Aviva Okeson-Haberman | KCUR

Aviva Okeson-Haberman

Missouri Politics and Government Reporter

When Aviva first got into radio reporting, she didn’t expect to ride on the back of a Harley. But she’ll do just about anything to get good nat sounds. Aviva has profiled a biker who is still riding after losing his right arm and leg in a crash more than a decade ago, talked to prisoners about delivering end-of-life care in the prison’s hospice care unit and crisscrossed Mid-Missouri interviewing caregivers about life caring for someone with autism. Her investigation into Missouri’s elder abuse hotline led to an investigation by the state’s attorney general. As KCUR’s Missouri government and state politics reporter, Aviva focuses on turning complicated policy and political jargon into driveway moments.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3 file photo

One Clay County commissioner has the authority to approve spending decisions on a controversial $20 million new county annex without public discussion. 

On Monday, the Clay County commission, on a two to one vote, gave that power to Commissioner Gene Owen. The move comes after Owen signed off on two contracts totaling more than $1.3 million in March for engineering and architectural services without a public vote or discussion. Citizens have long complained about a lack of transparency in the county, which helped launch a state audit in late 2018.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3 file photo

Missouri will be under a statewide stay-at-home order starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday, April 6, after Republican Gov. Mike Parson announced the directive Friday. The order continues through 11:59 p.m. Friday, April 24.

The order comes after the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to more than 2,100 on Friday. That’s a sharp increase since the Missouri State Medical Association called for statewide action more than a week ago and Kansas City and St. Louis business and health care leaders urged action in a letter sent to the governor on March 19. By Thursday, about 70% of Missourians were already under county or city stay-at-home orders.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

About 1.8 million Missourians are not under a stay-at-home order as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state rose to 1,834 Thursday, according to a KCUR analysis. 

Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson has so far declined to issue a statewide order, instead saying cities and counties are best equipped to make the decision for their area. Most Missourians, about 70%, are under a county or city stay-at-home order. 

File photo

A few minutes of your time and about $100 gets you certified for Missouri’s medical marijuana program. A clinic near St. Louis even offered a “Pot of Gold Legalization” discount for St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t want to leave your house? Try an online appointment, no medical records needed.

Missouri’s fledgling program, approved by voters in 2018, is under an intense amount of scrutiny — and not just by lawmakers. Physicians themselves are concerned about loopholes like telemedicine and a lack of oversight when it comes to certifying patients for pot. 

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3 file photo

Clay County violated a Missouri law on government transparency when it sought to charge The Kansas City Star more than $4,000 for records, according to a judge’s ruling. 

The case, the latest legal loss for the county, stems from a February 2019 records request from a Kansas City Star reporter who sought invoices from the county’s outside law firm, Spencer Fane. 

Joe Hatley, a Spencer Fane partner, said the invoices might contain attorney-client privileged work so the Star would have to pay about $4,200 for an attorney to review the 45 pages. 

Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash

Updated: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

Kansas City, Missouri, announced its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday afternoon.

At a news conference broadcast by KCTV-5, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said people should continue practicing social distancing.

“In some ways, we were a bit surprised by the amount of time it took to officially arrive but we certainly recognize that we are at a point now where I think folks need to even double down further … following those good hygiene practices,” Lucas said.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Shawnee Mission East High School senior Ben Blickhan was supposed to be traveling across Europe as part of a trip his school choir has been planning for a year and a half. 

Then COVID-19 happened. 

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas made national headlines Tuesday when he tried to vote in Missouri’s presidential primary but was incorrectly told by an election worker that he wasn’t in the system.

Lucas initially attempted to vote on Tuesday morning using a utility bill as his identification, which is acceptable under Missouri law. He was eventually able to vote Tuesday evening using his passport as identification. He said his experience was part of a larger issue with voting and called on Missouri to increase funding for elections and offer mail-in voting.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Former Vice President Joe Biden defeated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 60% to 34% in the Missouri Democratic presidential primary.

Both campaigns made stops in Missouri ahead of Tuesday's vote. At a rally in St. Louis, Sanders pitched himself as a more progressive candidate who would push for expanding health care to every American and pass gun control measures. Biden made the case at a rally in Kansas City that he could unite the party and bring in Republican voters.

Carolina Hidalgo / St. Louis Public Radio

With Missourians heading to the polls Tuesday for the Democratic presidential primary, the campaigns for the two front runners made a final push for voters in the Show-Me State on Monday.

Jill Biden, former vice president Joe Biden’s wife, swung by Kansas City Monday to tour the Veterans Community Project and speak to supporters at the IBEW Local Union headquarters. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, rallied supporters at a stop in St. Louis.

Former Vice President Joe Biden emphasized a message of unity and national healing in front of a crowd of thousands at the National World War I Museum and Memorial Saturday.

“This election isn't about a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. It's a battle for the soul of America,” Biden said. “Winning means uniting America, not showing more division.”

KCUR file photo / KCUR 89.3

Updated at 10 a.m. March 4 — As the race for the Democratic presidential nominee narrows, Missouri voters will weigh in on Tuesday with their preference. 

While most of the attention is focused on the heated Democratic primary, voters can choose to cast a ballot for the Republican, Libertarian, Green or Constitution party nominee. Here’s what you need to know about your vote. 

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Two top Clay County officials who make more than $100,000 a year live rent-free at county-managed properties, according to leases obtained by KCUR through a records request. 

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City’s business leaders have officially come out in favor of expanding Medicaid in Missouri. 

In a move that could put more political and financial heft behind a campaign effort, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Kansas City and Civic Council of Greater Kansas City on Tuesday announced their support for a petition drive to put Medicaid expansion on Missouri’s November ballot.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City had much to celebrate on Wednesday — not only the Chiefs' Super Bowl victory, but the fact that no one was seriously injured at its parade and rally.

