Drivers’ hang-up
Chatting on a cell phone while driving is such a distraction that it should be a misdemeanor, say the proponents of a bill making its way through the Missouri House of Representatives.
Under the bill, a driver caught using a cell phone would be fined $20 for the first violation and $50 the second one. Anyone talking on the phone while driving a commercial vehicle, a tractor or an emergency vehicle, or those taking an emergency call, would be exempt. If approved, the bill would take effect in July 2009.
Proponents say that talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous because it takes the driver’s mind off the road and slows his or her response time. During a House committee hearing, parents of teenagers killed in recent car crashes urged approval of the bill, which also would require public high schools to provide drivers education.
Opponents argue officials should focus their energy on increasing the penalty for driving drunk rather than creating one for using cell phones. Talking on a cell phone, some say, is no more distracting than eating, changing a CD or looking in the mirror.
What do you do when the urge to chat strikes or your cell phone rings while driving?
 Questioning selections
A national organization that opposes universities’ use of affirmative action in their selection processes is considering a November 2008 ballot initiative that would seek to prevent the University of Missouri System from using race as a factor in determining college admission. The American Civil Rights Coalition, which has challenged affirmative action practices in Florida, California and Washington, helped get a ban on racial preference at University of Michigan last year.
Group representatives said the organization has received “numerous” requests to go forward with the ballot initiative in Missouri.
UM officials said the system does consider “extenuating circumstances” such as race, disability and family history for 8 percent to 12 percent of applicants to UM campuses. The process helps UM select students who could succeed in college, even though they weren’t granted direct admission. The system must always investigate special cases, representatives said.
How do we strike a balance between the quest for diversity and equal opportunity on college campuses and a selection process that the coalition thinks gives some student applicant an unfair advantage?
 Contractor caught
About two dozen suspected illegal immigrants who were working as janitors for a state contractor have been detained by federal agents after a raid on Tuesday. Gov. Matt Blunt announced the detentions Tuesday evening, just after the raid.
The immigrants, who were employed by Sam’s Janitorial Service, were cleaning government buildings in Columbia, Jefferson City and Kansas City. Blunt immediately canceled the state’s contract with Sam’s, saying the state cannot tolerate employers who take jobs from Missouri residents by giving them to illegal immigrants.
The employer, however, faces no other sanctions. That’s not right, said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County. He said Blunt needs to pay closer attention to the factors that cause illegal immigration, and he is sponsoring a bill that would punish employers who hire illegal immigrants to do public projects by fining them $10 for each day an individual illegal immigrant is on the job.
What do you believe is the best strategy for ensuring illegal immigrants are not employed by contractors doing work for the state?
 Sowing discontent
Hundreds of chanting Missouri farmers crowded the Capitol Rotunda on Monday, demanding that politicians vote against a bill that would prevent local governments from placing restrictions on large agriculture operations.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville, would nullify local ordinances governing agricultural operations and give the state nearly sole authority to regulate farming-related activities.
It would also prohibit local governments from adopting or upholding agricultural health regulations that are stricter than state standards. Supporters of the bill say it would create a unified, environmentally friendly system for regulating agricultural operations. They note that the state and federal governments already oversee farming activities, and that local regulations simply create an additional burden on farmers.
But opponents of the bill argue local regulations are necessary to protect residents from the odor and environmental problems associated with large agricultural operations — especially animal farms. They fear the state lacks the capability to properly police all farming activities.
What’s better for Missouri, local or state control of agricultural operations?
 Downtown dream?
A consultant for the city, MU and Stephens College has outlined an ambitious plan for redeveloping the southern half of downtown Columbia. This will include replacing surface parking and nondescript one-story buildings with new developments, such as a high-rise hotel and convention center, a multimillion dollar historical society museum, an MU performing arts center, three new parking garages and mixed-use developments intended to make better use of space and encourage more people to live, shop and spend time downtown. The plan also shows an extension of Elm Street to College Avenue, a move that would wipe out a residential neighborhood.
Although the plan has a lot of enthusiastic backers, other property owners and tenants say it’s an egregious imposition on their lives and livelihoods. City officials, who already have called for a “pause” on new development in the District that might conflict with the consultant’s concept, have said they would consider the use of eminent domain as a last resort to convert the dream into reality. But that’s a long way off.
Does the goal of a modernized downtown justify the use of eminent domain? Why?