offered guidelines for talking to children about the Internet and said he wanted to enhance awareness about both available safety features and dangers online.

Panelists suggested that parents learn as much as possible about how the Web works as well as maintain an open dialogue with children about using the Internet.

During the forum, questions also covered prevention of identity theft and the prosecution of cyber bullying.

Do you feel prepared to protect your family from dangers online?

College aid expanded

State budget writers struck a deal Wednesday allowing college students whose families earn as much as $200,000 per year to receive financial-need scholarships.

Under an agreement between House and Senate budget negotiators, scholarships would go to 49,000 students, including several thousand from wealthier families. Republican supporters say even upper middle-class families have trouble paying for tuition.

Democrats who don’t support the deal argue that the state doesn’t provide the wealthier families with other public benefits such as health care. They say the money should be given directly to the education institutions.

The current law requires all students whose families can be expected to contribute $12,000 toward their college education to receive at least the minimum scholarship of $300. This includes those with an adjusted gross income up to $72,000.

Under the proposed bill, if state funding doesn’t cover all eligible students, the scholarships would be pro-rated. The state has appropriated about $72 million for the program.

If the state has a surplus of money, the program would give scholarships to wealthier families. The negotiated budget is expected to make scholarships available to another 6,500 students.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, told the group that federal guidelines add retirement savings and real estate holdings to a family’s income, which often raises the amount they’re expected to pay toward their children’s education.

“For someone making $200,000 with four kids in college, I’m not sure a scholarship opportunity for that family is inappropriate at all, particularly with the tax burden they pay,” said Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin.

Do you think financial aid should be given to wealthier students or to schools?

Development tension

Tensions between officials and developers are beginning to surface over land management in the city.

Developers have expressed frustration over lengthy public hearings and proposals, micromanagement and inconsistency on the part of the City Council.

The development community said going through the city staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission makes proposals time-consuming and costly but is not as frustrating as dealing with the council’s unpredictability. They also say the city has different standards for different proposals.

The council shares the frustration over long proceedings. One reason they’ve cited for rejecting projects is a lack of cooperation with neighborhoods.

Council members have named the 2006 Process and Procedures Stakeholders Committee report as a starting point for ideas to change the process.

The election of Paul Sturtz, representing the First Ward, could influence the council’s decisions, since Sturtz has been critical of sprawl and developments on the city’s outskirts. He has also said he will make redeveloping downtown a priority.

Are you satisfied with the way the council handles development issues?

Illegal immigration

Hundreds of union members rallied in Jefferson City on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Guy Ott, 51, member of a St. Louis-based operating engineers union, said he has worked at several places that hire illegal immigrants, and frustration occurs when employers try to save money by hiring immigrants, whom they know will accept lower pay.

Ott also said it’s important for organized labor to remind lawmakers of their contributions as organized labor. He suggested employers be responsible for keeping a record of employees who have arrived legally in the U.S.

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of bills to crack down on illegal immigration. There has been disagreement about whether employers should use a federal database to check a worker’s immigration status.

The Senate bill would not require employers to use the database, but if they are caught knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant, the business could lose its license. Businesses that unknowingly hire illegal immigrations would be required to fire the worker and begin using the database. The House has not yet debated punishment for employers.

At the rally Tuesday, Attorney General Jay Nixon, also a gubernatorial candidate, pledged to represent union interests on issues of illegal immigration.

What do you think should be the punishment if employers in Missouri are found to be hiring illegal immigrants?

Connecting to the MKT Trail

Residents of Columbia have expressed concern about a proposed path to connect South Garth Avenue to the MKT Trail. Nearby residents are concerned about the path’s aesthetics, privacy and parking.

Barbie Reid, who lives on Lathrop Road next to the proposed trail site, doesn’t like the idea of building a 10-foot wide concrete trail. However, she does support some type of trail.

“A 10-foot wide trail within a 20-foot easement seems more like a driveway than a path,” Reid said. She also is concerned that the trail will bring more traffic closer to her backyard.

The trail project is led by GetAbout Columbia, a federally funded program to encourage walking and biking in Columbia.

GetAbout Columbia’s program director, Ted Curtis, said the project is still in the initial planning stages. Federal government regulations require the trail to be at least 10 feet wide and paved with cement for wheelchair accessibility, he said.

Cement trails are more environmentally friendly than gravel, which eventually runs off into streams, Curtis said. He added that the trail will be designed to preserve strong, middle-aged trees.

Some Columbia residents choose to live near the trail because of its easy access and because of the security of being near all the activity the trail brings.

The working plan was approved by the City Council in 2006, and construction could start as early as next year.

What would be the benefits and concerns of the proposed trail?

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