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Setting the scene

Three months of hard work are coming to an end for Smithton Drama Players. “Miss Nelson is Missing,” the spring musical, premieres Thursday and continues on Friday, and Saturday at Smithton Middle School.

Pressure has mounted a little higher than normal for this year’s musical, though, as Joan Cushing, who adapted the script, lyrics and music, will make a special appearance at the performance.

Monsanto to buy seed company

ST. LOUIS — Monsanto Co. said Tuesday its fledgling holding company will buy seed-marketer NC+ Hybrids Inc. for $40 million in cash, continuing the agribusiness’ shopping spree for regional seed companies as its dominance in herbicides erodes.

St. Louis-based Monsanto said NC+ Hybrids, based in Lincoln, Neb., is the latest acquisition by its American Seeds Inc. unit, formed last year to support regional seed businesses with capital, genetics and technology investments.

Co-defendant in Heitholt killing won’t hear sentence until June

The sentencing of a 20-year-old man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in connection with the 2001 killing of Kent Heitholt was pushed back Monday to June 13.

Dressed in a black-and-white jumpsuit from the Boone County Jail, Charles Timothy Erickson sighed heavily as he waited for a brief hearing with Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton.

Boone Hospital Center makes list of nation’s top 100 hospitals

For the first time, Boone Hospital Center has been named as one of the nation’s top 100 hospitals by Modern Healthcare magazine.

Mike Shirk, president of Boone Hospital Center, shared the news Monday night at the hospital’s Board of Trustees meeting.

Missouri killer’s case goes to high court

WASHINGTON — Shackled with leg irons and a belly chain, Carman L. Deck was sentenced to death by a Hillsboro jury in 2003. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether Deck’s shackling violated his right to a fair trial.

Missouri transportation commission to expand

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt’s plan to expand the Highways and Transportation Commission won easy initial approval in the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill would expand the commission from six to eight members. The two new members would represent air and mass transit, and river and freight transportation.

SMSU greets name-change progress

Two hours after passage of the Southwest Missouri State University name change in the state House Tuesday, SMSU President John Keiser said he did not want to duplicate the professional programs of the University of Missouri System.

“We don’t want any of those things, which is why we agreed to have them written in the bill,” he said. “It would cost too much, given our priorities and the state’s priorities.”

NCAA satisfied with MU academics

The NCAA unveiled its new system to measure academic progress Monday, with MU making the grade in a trial run.

The Academic Performance Rate is designed to grade athletic departments based on athletes’ continued eligibility. As early as next year, teams that don’t meet academic-performance standards could receive punishments ranging from the loss of scholarships to ineligibility.

Software watches trends in 911 calls

New software that analyzes 911 calls could help the Columbia/Boone County Health Department detect outbreaks of the flu or warn the department about a bioterrorist attack.

Forum looks at federal school policies

Candidates for the Columbia Board of Education discussed several issues relating to the No Child Left Behind Act at a forum Monday at Hickman High School.

The Columbia Council Parent Teacher Association and the Columbia Community Teachers Association sponsored the event, asking each candidate to respond to seven questions. Three of the questions centered on No Child Left Behind, the federal education policy that sets yearly performance standards for students nationwide.

Looking for laughs

Comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory mixed social commentary and humor at a speech Monday night as part of MU’s Black History Month celebration.

“I never expected white folks to give us a whole month,” he said to a crowd of more than 150 people.

Study: Seat belt law would save lives

More than 10,000 deaths and injuries could be prevented over three years if a proposed seat belt law is put into effect.

That is the contention of researcher Lilliard Richardson, whose study for MU’s Truman School for Public Affairs found that stricter seat belt laws could reduce the rate of traffic fatalities by 5.9 percent and traffic injuries by 4.9 percent, affecting 3,400 people per year in Missouri. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that stricter laws could save Missourians up to $133 million per year in medical, legal, rehabilitation and workplace costs.

SMSU name change ripe for House vote

JEFFERSON CITY — House lawmakers are poised to vote on a bill renaming Southwest Missouri State University.

A vote on the measure, which would dub the school Missouri State University, could come today when the time scheduled for debate is set to expire.

Step by Step

Gov. Matt Blunt wants to curb the increasing costs of the First Steps program by placing its financial responsibility into the hands of private insurance providers, he said during a visit to Columbia and three other Missouri cities on Monday.

First Steps provides in-home therapy and services to children younger than 3 who have developmental disabilities. The program could lose much of its state funding to Medicaid and budget cuts that Blunt has proposed.

Home for more than 300 with disabilities faces closure

JEFFERSON CITY — Protest signs created a backdrop Monday for those who oppose the impending closure of Bellefontaine Habilitation Center.

Bellefontaine, home to more than 300 mentally and physically disabled citizens, is located in St. Louis. It would be closed by Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed budget cuts.

Immigration policy a sensitive subject

Need a fast conversation starter? Try the word “immigration.” Before you know it, you’ll be buried under an avalanche of words. This is a subject on which everyone seems to have an opinion. For a long time, most people seemed to be for it. These days, some are still for it, but...

I was visiting with a group last week that was discussing the mass immigration that had taken place in the last few years.

Fund raises more than $107,000 since Bowden shooting

More than $107,000 has been raised and donated to the Officer Down Fund in the wake of the shooting of Columbia police Officer Molly Bowden.

The fund was organized within days of the shooting “in response to public questions of ‘What can we do to help?’” said Columbia attorney Dan Atwill, treasurer of the Columbia Police Foundation.

Film festival big business for downtown

The True/False Film Festival proved to be an economic boon for some downtown businesses. Sales increased to as much as double their averages at certain locations.

“Saturday we did what was normal for about two days, at least, and we had two more people working” said Ali Brown of Main Squeeze. “Every time a movie lets out, there’s a line out the door.” Brown expected Sunday to be about the same.

Praying for the pope

On the first Sunday in 26 years that the pope has failed to bestow his traditional weekly blessing, members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish remembered him in their prayers.

The congregation of hundreds sang in a soft melody, “Oh Lord, hear our prayer,” in response to a request “for those who exercise authority in the church and the sick, especially Pope John Paul II.”

Harvard speech sparks gender debate in sciences

Think about how your life would change if you woke up tomorrow as a member of the opposite sex.

Virginia Peterson, an associate biochemistry professor at MU, does this exercise in diversity with students. It’s meant to get people thinking and talking about how gender shapes our world.

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