Clerk opposes absentee voting changes

Since mid-January, both Gov. Matt Blunt and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan have announced no-excuse absentee voting proposals. The pending legislation is intended to give all voters — not just those who are unable to get to the polls on Election Day — six weeks to cast their ballots.

Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren, who administers elections locally, doesn’t support either plan. Her reasons are simple: She thinks local governments will bear increased costs, which will be high, mailed ballots are less efficient and accurate than voting in-person and components of the federal Help America Vote Act that must be implemented by Jan. 1 are not on track.

First Steps funds pass initial vote

JEFFERSON CITY — House lawmakers overwhelmingly supported a measure Wednesday to set aside $1 million for funding the First Steps program from interest earned on state investments.

The 157-1 vote for the proposal highlighted a commitment from House Republicans and Democrats to save the program, which serves developmentally disabled children up to age 3.

Sex shop tax bill in Senate

JEFFERSON CITY — Describing Missouri as a “hotbed” for pornography, a Republican senator from Jackson County is pushing for new taxes on the industry.

But another Republican senator from the same county says the bill is less of an attempt to generate new revenue than it is a move to shut down these adult businesses.

Shields works to fix school funding

While aides for Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, scramble to complete work on a plan to fix the state’s funding formula for public schools, freshman Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, has been relegated from the role of leading man to supporting actor.

Robb has at times been the lone advocate for an overhaul of the school funding system and has pushed for a formula that replaces property taxes with a statewide income tax. Shields, meanwhile, has recommended only tweaking the formula and wants to use much of the work he completed last session as leader of a committee that wrestled with the same issue.

Costa Rican family fights to stay in U.S.

JEFFERSON CITY — Any hour, any day, immigration officials could determine the fate of the Gonzalez family, who after 14 years of living in the United States is in the thick of deportation proceedings.

The family, along with more than 150 supporters, marched to Gov. Matt Blunt’s office Wednesday afternoon to seek his support regarding their immigration status.

School practices MAP test

Teachers and administrators at John B. Lange Middle School want students to know what it feels like to take the MAP test — so they recreated the testing environment for a mock exam on Wednesday.

Athletics official to update Faculty Council

Gail Ludwig, chairwoman of the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, will update the Faculty Council today on the committee’s progress over the past six months.

Ludwig’s appointment six months ago, which was the first time the council had an official part in choosing the committee’s leadership, came during an NCAA investigation into the MU men’s basketball program.

Newcomer appointed to labor commission

Alice Bartlett of Chillicothe will replace Bill Foster as the employers’ representative to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission.

Gov. Matt Blunt said Bartlett will bring a new perspective as he and the legislature strive for changes in the workers’ compensation system.

I-70 improvements await funds

Transportation officials collected public comment at a hearing Wednesday on the environmental impact of proposed Interstate 70 improvements, moving one step closer to getting federal and state approval for the project.

Designs and construction, however, cannot begin until the project receives funding, and officials say they do not know how long this will take.

Officials say death in Jeep self-inflicted

The driver of a Jeep that crashed into a utility pole and exploded Tuesday ignited the vehicle to take her own life, fire officials said Wednesday.

“We believe that this was intentional,” Columbia fire Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said.

MBS lights the way in saving electricity

MBS Textbook Exchange is brightening its warehouse while lightening its energy consumption. Construction crews are installing new light fixtures throughout the building that will save the book supplier an estimated $60,000 per year in electricity costs.

One dies in wreck on I-70

One man was killed and his 15-year-old son was injured along with 10 other men when the pickup truck they were riding in hit a guardrail and overturned on eastbound Interstate 70 early Tuesday. At least 16 people were riding in the pickup, witnesses and the Missouri Highway Patrol said.

The passengers in the truck were described as migrant workers. Federal immigration officers detained at least three men.

Bond touts education proposal

JEFFERSON CITY — U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., visited the state Capitol on Tuesday to promote his proposed Education Begins at Home Act.

The bill would provide $400 million over three years to help states expand access to parent education and family services through early-childhood home-visitation programs. It would provide another $100 million over three years to fund both home-visitation services for families with English-language learners and for families on military bases.

Freshman programs keep students at MU

A national report says MU has the highest six-year graduation rate of Missouri’s public universities.

The Education Trust issued the report in mid-January based on data compiled from the U.S. Department of Education’s Graduate Rate Survey. The six-year mark is the standard by which the Department of Education measures graduation statistics. Many students in the United States take more than four years to earn bachelor’s degrees because of internships and work experience.

Quake flattens villages in Iran

SARBAGH, Iran — Under a cold, driving rain, survivors wailed over the bodies of the dead and dug through the ruins of mud-brick houses searching for their loved ones after a powerful earthquake flattened villages in central Iran on Tuesday, killing at least 420 people.

The toll was expected to rise because rescue teams did not have a final count from the three most isolated villages in the mountainous region. About 30,000 people were affected, many left homeless when some villages were reduced to piles of dirt and stone by the magnitude-6.4 earthquake. The number of injured was estimated at 900.

Volunteer firefighters start to train

Fifty new volunteers for the Boone County Fire Protection District began training last week to boost the department’s ranks closer to its target of 320 firefighters by the end of 2005.

To meet the goal, the department would have to complete three training programs per year with about 45 volunteers in each program, said Assistant Chief Bruce Piringer, who is in charge of training. The typical turnover rate for a department the size of Boone County is around 15 percent.

Case could carry big fallout for prosecutor

If Cole County Prosecutor Bill Tackett’s law license is temporarily suspended by the Missouri Supreme Court because Tackett resolved his brother’s speeding ticket, the judges should also oust Tackett from his public office because he would be unqualified to serve, the state attorney general’s office contends.

Tackett has said a license suspension — a possible penalty he is fighting at the Supreme Court — wouldn’t force him to give up his job as county prosecutor. He contends that assistant prosecutors could carry out his duties if his license is suspended, as a state judicial ethics panel has recommended to the court.

Media company launched

Woodruff Sweitzer announced Tuesday the launch of a strategic media buying company, True Media.

The company is an independent division of Woodruff Sweitzer that will concentrate on media purchasing, planning, placement and analysis. The business is scheduled to open March 1.

Watershed talk planned

The Bonne Femme Watershed Project is hosting an open house this evening to promote conversation between those living in the watershed and those charged with protecting it. The event will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church, just off U.S. 63 south of Columbia.

Terry Frueh, watershed conservationist for the county planning department, said the purpose is “to hear what people who live in the watershed have to say, and to hear their hopes and concerns for the watershed.

Area Briefly

The environmental impact of widening Interstate 70 will be the subject of a public hearing from 4 to 7 tonight at Knights of Columbus Hall, 2525 N. Stadium Blvd.

The hearing is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Transportation, which will display maps and information but make no formal presentation.