“When you have hundreds of thousands of people gathered and you have two people charged with something and a minimal number of people detained for any type of investigation, that’s a good thing on the surface," said Kansas City Police Department Sgt. Jake Becchina.

Watch this video of Kansas City's daylong celebration:

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City will be a sea of red as Chiefs fans get a chance to celebrate the team’s victory with a parade and rally on Wednesday. 

Screenshot from Snickers commercial

Kansas City companies have poked fun at Willie Nelson’s trouble with the IRS and shown someone faking their own death to switch cellphone plans during Super Bowl commercials in previous years. 

Super Bowl viewership regularly tops 100 million. For prominent Kansas City companies like H&R Block and Sprint, it has proven to be a prime chance to advertise. Here’s a look back at the ads run in past Super Bowls that have Kansas City connections. 

H&R Block’s Willie Nelson commercial (2003)

A state senator from southwest Missouri wrote to his constituents on Monday saying the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in 1973 was worse than slavery. 

“What a horrible mark that is upon the history of our nation, surpassing the barbarism even of slavery,” Republican state Sen. Ed Emery wrote in a newsletter to the people living in his district around Nevada, Mo.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3 file photo

Lawmakers representing district in the Kansas City metropolitan area have introduced hundreds of bills to this year's session of the Missouri General Assembly. 

Some of the bills, like a statewide prescription drug monitoring program or banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, have been priorities for years but didn't get to the governor's desk. Other proposals, like those dealing with violent crimes, have come into focus with a climb in homicides

KCUR talked with eight local lawmakers to find out what they’re prioritizing this session.

KCUR 89.3 file photo

The Kansas City metro area, and a couple of cities just outside of it, will soon have 45 medical marijuana dispensaries. 

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued dispensary licenses Thursday, marking a major milepost since voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that legalized medical marijuana. 

Jaclyn Driscoll / St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers are at odds on how to solve the spike in gun violence and gun deaths in urban areas across the state, discussing it this week in the wake of one of Kansas City’s worst shootings in recent memory. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

While we’re glued to the news gushing daily out of Washington — impeachment, immigration, health care — the truth is we should be paying just as close attention to what local governments are up to.

Facebook/Aviva Okeson-Haberman

The Missouri Senate conservative caucus formed just last year, but its six senators are already shaping the direction of Jefferson City politics. The caucus was among the staunchest supporters of a sweeping anti-abortion bill, which is being challenged in court. They also broke with their party to oppose one of Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s key workforce development proposals (though it eventually passed). 

And the caucus could get some concessions in the 2020 session using their threat to filibuster as a bargaining chip, though it also could further the division within the Republican Party if they kill priorities like a prescription drug monitoring program. 

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

More and more young people are vaping, which has led states like Vermont and Illinois to tax vaping products. That’s unlikely to happen in Missouri. 

In 2014, Missouri lawmakers decided that vaping products and alternative nicotine products shouldn’t be taxed or regulated as tobacco products, part of a bill that banned selling vaping products to minors.

While a couple of bills introduced for this year’s session deal with vaping, none add a tax and the governor hasn’t indicated support for a tax. Illinois, meanwhile, expects to get about $15 million in 2020 due to a new 14.5% tax.

Segment 1: How to make greeting cards more diverse.

Cards are about relationships. So if none of the greeting cards on the shelf represent the person you're reaching out to, or the occasion you're celebrating, it won't feel quite right. Though recent decisions by Hallmark caused controversy, a few months ago they were making moves to make more communities feel "seen" in the greeting card aisle.

C-SPAN

The weeks of secret and public hearings in Washington, D.C., are over, the articles of impeachment have been drawn up and the U.S. House is set to vote next week on whether President Donald Trump obstructed Congress and abused power in withholding Ukrainian military aid over a sought-after investigation into a political rival. 

KCUR wanted to know how closely residents in the Kansas City metro were following what could be just the fourth impeachment in America’s history. Here’s what we found out. 

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Clay County Commission meetings are tense. There are arguments over procedural matters, like what’s even on the agenda, as well as policy matters like budgeting. There’s a lot of finger-pointing about who is to blame. 

The county itself is under a microscope, the subject of high-profile legal battles and a state audit initiated by thousands of voters. Citizens who want more of a say are showing up at commission meetings and posting updates on Facebook groups, but they don’t feel heard. And some elected county officials are open about the fact they feel they’re part of a dysfunctional system.

Everyone agrees on one thing: Something isn’t working.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

The Clay County government deliberately underfunded jail contracts for food and health care for the county’s inmates, according to Thursday’s ruling by the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals. 

The three-panel court sided with a trial court’s decision in a case where the facts were largely undisputed. Clay County is supposed to pay the sheriff’s office about $1 million, though it has the ability to appeal again.

File photo by Paul Andrews / http://paulandrewsphotography.com/

Kansas City Public Schools will not be fully accredited this year after the district’s latest performance report failed to meet the requirements. 

At the state school board’s monthly meeting Tuesday, officials at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recommended both KCPS and the Hickman Mills school district remain provisionally accredited.

File photo by Paul Andrews / http://paulandrewsphotography.com/

The Kansas City Public Schools district didn’t consistently check on chronically absent students, improperly used out of school suspension practices and didn’t effectively train employees on state attendance rules last year, according to a June 2019 internal attendance audit obtained by KCUR through a records request. 

“The widespread nature of data irregularities and questionable attendance practices demonstrates, at the very least, a lack of inconsistency in oversight by the District administration over attendance reporting,” the report found. 

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