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5 ideas: what people should be talking about

Sunday, July 22, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:12 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

[1]

Pet licenses

According to some estimates, about half of the city’s 92,000 residents own one or more pets. A city ordinance requires that all cats and dogs over the age of 3 months be licensed, But, in 2006, Columbia’s Animal Control Division sold only 4,800 licenses.

The licenses — $15 for one year; $5 if the animal has been neutered — can be purchased at Columbia’s Business License Office and are also available at veterinarian offices. Many pet owners, however, are unaware of the ordinance, the violation of which carries a maximum penalty of $500 and/or 30 days in jail. Molly Aust, Columbia’s senior animal control officer, says it is common to issue a court order, although a $500 penalty is extremely rare.

One problem is that veterinarians generally don’t push pet owners to buy the licenses. Tom Rose, veterinarian and chairman of the Board of Health, is trying to change that. One suggestion is to award veterinarians a percentage of the animal tax that is collected. Rose has also thought about inserting a reminder letter from the city in monthly utility bills. Such changes would have to be proposed and approved by the City Council.

What kinds of city regulations do you think are important for animal control in Columbia?

[2]

Local economy

Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, thinks the economy should be a higher priority for the city’s elected officials. Citing drops in average median income and tax receipts and rising housing prices, Stamper says Columbia’s economy needs help. Bernie Andrews, president of Regional Economic Development Inc., said plant closures and downsizing have cost Columbia about 400 jobs in the past couple of years.

But Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser thinks she and her colleagues are already addressing the issue. She acknowledges that Columbia’s economy has slowed, but objects to the notion that the council is “sitting by and hoping things will turn out better,” she said.

Stamper maintains that while jobs can be created through the council’s efforts, it’s the quality of the jobs that is important. “The keys to a strong economy are high-paying and high-quality jobs,” Stamper said. “We need competitive jobs, and right now, we are not as competitive as we need to be.”

City Manager Bill Watkins agrees with some of Stamper’s comments but thinks it’s better to focus on solutions rather than the problems.

What role, if any, do you think the City Council should play in improving Columbia’s economy?

[3]

Welfare changes

New federal requirements are forcing Missouri officials to toughen the rules for people on welfare. Currently, people who sign up for welfare start getting paid before they begin looking for a job. But a proposed change in state rules would require welfare recipients to meet with work officials before their application for benefits is approved.

As of May, more than 42,000 Missouri families were receiving cash welfare benefits, averaging $235 a month. Recipients are required to spend 30 hours a week looking for work, although only about 19 percent of Missouri welfare recipients actually do so. That needs to change, or Missouri could lose about $11 million in federal grants, and even more in the future.

But some advocacy groups worry that the new rules, if implemented as proposed, could discourage some people from completing the process and result in a higher working rate only because fewer people receive government assistance.

What else can the state do to better the chances of welfare recipients finding work?

[4]

Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling’s popular series came to an end Saturday with the release of the seventh and final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Since Rowling’s first Potter book, in 1997, the series has sold more than 325 million copies and been translated into more than 60 languages. Kids, adolescents and adults became Potter addicts, not to mention the scholars who consider themselves “Potter experts.”

“Harry’s” commercial impact doesn’t end with books. Video games and other merchandise, including an iPod, have contributed to the craze. Five movies round out the empire that has made Rowling wealthier than the Queen of England. The months leading up to the release of the final installment were full of speculation by online “spoilers” trying to predict who will live and who will die. Lawsuits were filed against some booksellers who violated an embargo against early distribution.

The series has carried with it a level of popularity uncommon to books in recent years, and scholars are already speculating whether the books will have staying power for future generations.

What role will “Harry Potter” play in literature and in the lives of future generations of readers?

[5]

Campaign finance

The Missouri Supreme Court reinstated campaign contribution limits, but it’s unclear whether politicians will be forced to return millions of dollars they have collected since the limits were lifted in January.

Gov. Matt Blunt raised nearly $1.7 million during the past quarter, outpacing the $1 million raised by Attorney General and 2008 gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon during the three-month period that ended June 30.

The court noted that when the measure was debated by the Senate, lawmakers considered — and rejected — an amendment that would have allowed unlimited contributions without a blackout period.

A Cole County circuit judge in March upheld the removal of contribution limits but tossed out the ban on fundraising during the session as a violation of free-speech rights. The judge also threw out sections forbidding certain people from running for office, but the Supreme Court restored those parts of the bill.

Blunt and Nixon each reported one $100,000 contribution — Nixon’s from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Blunt’s from the Republican Governors Association, of which he is vice chairman.

What do you think are fair restrictions on campaign fund raising?


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