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Nick’s Picks | State of the Union, Mask Mandates, Ukraine Top the Week

Busy News Week Ahead in Kansas City

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

On Tuesday President Joe Biden will deliver the State of the Union address.

Seven-foot fencing topped with razor wire has been installed around the U.S. Capitol in advance of the speech. 

The move isn’t a reaction to overseas tensions but to keep out truckers who are heading to Washington as part of the so-called “people’s convoy” that is protesting COVID restrictions.

The timing for this State of the Union is unusual. 

Traditionally, the speech before a joint session of Congress takes place in January, and sometimes in February. 

This address at the start of March has been attributed to a busy legislative calendar, the more transmissible omicron variant and the Winter Olympics, which crowded primetime broadcast schedules.

You can watch the speech live starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Kansas City PBS.

Mask Mandate End

When President Biden delivers his State of the Union speech Tuesday night before a joint session of Congress, you may notice something you haven’t seen in a while … people’s faces.

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prompted Capitol Hill to drop its mask mandate.  Some analysts say the move will allow the president to declare victory over the virus when he speaks to the nation.

Closer to home, the last remaining mask mandates in our area will finally disappear.

Prairie Village drops its mask mandate on Tuesday. 

Even the Kansas City Symphony is now making face coverings optional after imposing some of the strictest COVID rules in our metro.

One of the last local holdouts is the city of Roeland Park. Its mask mandate ends March 16. 

That’s the same week that the federal government is scheduled to end masking rules for travelers at airports and on planes.

Ukrainian Refugees

In the last week many of our public buildings in Kansas City have been lit up in blue and yellow in solidarity with Ukraine. Now some local bars and restaurants are removing Russian vodka from their shelves.

While these are symbolic gestures, Kansas City may soon be playing a more substantial role in the current conflict in Eastern Europe by helping house hundreds of Ukrainian refugees.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says there could be as many as 5 million displaced people.

In the last year, about 2,000 Afghan refugees made their way to Kansas and Missouri. In fact, Missouri took in more displaced Afghans than larger states like New York and Florida.

Kansas City resettlement agencies say they are now preparing for Ukrainian arrivals.

Sentencing for KC Cop 

A former Kansas City police officer will hear his fate this week.

Eric DeValkenaere will be sentenced Friday in the killing death of 26-year-old Connor Lamb, who was shot while backing into his garage back in 2019.

In November a judge convicted DeValkenaere of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.

The verdict marked the first time a Kansas City officer was convicted in the killing of a Black man.

DeValkenaere could face up to seven years in prison. But he will not go into custody when he is sentenced.

In an unexpected move, the judge in the case has ruled that DeValkenaere can remain free while he appeals his conviction.

Lamb’s mother called the ruling “hurtful.” 

Opening Day Deadline

Today is the deadline day to save baseball’s opening day.

If Major League Baseball can’t reach a collective bargaining agreement with its players by midnight, it will no longer be just spring training games that are being canceled, so will the start of the regular season.

The last time this happened was back in 1995.

League officials say without a deal today, teams will need to prepare for a shortened season. 

Opening day for the Kansas City Royals was set for March 31 against the newly named Cleveland Guardians.

Sporting Home Opener

While the start of the Royals season remains in doubt, nothing is holding back the start of the season over at Sporting KC.

Sporting’s first home game is this Saturday.

Kansas City takes on the Houston Dynamo at Children’s Mercy Park. 

Game time is 2:30 p.m.

Sporting Kansas City soccer field.
The pitch at Children’s Mercy Park, where Sporting KC will host the Houston Dynamo on Saturday afternoon. (Courtesy | Sporting KC)

Ford Plant Idled

The chip shortage is still wreaking havoc on our two big automotive plants.

Ford is shutting down production on the F-150 assembly line in Kansas City for the entire week.

Like every other automaker on the planet, Ford has been facing production challenges from all sorts of supply constraints, but most significantly because of a semiconductor chip shortage.

Statehouse Drama

I know most reporters this week will be fixated on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and delivering report cards on President Biden as he delivers his State of the Union address. But there are some significant stories to keep an eye on in the corridors of power where we live.

Over in Missouri, the stalemate over congressional maps enters its ninth week. Currently, Missouri is one of just six states that has failed to agree on any congressional map.

While that issue remains deadlocked, Missouri lawmakers are one step closer to asking for a revote on Medicaid expansion.

This latest measure won’t kill the expanded Medicaid program voters approved in 2020, but it would place work requirements on new enrollees. It would also give lawmakers the power to decide how many low-income Missourians can be added to the program based on how much is in the budget.

The measure has already passed the House. It will be debated in the Senate this week.

After years of inaction, Missouri lawmakers also have decided to jumpstart debate on legalizing sports betting.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled for this afternoon.

A legislative staff report says greenlighting sports betting would bring in $96 million a year in new tax revenue. If approved, that money would go towards schools, with a small share going to gambling addiction assistance programs.

Thirty-two states have already approved some form of legal sports betting. Kansas isn’t one of them.

Speaking of Kansas…

Could this be the week the state finally finds out whether it won the deal to lure a mammoth new mystery company?

After approving more than $1 billion in tax incentives for the unnamed business, Kansas officials said there’d be a decision in March. Guess what? March begins tomorrow.

Parade of Hearts

If you’ve lived here awhile, you must remember the Cow Parade. It was a massive public art project that saw local artists painting hundreds of fiberglass cows around the metro. 

Now 20 years later, get ready for the Parade of Hearts. 

Starting on Sunday, more than 150 gigantic fiberglass hearts will start popping up in public places across the city.

It’s not a late Valentine’s Day experience. Local artists have spent the last six months painting the giant hearts. They’re all unique and will depict everything from sports to the Kansas City arts scene.

If you want to make a game of tracking them all down, you can check out the map on the Parade of Hearts website.

Mardi Gras

Guess what else is happening this week? It’s Mardi Gras.

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to pack the streets of New Orleans for Fat Tuesday. 

That’s exactly what Mardi Gras means. Mardi is the French word for Tuesday, and gras means “fat.”

It comes from the custom of using all the fats in the home before Lent begins with its 40 day period of fasting and abstinence.

We don’t have a big parade and wild carnivals around here. But many local bars and restaurants will be running Mardi Gras drink specials on Tuesday.

But there’s nothing stopping you starting your own parade in your backyard, front porch or down your street. We’ve got the weather for it. 

Temperatures are going to be in the 70s on Tuesday and close to 80 degrees on Wednesday.

Nick Haines, tracks the week’s most impactful local news stories on “Kansas City Week in Review,” Friday at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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