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Nick’s Picks | MLK Boulevard, COVID Vaccine Incentives and KC Police Budget Fight

Your Guide to the Week Ahead

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

As you move around Kansas City this week, you may notice a big change. There’s no more Swope Parkway, Blue Parkway and Volker Boulevard.  

Over the weekend, public works crews installed 42 new street signs along that five-mile stretch of roadway. It is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Kansas City Parks Board voted unanimously for the name change back in April.

New Vaccine Incentives

To coax more Americans to get the COVID shot, a growing number of companies are offering incentives from donuts to free beer. 

Now the Kansas City Royals want to offer you a pair of free tickets.

This week, the ballclub is expected to announce the details for its new “Vaccinate at the Plate” program.

Major League Baseball is asking all of its teams to partner with a local health care provider or national pharmacy to help unvaccinated fans receive the shot.

COVID Still With Us

With fewer people now wearing masks and restaurants and bars now packed to the max, you could be forgiven for thinking that COVID has gone away.

But the Kansas City Police Department has just offered up a painful reminder that this deadly virus is still with us.

Over the weekend, one of its officers died from COVID at an area hospital. His name has not been released, but a spokesperson said the officer served with the Kansas City Police Department for 22 years and was assigned to the Patrol Bureau.

High-Profile Sentencing

Sentencing is scheduled later today for Kyle Yust, the man convicted of killing two young women in one of the area’s most notorious criminal cases. 

Yust was convicted in April of murdering 17-year-old Tara Kopetsky and 21-year-old Jessica Runions. Their abandoned bodies were discovered by a mushroom hunter in rural Cass County in 2017.

Another Hat in the Ring

This week, another big political name is expected to join the growing field of candidates wanting to be the next United States senator from Missouri.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler has scheduled a campaign announcement for this Thursday at the Frontier Justice gun store in Lee’s Summit. 

Hartzler would be the first member of Congress to enter the Republican field, which already includes Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, former Gov. Eric Greitens and St. Louis lawyer Mark McCloskey, who is best known for pointing a gun at Black Lives Matter protesters.

On the Democratic side, former Gov. Jay Nixon has been floated as a possible contender. And Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says he’s still considering a run. The seat is currently held by Roy Blunt, who’s retiring after 24 years in Washington.

Police Funding Fight

A dispute over police funding in Kansas City will continue to dominate local headlines this week. 

With the matter still playing out in court, it’s not clear if there will be any significant new developments to report. 

But there are some questions worth paying attention to: 

Will there be a citizen effort to repeal the decision to withhold $42 million from the police department budget?  

Will this be the week Gov. Mike Parson approves a special legislative session to address the matter?

A judge has already ruled that not one dime of police funding can be removed from the police department’s budget until the matter is settled. 

But the head of the police union says just the fear of staffing cuts is causing officers to consider applying for jobs with other law enforcement agencies.

Housing the Unhoused

Is the homeless housing issue about to spark new controversy in Kansas City this week? 

Several members of the City Council are upset about how much money the city is spending to house the homeless in hotels. They’ve also expressed concern about who is being helped. Local hotel operators are complaining of damaged rooms and the police report a huge spike in crime calls. 

Those issues will get a public airing this week. On Wednesday, the Housing Committee is set to take up two ordinances, including one that sets the price tag for the new “tiny homes” village now being planned as a more permanent homeless fix. A second ordinance sets aside $1.8 million to allow the homeless to stay in area hotels and motels.

Pit Bulls in Overland Park

What’s your view on pit bulls? Should they be banned? Or are we unfairly targeting a breed?

The issue will be front and center in Overland Park this week.

Fifteen years ago, Overland Park outlawed pit bulls altogether. Dogs identified as an American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier were all banned inside city limits. So were all mixed breed dogs that had characteristics similar to pit bull breeds. 

Now Overland Park is considering repealing its longtime ban. A public hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday night to hear from the public, with views on both sides. 

If approved, Overland Park will join a growing list of cities to repeal bans against pit bull breeds, including Roeland Park, Kansas (2015), Grandview, Missouri (2015), Shawnee, Kansas (2016), Kansas City, Kansas (2019), Liberty, Missouri (2019) and Prairie Village, Kansas (2020).

No Longer Last

Missouri is the only state in the nation that does not monitor drug prescriptions. That changes this week.

On Gov. Mike Parson’s official schedule today is a ceremonial signing for Senate Bill 63, which for the first time creates a statewide drug monitoring program in Missouri.

It’s been a long time coming.  It follows eight years of failed attempts in the legislature. 

When Parson inks his name to the bill it will greenlight a new system that allows doctors and pharmacists to track opioid prescriptions in an effort to prevent abuse. Right now it’s hard to track whether a patient is “pill shopping,” which involves visiting multiple doctors to obtain the same drug. It’s also difficult to track physicians who may be over-prescribing medications.

Pride Month in KC

June is Pride Month, but there is still a lot of local resistance about flying the Pride Flag as a way of honoring the gay community. In Independence, Missouri, Mayor Eileen Weir has been blocked from flying the rainbow colored flag outside of City Hall.

Not so in Kansas City. In fact, this week you may notice an unfamiliar flag flying above City Hall.  

It’s called the Progress Pride flag and it’s the first time it’s ever been flown at a government building in the state. 

In addition to the rainbow colors you may have seen before, there are five additional stripes. Black and brown for gay communities of color. And pink, light blue and white stripes, borrowed from the Transgender Pride Flag.

Many retailers have enthusiastically jumped on board Pride Month celebrations. While Target is getting lots of headlines for unveiling an expansive range of Pride Month clothing for adults and children, there’s also Pride Month beer, a rainbow inspired brew courtesy of the Servaes Brewing Co. in Shawnee. And all seven Mission Taco locations are now offering a “pride” taco.  I’m not sure what’s in it, but you can count on it being outrageously colorful. A portion of the proceeds will go to Vivent Health, a leading national HIV health care provider.

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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