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Nick’s Picks | Everything You Need to Know This Week

Pandemic Recovery, Stimulus Debate and Women's History Month

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Above image credit: "Kansas City Week in Review" host Nick Haines. (John McGrath | Flatland)

With memories of sub-zero temperatures still fresh in our minds, it’s worth mentioning that it’s going to be in the 50s and 60s all week. And no rain is expected. 

So don’t be afraid to leap, jog, skip, run, bike or take the dog for an extra-long walk this week.

This first week of March is also Severe Weather Awareness Week in Kansas and Missouri.

That means you can expect ringing in your ears on Tuesday at 10 a.m. as tornado sirens will activate across the metro and the National Weather Service will send out a test tornado alert on your cell phones.

Back to the Classroom

We take another big step towards normalcy this week as the metro’s largest school district returns to regular instruction for the first time this school year.

Starting today, every student is now allowed back in Olathe schools.

Nearly every district in our metro has now announced some plan to return to classrooms by the end of the month.

Missouri Debates Pandemic Schooling

Missouri lawmakers are engaging in a marathon debate over education reform.

Up for discussion in the Missouri Senate this week is a package of measures designed to address how schools reacted to the pandemic.

One bill would reduce state funds to public schools that offer virtual classes. Another would make it easier to recall local school board members. 

There are also proposals to expand charter schools and give parents tuition vouchers to attend school outside of their local public school district.

Limiting Closure Power in Kansas

Just as pandemic related restrictions are beginning to ease, Kansas lawmakers are debating a package of measures that would make it tougher to impose future lockdowns.

This week, lawmakers will take up a bill to tighten the governor’s emergency powers.

Under the Senate measure, a governor couldn’t respond to an emergency by altering the criminal code, limiting religious gatherings, suspending gun sales or adjusting election laws. And local school boards would possess veto power over any order from the governor closing public schools or requiring instruction by means other than full-time, in-person teaching.

Also being debated this week is a bill banning Kansas employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Easing Restrictions

As we start this new week, pandemic business restrictions have now been eased in every part of our metro.  

For the first time in months, there are no longer required closing times for bars and restaurants, anywhere. And most cities and counties have done away with capacity limits. But not all. 

Bars and restaurants are still required to limit seating to 50% of their capacity in Wyandotte County and in parts of Jackson County outside of Kansas City.

Vaccine Rollout

The fairness of the vaccine rollout will continue to dominate the local headlines this week. 

A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that in Missouri only 4% of vaccines have gone to Black residents, even though African Americans make up 11.5% of the state’s population.

Local hospitals are under pressure to offer more outreach programs to target underserved populations. 

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has also been criticized for holding mass vaccination events in mostly rural areas far removed from the state’s biggest urban centers. 

While he disagrees with the criticism, he may have heard the complaints. On Wednesday, the Cerner campus in North Kansas City will be the site of a state sponsored mass vaccination event. It runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. And any Missouri side resident can sign up. 

To register: https://covidvaccine.mo.gov/events/#region_a

Flu shot
In this file photo, a nurse administers a vaccine shot. (Jacquelyn Martin | AP File)

In Kansas, you’ve had to be 80 or older if you wanted to get the vaccine, at least in Johnson County. That changes this week as the Johnson County Health Department says it will start vaccinating adults who are 65 and older, starting today.

And in another note of good news, Kansas is no longer dead last in vaccination rates. 

According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention figures, nine other states have now vaccinated fewer people as a percentage of population than Kansas, including New York. According to the latest numbers, 14% of Kansas residents have received at least one dose, just one point less than the national figure. And Kansas is a quarter-point higher than the state of Missouri.

Stimulus to Senate

Passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill will dominate work in our nation’s capital this week. 

The measure passed the House on Friday. The Senate will take up debate on the stimulus package today. There could be a final vote by Friday. 

The package currently includes cutting $1,400 checks to most Americans and a $15 minimum wage provision, but the minimum wage hike may be stripped from the bill as it makes its way through the Senate.

The relief package also includes billions of dollars in direct aid to states and local governments. 

What does that mean here? 

How about $1.6 billion in aid to the state of Kansas. Missouri would get a $2.8 billion payday. And there’s money for our local cities. 

Kansas City, Kansas, is earmarked to receive $53 million, Overland Park $18 million and Kansas City is slated to receive $181 million. 

Does that solve Mayor Lucas’s $70 million budget problem and all the cuts he’s now trying to make to balance the books?

Last Chance to Weigh in on Budget

With federal aid still up in the air, Kansas City is working on a new budget that will trim funding from almost every city service and program, and that includes the police department. 

Also on the cutting block, is Kansas City funding to the Kansas City Zoo, Starlight Theater, the American Jazz Museum, ArtsKC, the Black Archives of Mid-America and the KC Film Office.

If you have ideas about what should be cut and what should be spared the budget axe, your final chance to weigh in is this Tuesday at 10 a.m. 

You can reserve your virtual seat and speaking spot here: https://www.kcmo.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/3583/18

If you can’t attend the hearings, you can also email your feedback at publictestimony@kcmo.org. You’re asked to put “proposed budget” in the subject line.

Cash Now

Are we about to pay the price for the recent brutal cold snap in Kansas City? 

With higher gas bills on the way and Congress still figuring out the details on a possible COVID relief bill, Kansas City is now offering $14.8 million in immediate aid to those who find themselves in a desperate situation.

The New Emergency Rental Assistance Program can be used to pay rent and utilities. 

If you feel you’re out of options and can no longer keep up with the payments, go to: https://www.kcmo.gov/renthelp

Milestones

This week, a fictional superhero will be grabbing the headlines.  

Captain America turns 80 this week. 

And you thought he didn’t look a day over 30? 

Captain America made his first comic book appearance on March 1, 1941. 

Marvel is celebrating the occasion with Captain America Anniversary Tribute #1, a giant all-star anthology that hits newsstands this week.

And Women’s History Month starts today. We have 31 days to celebrate women’s contributions to our history, culture and society. 

Some may say we should be doing that year round. I agree. But when it started, women were honored for only a week. National Women’s History Week was started by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. It expanded to a month-long celebration, six years later.

Throughout the month, we’ll be spotlighting women changemakers on Kansas City PBS, starting tonight as we bring you music pioneer Dolly Parton. Watch one of the most successful performing artists of our time in “Dolly Parton & Friends: 50 Years at the Opry,” tonight at 7 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

Here’s the full schedule of Women’s History Month programming.

Day of Unplugging

And don’t forget, this Friday is National Day of Unplugging. This is supposed to be that one day of the year when we totally get away from our phones and screens for an entire 24-hour period. 

Can you do it?

And is that now harder to do than ever before, now that we rely on our gadgets to even hold a meeting? 

What about an unplugging half-day?

I tell you what, I’ll even give you credit if you can celebrate unplugging for one hour. 

Shall we try it together?

Nick Haines dissects the week’s most impactful local news stories, Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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