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Nick’s Picks | Vaccination Free-for-All, Earnings Tax Vote and Medicaid Expansion

'The Hidden Pandemic' Premieres Thursday

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

Last week, it was the state of Kansas opening up vaccinations to everyone. This week, it’s Missouri’s turn. 

Starting Friday, it no longer matters how old you are, what you do for a living or your medical history. If you’re a Missouri resident, and you’re 16 years of age or older, you qualify.

Of course, there’s a big difference between being eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and actually snagging an appointment for the shot. 

Around here, waiting lists remain frustratingly long. And the system still favors those with smartphones, ready transportation and the luxury of being able to drop everything at a moment’s notice.

That may help explain why the COVID vaccination rate in Wyandotte County is half that of neighboring Johnson County. The reverse should be true. After all, for weeks now Wyandotte has had the loosest vaccination rules in the metro. It’s the only place where you can just show up without an appointment of any kind. But when most information about where to get the vaccine is primarily available online and you have to travel to get to a vaccination center, stubborn barriers remain to getting shots in the arms of our most impoverished fellow residents.

This week, the state of Missouri is trying to target more underserved groups as it hosts another mass vaccination event in our area.

Starting Tuesday, the grounds of the Independence Center shopping mall will be ground zero for a three-day state-sponsored vaccine event. It runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Unlike the Arrowhead Stadium event that used the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the Independence Center site will use the Pfizer shot. So you will need a follow-up booster three weeks later.

You can register online through the Vaccine Navigator.

And because we don’t want to only reward the technologically savvy, you can call to make an appointment. That number is 877-435-8411. 

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

No More Mask Mandate in Kansas

There is no more statewide mask mandate in Kansas. Late last week, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed an extension to the face covering requirement. But that has now been overturned by Republican legislative leaders. 

So what happens now?

Just because the state can no longer require you to wear a mask, individual counties can impose their own rules. And so far, where we live, Johnson and Wyandotte counties are keeping their face covering rules in place, at least for now.

But elsewhere, local elected officials are dropping the mask requirement. Shawnee County, home to the city of Topeka, is now allowing businesses and churches to opt out. And in Sedgwick County, home to the city of Wichita, commissioners have dropped the mandate entirely. 

Will more follow suit this week? It looks likely. Of the 105 counties in Kansas, 54 no longer have mask mandates in place and that number is likely to grow by the end of the week. 

And the pressure is now building on local school districts. 

On Tuesday night, the Blue Valley School Board will meet to hold a hearing on its mask requirements, after several complaints from parents. A newly passed state law requires school boards to conduct a hearing if a parent challenges a district’s COVID rules. 

Election Day on Tuesday

In the November general election, voter turnout topped 80% in some parts of our metro. How many people will show up for Tuesday’s local elections? The earnings tax is on the ballot in Kansas City and dozens of local school board and council seats will be decided.

If you live in Kansas, local election races were moved by state law to the November ballot, so you have nothing to decide on Tuesday. But you do have a major stake in the outcome. 

On the ballot is the 1% earnings tax that anyone who works in Kansas City, Missouri, has to pay, even if you just commute into the city from Lenexa, Leawood or Lee’s Summit.

While there is no formal campaign against the tax, if it’s rejected by voters on Tuesday, the earnings tax won’t just disappear overnight.

According to Missouri law, if the tax is repealed it will reduce by 0.1% every year until the tax hits zero. So that would give the city 10 years to come up with an alternative. 

Before the pandemic hit, the tax was bringing in more than $290 million a year. The money was being used to fund a broad range of basic city services, from snow and trash removal to pothole repair and codes inspection. Part of the money is also used to fund police officer and firefighter salaries.

Voter Approved Medicaid Expansion Hits Roadblock

Last year, Missouri voters approved expanding the state’s Medicaid program to provide health care coverage to about 275,000 low income residents. But are state lawmakers about to scuttle the measure by refusing to fund it? 

That’s a storyline now getting national attention.

Last week, the Missouri House voted against allocating any money to the expansion effort. This week, the debate moves to the Missouri Senate where lawmakers are considered more favorable to the voter approved measure.

Expanding Medicaid comes with a $1.6 billion price tag. But most of that is paid for by the federal government. Missouri is on the hook for about $130 million. Some lawmakers say the state can’t afford to take on that cost following a tough pandemic year. And this is not a one-off payment but a yearly commitment. 

For those keeping score, 37 other states have already approved Medicaid expansion.  Neighboring Kansas isn’t one of them. Gov Laura Kelly has proposed paying for it with revenue from legalizing medical marijuana. But that idea has been met with opposition from the Republican controlled legislature.

New Homes for Unhoused?

Amid growing concern over homelessness in Kansas City, is a fix on the way?

