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

Saturday, December 15, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Speed’s a demon

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe is pushing to reduce the city’s unposted speed limit to 25 mph in an effort to make residential streets safer for pedestrians. Hoppe said she wants a policy to “address the situation comprehensively or overall rather than street by street.”

In 2002, the City Council tried to do that by modifying the subdivision ordinance to prohibit straightaways longer than 800 feet for streets designed primarily for access in small areas.

Long straightaways, city traffic engineer Richard Stone said, are typically avoided in road construction because “drivers sometimes gradually increase speeds without even noticing it,” he said. “So having curves, turns or roadway modifications” can provide visual cues to the driver to maintain a slower speed.

The 800-foot limit, however, applies only to subdivisions constructed after 2002, meaning neighborhoods built before then can be at high risk for speed violations.

Should the residential speed limit be lowered to 25 mph, or is it too low already?

Up in smoke

Columbia’s smoking ban has been blamed for favoring bars and restaurants with patios, for causing business closures and now for decreasing dining tax revenues. The dining revenue tax decreased by an average of 5 percent, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The effect of the decrease in sales tax will depend on the “magnitude of what the sales tax does for the city,” said Michael Pakko, author of the report, estimating the 5 percent decrease would equal $60,000 in lost revenue for the city.

“But that’s based on this data alone,” Pakko qualified.

The ban seems to have affected bars and restaurants the most, he said.

Pakko examined monthly sales-tax revenues for bars and restaurants in Columbia from January 2001 to July 2007. He also factored in variables, such as seasonality, an overall sales drop and a harsh winter. Pakko concluded that January 2006, when the smoking ban went into effect, marked a turning point in the data, with sales tax revenues starting a rapid decline.

Do you think more restaurants will close because of the smoking ban? Or are there other reasons?

Caseload crisis

Beginning in 2008, Missouri State Public Defender offices across the state will accept only the most serious of the cases referred to them.

Otherwise, the public defender system can afford to contract out 3,000 cases to private attorneys. After that, cases will be refused by the public defender system, and left to the courts to decide what to do.

It’s not quite the “nuclear option” — the decision to take no more cases — that the state Public Defender Commission considered, but narrowly rejected, earlier this year after a consultant described the Missouri public defender system as being in a crisis. But it comes close.

The system’s crisis was described in a 2005 report commissioned by the Missouri Bar as the 47th lowest funded state public defender system in the nation and “on the verge of collapse.”

In the last three months alone, the Boone County public defender’s office has received 1,134 new cases, 378 cases a month, or an average of 31 new cases a month or one new case a day for each lawyer, Deputy Director Cathy Kelly said.

What should be done to ease the caseload crisis for the Boone County Public Defender?

Staying awake with Adderall

Finals week came and went at MU, and no doubt many students spent more than a few late nights studying. Many students feed on Red Bull and other caffeine-loaded drinks to stay awake. Others reached for a little orange bottle instead.

Adderall, a product of Shire Pharmaceuticals, is an amphetamine-based psychostimulant used to treat people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The drug and its generic equivalents are also common, legally and illegally, among college students. Danny Collins, a recent MU graduate, recalls friends offering to get him a few pills to help him study. Collins said he never felt the need to use the drug, though it was readily available.

“It was always someone saying, ‘I’m getting Adderall from my friend. Do you want any? I can get you some for $10,’” he said. “Every finals week, lots of people I was studying with were either taking it or said they had connections to it.”

What, if anything, should MU officials do about illicit Adderall use?

Columbia out of lawsuit

Columbia Public Schools will not participate in the Committee for Educational Equality’s future appeal of the Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling on the statewide school funding lawsuit.

The school board voted to discontinue association with the committee during its Monday night meeting.

The district joined the lawsuit with the committee, along with 259 other Missouri school districts, in December 2003. The school districts sued the state, reasoning that Missouri public schools do not adequately receive state funding as required by the Missouri Constitution.

Although several board members expressed appreciation for the attention the committee has brought to school funding in Missouri, no member voted to continue the lawsuit. Board President Karla DeSpain agreed that other funding sources need to be found and urged citizens to contact their legislators.

“I am not a fan of litigation,” DeSpain said. “I would prefer to use other means of trying to accomplish those ends.”

Was opting out of the school funding lawsuit the right decision? What other funding sources should the district pursue?

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