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Five Ideas

Sunday, September 9, 2007 | 4:44 p.m. CDT; updated 10:46 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This story has been modified since it was originally posted. The installation of a solar hot water system in the new City Hall and a reflective roof on the Daniel Boone City Building and the new City Hall will cost the city of Columbia between $175,000 and $185,000. A conventional asphalt roof would cost $107,000 to $129,000.

Sex offender registration

A Missouri state representative announced last week an initiative to require sex offenders to register with law enforcement their e-mail addresses and Internet identities in the same manner that they must now register their physical address.

Internet networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are oft accused of too easily bringing predator and victim together. MySpace recently deleted the profiles of nearly 30,000 sexual predators.

“As a parent, this has been an ongoing concern of my wife and me as our daughters spend more and more time on the Internet,” said Rep. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles. Dempsey is now senator-elect in the 23rd District.

Sexual predators would receive the same punishment for using unauthorized e-mail addresses as they would for not registering their physical address. Dempsey expects debate about how to prevent sex offenders from simply opening new e-mail addresses to circumvent the requirements, should they become law. Gov. Matt Blunt has announced his support for the initiative.

Is the proposed bill a waste of resources, or is it an effective measure to protect children? Why?

Death penalty prosecutions

When Ernest Lee Johnson was convicted for the 2004 murder of three Casey’s General Store employees, his defense argued that he was mentally retarded, a claim that, if verified, would prevent a death sentence.

A Pettis County jury disagreed and recommended death for Johnson — a decision his lawyer is appealing to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Case law forbids the death sentence for mentally retarded defendants but leaves the determination up to each state. Missouri requires defendants to prove they are retarded, as opposed to placing that burden upon the prosecution.

Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff said a jury could swing either way — toward life or death — depending on the burden of proof.

Johnson’s lawyer questioned the constitutionality of Missouri’s law at a hearing before the court Wednesday. The court’s eventual response might change or reinforce the current practice of prosecution of defendants who claim to be mentally retarded.

Should the burden of proof of mental retardation rest with the prosecution or the defense? Why?

Combating graffiti

Columbia artist David Spears spent the better part of Tuesday painting a downtown traffic signal box — all with the city’s blessing.

That blessing was the result of an ongoing effort to prevent graffiti in the city, borne out of a brainstorming session in July. Spears’ art on the Ninth Street signal box is just the first test phase of that effort.

Depending on the public’s reaction to its artistic value, residents could see more government-sanctioned artwork on public property as part of the graffiti abatement program.

Columbia police Officer Tim Thomason, coordinator of the Crime-Free Program, said graffiti artists tag only blank public spaces and generally don’t cover up others’ artwork.

The idea is that less blank space equals less graffiti, though Thomason said the program is not about “success or failure per se.”

Spears said he received good feedback from passersby and hopes other artists solicit the city’s permission to paint other signal boxes.

Regardless of the program’s artistic value, will it be an effective way of combating graffiti in Columbia? Why?

Failing schools

About 200 public schools and 167 districts in Missouri were unable to meet standardized testing requirements for two years in a row, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Now the federal government isn’t pulling any punches and is demanding that the state review those failing schools. A U.S. Department of Education team documented dozens of problems in Missouri schools.

“This is really a worst-case state,” said Phyllis McClure, a Washington consultant who helps monitor states on education law.

According to federal reports, the government has reprimanded most states for problems complying with the requirements of the relatively new No Child Left Behind law.

Becky Kemna, Missouri’s new coordinator of school improvement, said some problems are a matter of difficulty for state employees to interpret the rules. Some problems were fixed before the feds even left, she said. The state must respond to the federal request for the state to review its schools by mid-September.

Is the federal government coming down too hard on Missouri, or do the state’s schools need this kind of pressure to improve? Why?

Environmentally friendly roof

The Columbia City Council voted this week to implement a handful of “green” initiatives in its new City Hall.

The planned reflective roof, solar hot-water heaters and infrastructure for solar panels was a compromise among city leaders, some of whom say the plan doesn’t go far enough toward being environmentally friendly and others who say the city is wasting money. The reflective roof and water heaters will cost the city about $175,000 to $185,000, compared to the estimated $107,000 to $129,000 a conventional asphalt roof would cost. The solar panel infrastructure only costs a couple thousand dollars, but the panels themselves are expected to be quite expensive — if they’re ever actually installed.

“This community has demonstrated that it wants to be a leader in the environment, even if it costs more,” said Mayor Darwin Hindman.

But Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said setting an example for others is no reason to spend extra money.

“To me, the leadership we need to demonstrate is in the quality of our decision making,” Wade said.

Has the City Council gone too far or not far enough? Or is this the best way to proceed? Why?


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