This week, President Joe Biden is expected to flesh out the details of a new $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

In addition to modernizing roads and bridges, the president’s proposal is slated to be heavy on what some in the White House are calling “human infrastructure,” and that includes massive new investments in affordable housing. 

More than $200 billion would go toward building, preserving and retrofitting homes for low-income Americans. 

Mayor Quinton Lucas is convinced that could mean “thousands of homes in a place like Kansas City.”

But President Biden still needs to win over Republican support in an evenly split U.S. Senate, where most legislation requires 60 votes for passage.

Kansas City All-Star Game?

Major League Baseball announced Friday that it’s moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to a new state law that changes election rules in Georgia. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says the league is now working to finalize a new host city. 

Could that new host be Kansas City?

Mayor Quinton Lucas is making a play for the nationally televised event.  Lucas has reached out to MLB officials claiming, “Kansas City respects voting rights and would welcome the return of the MLB All-Star Game.” Kansas City hosted the game in 2012.

Another compelling draw for bringing the game here is that we’re also home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary during this pandemic year.

But while local political and civic leaders are working the phones, Kansas City is considered a long-shot. Most informed sources have New York or Texas as the most likely picks.

The new Yankee Stadium has not yet hosted an All-Star Game and it’s close to MLB’s headquarters, which would make it easier to plan a massive event in a short timeframe.           .

Last year MLB used Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers, as its neutral site for the World Series. The brand new ballpark just west of Dallas is also in a part of the country that has no capacity limits on sports venues. The Rangers will have 100% attendance for their home opener later today.

According to CBS Sports, if there’s a sentimental favorite it may be Milwaukee. This year’s All Star Game will honor baseball great Hank Aaron, who died in January. Aaron played his first 12 seasons in Milwaukee and he finished his career there. 

Does that make it a more attractive choice than Kansas City? We’ll find out soon enough. The MLB Commissioner says he plans to make a decision quickly.

For me, there is another big question at play. 

Does the decision to yank the game from Atlanta show how perilous hosting a national event can be for any city in today’s highly charged political environment? 

Remember, we are spending millions of dollars preparing for the NFL draft in 2023. In fact, we’re accelerating work on the new terminal project at the airport so it can be open in time for that televised football showcase. 

But could an ill-timed local police shooting prompt a boycott of Kansas City’s big event? What about a decision by Missouri lawmakers to restrict transgender rights? Or alter election laws? Would the NFL snatch the televised draft away from us and give it to another city in a more politically safe state? 

It’s not hard to see how the events in Atlanta over the last week can ricochet in unexpected ways and cause collateral damage, even as far away as Kansas City.

NCAA Finals in KC

This week, the NCAA Finals come to Kansas City. No, I’m not talking about that college hoops event that will be played tonight between Baylor and Gonzaga. I’m referring to the NCAA National Bowling Championship.

Did you know there was such a thing?

On Friday, the “Sweet 16” of college bowling converge on Kansas City. 

Though no local teams made the cut, it’s a big enough deal that the title game Saturday night will be seen coast to coast on ESPNU.

The tournament is being played at the AMF Pro Bowl Lanes in North Kansas City.

Car Fix

Recently, I mentioned a new spat over the Kansas City Auto Show. Frustrated by local health rules and capacity limits, organizers announced they were ditching their longtime home at Bartle Hall and heading over to the other side of the state line to the Kansas Speedway.

Here’s a news flash. The entire event has now been cancelled. 

Why? 

Apparently, some of the nation’s top automakers have now chosen to sit out the entire 2021 auto show season, amid lingering COVID concerns.

If that decision leaves you sobbing uncontrollably or perhaps curled up in a fetal position on the floor, all is not lost.

If you have to get your car fix, 100 of the area’s most flashy and unique vintage cars will be on display this week at an event that is totally free.

The Kansas City Automotive Museum is bringing 100 classic vehicles to Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

You can salivate and “selfie” your way through the entire collection as part of the free public viewing. Pack up the kids, there will also be food trucks, live entertainment and children’s activities. 

‘The Hidden Pandemic’

I like to believe I work hard but some people ask, what do I do when I’m not hosting our weekly TV program, “Kansas City Week in Review?”

Clearly, they’re forgetting the eight minutes it takes for me to write this weekly column.

But we always have a lot of special programs and events we’re working on. And for the last year, I’ve been working with local filmmaker Michael Price on a documentary about the state of our mental health during this pandemic.

This week, you can see the fruits of that labor as Kansas City PBS premieres, “The Hidden Pandemic.”

We take you into people’s homes, stick our heads through the doors of doctor’s offices and medical clinics and train our camera lens on the lives of real Kansas Citians struggling to get by.

This is a very human tale that exposes the cracks in an already strained mental health system.

And immediately following the documentary, I try to answer some of the tough questions raised in the film and offer tips and workarounds to help you better access mental health care.

You can see “The Hidden Pandemic” this Thursday at 7 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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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