Five ideas

What people should be talking about
Sunday, April 22, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:22 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

[1] MOHELA vote

Gov. Blunt’s plan to sell student-loan assets to fund campus construction projects gained initial passage in the Missouri Senate just after midnight on Wednesday. The bill still needs final passage in the Senate, approval in the House and Blunt’s signature to become law. The session ends in four weeks.

In its current form, the bill would punish universities for raising tuition higher than the rate of inflation, and give more authority to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. Perhaps the biggest loser, though, would be the University of Missouri System, which would forfeit some $31 million for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and another $15 million for a pharmacy building at UMKC. The cuts were prompted by concerns that the facilities would be used for stem cell research.

Those concerns also changed the essential nature of the bill, which was originally focused on funding that would bolster the state’s life sciences research. Now, most of the money will go toward agriculture projects.

How likely do you think it is that the governor’s MOHELA plan will pass?

[2] Guns and the law

The shooting deaths of 33 people at Virginia Tech and revelations about the background of the gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, have again focused attention on federal and state gun laws.

Federal law prohibits people who have been judged mentally ill or involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from buying firearms. A report issued in 2002 by the Government Accountability Office noted that fewer than .005 percent of the people who applied for gun permits in six states were denied on the basis of mental health. The same report also noted that more time should be given to state agencies to perform a more rigorous background check.

In Missouri, there are a number of legal restrictions on handguns, but few on rifles or shotguns. A permit and a criminal background check are required to purchase a handgun in Missouri, and carrying a concealed weapon is legal with a second permit.

Do you support or oppose a more rigorous permit process for purchasing and owning a firearm in Missouri?

[3] Gonzales on trial

On Thursday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales found himself facing some of his harshest critics when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans and Democrats alike criticized Gonzales for being less than honest about his role in the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel’s senior Republican, called Gonzales’ appearance a “reconfirmation hearing.”

Gonzales told the committee that “reasonable people might disagree” with the way the firings were handled. Also at stake, however, was Gonzales’ credibility. He has offered differing versions of his role in the firings, and demands for his own ouster as the nation’s top cop have increased.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, said Gonzales’ actions have “raised questions that I wish had not been raised, because when United States attorneys go into court, they have to appear before juries, and those juries have to believe that they’re there because of the merit of the case….”

To what extent is the scandal involving the firing of the U.S. Attorneys important to you and why?

[4] Surging death toll

More than 180 people were killed in explosions that rocked Baghdad on Wednesday. The explosions came two months after an American-led security plan took effect in the city.

The Baghdad security plan calls for another 28,000 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi troops. A number of the American troops, 7,000, are set to arrive in Baghdad soon.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has declared that his national security forces will take over for American forces by the end of the year.

In Washington, however, President Bush is in a face-off with Democrats who want to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq by late 2008. Bush has said he will veto any Iraq spending bill that comes across his desk if it contains such a timetable. The House and Senate have each approved war-spending bills that contain clauses pertaining to troop withdrawal by 2008.

Polls say most Americans support a plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Should President Bush listen to them? Why or why not?

[5] Abortion law

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in a 5-4 vote Wednesday. Seven years ago, the court voted 5-4 to strike down a similar state law. The difference this time: Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who sits in the seat previously held by Sandra Day O’Connor, a supporter of abortion rights.

The federal ban was enacted in 2003, but had been blocked by lower courts because it made no exception for the health of the mother. The ban will affect between 10 percent and 15 percent of abortions, and doctors could face fines and up to two years in prison for performing the procedure.

The vote is a victory for abortion opponents, who claim it represents a seismic shift in the debate. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that Congress would not have to include a health exception for women; pregnant women and their doctors can ask for exceptions in court, he said.

What does this decision mean for abortion rights in the United States?

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