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

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. 

Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

Updated Nov. 25 at 5 p.m. with additional data— Missouri’s reporting system for adult abuse and neglect is undergoing significant changes after an investigation by the state’s attorney general. 

The investigation ended Monday, Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office told KCUR. It recommended seven changes, including a new online reporting system in order to address the thousands of unanswered calls to the state’s hotline, as well as redirecting callers who are simply looking for information about local resources — not calling to report abuse. 

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3 file photo

Seven Kansas City Public School district employees falsified student attendance records for three years from 2013 to 2016, according to a summary of an external investigation made public by the district.

The issue was most prominent in the 2015-2016 school year, boosting attendance data which resulted in additional state funding.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Updated at Nov. 19 with funding lost — The Clay County Sheriff’s Office did lose more than $280,000 in federal funding this week, because the county didn’t submit a required audit by the Nov. 15 deadline.

The Kansas City Police Department administers the funds. It will send a letter Tuesday notifying Clay County of the grant funding being pulled, according to KCPD spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina.

Clay County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Steve Siercks said there’s enough money to keep the five grant-funded positions going until the end of December, but the office will have to ask the Clay County Commission to make up for the lost funding.

Illustration by Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

In the spring of 1989, Missouri lawmakers were motivated to figure out how climate change would affect the state’s economy, political future and social capital. 

A year after California started looking into climate change, the Missouri General Assembly created a commission of 14 experts and politicians to study the issue and come up with solutions. The result was more than 100 policy suggestions, covering everything from the use of solar and wind energy to transportation and teaching about climate change.

Three decades later, experts say Missouri hasn’t achieved its goals. 

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Clay County’s issues are starting to come to a head, as this week alone the Missouri state auditor issued a subpoena for documents in an ongoing audit, the county commission continued to defend underfunding jail contracts in court and talked about what it would take to change the county’s governance structure.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Tuesday’s election includes races for two Kansas City-area Missouri House seats that were vacated earlier this year. 

The 22nd  District House seat came open after Democratic Rep. Brandon Ellington resigned to serve on the city council, while the 36th District House seat is open because Democratic Rep. DaRon McGee stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations.

KCUR interviewed candidates for both seats. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Rachel Shriver is set to graduate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City next year but she’s already thinking about how her two kids are going to pay for college a decade from now. 

She’s had a tough path to this point: She had her first kid when she was young and most of her family never made it to college. “I'm just hoping to have a better life with my kids … that’s the whole reason I’m in school,” Shriver said.

Segment 1: The host of The Splendid Table stops by on a Kansas City visit.

Francis Lam is the son of immigrants, the father of a toddler, and a rising star in the food world. Hear his take on how something as simple as food ties into complex, multi-layered personal stories, in his life and in our culture.

  • Francis Lam, host, The Splendid Table

Segment 2: Bob Dylan may not be forever young, but a lot of his fans are.

Segment 1: A famous crossword puzzle creator makes Kansas City his home.

David Steinberg has been making crossword puzzles since he was 12, and getting them published in the New York Times since he was 14. He's just moved to Kansas City. In this conversation, he talks about sleeping on Will Shortz's couch, and other career milestones.

The Jackson County Detention Center has been a contentious topic in city and county politics, with a lot of the public debate focused on questions of funding and space. But conditions for inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial, continue to be concerning for those who know the facility. This show originally aired in July, 2019. 

Segment 1: How a fractured school system contributes to problems with transportation.

Kansas City, Missouri, public school kids travel to school on dated buses that crisscross the city inefficiently. That cuts into school budgets, as well as time spent in class and on extra-curriculars. Big thinkers are taking on the issue and envisioning new models for getting kids to and from school.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Missouri's methods of reimbursing community providers who care for people with developmental disabilities are complex, confusing and conflict with federal Medicaid rules. That’s because providers are reimbursed at vastly different rates for the same level of care.

It’s a situation that’s also leading to low pay for the providers’ workers and exacerbating the state’s already high turnover. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services put the state on a five-year corrective action plan earlier this year. So to address the issue, the Division of Developmental Disabilities will request $58.1 million from Missouri lawmakers next year on top of the $20 million extra it received this year. Many providers say it’s long overdue.

Missouri Department of Corrections

Missouri executed its first prisoner since 2017 on Tuesday night. Despite the man’s rare medical condition, no complications were reported. 

 Segment 1: Fresh cocktails for a new season.
As summer winds down, two mixologists join us to share their favorite autumnal cocktails.

  • Brock Schulte, bar director at The Monarch Bar
  • Jill Cockson, owner of Swordfish Tom's

Segment 2: The best Italian food in Kansas City.
Our food critics recommend their favorite Italian dishes across the city, from classics like spaghetti and meatballs, to experimental plates of carrot pesto or bone marrow.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3 file photo

In a scathing letter to Facebook this week, Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, along with three of his Republican colleagues, renewed his criticism of the social media giant, saying the company censors conservative voices.

It’s Hawley’s latest call for more government scrutiny and regulation of tech companies stemming from concerns like data privacy, internet addiction and censorship. 

Segment 1: Making 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. Hallmark's trying to make more communities feel "seen" in the greeting card aisle.

  • Monic Houpe, product director, Hallmark
  • Christy Moreno, editorial director, Hallmark

Segment 2: Why Kansas and Missouri astronomers are fighting to save dark skies.

Segment 1: The Gay Softball World Series comes to Kansas City.

As the Gay Softball World Series gets under way here in town, the Kansas City Royals host their first ever official Pide Night at the K. 

  • Scott Switzer, Executive Director, Gay Softball World Series 2019
  • Rick Leavitt, founder of a gay softball team and league in Florida 25 years ago, now a Kansas Citian

Segment 2: First Friday has lost its festival license. Now what?

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

A Kansas City businessman will buy the Royals, the Major League Baseball team announced Friday.

John Sherman, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, is leading a group of local investors to buy the club from David Glass, 83, who has owned the Royals since 2000. 

Segment 1: The way we remember Emmett Till is still rooted in race and geography.

A KU professor who thought he knew the Emmett Till story was shocked by what he learned when he traveled to the Mississippi Delta for himself. That sent him on a journey to try to sort through the tangled threads of this haunting history. 

Segment 2: Men and boys in ballet speak out.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3 file photo

A cattle slaughterhouse and feedlot near Powell Gardens says it has closed instead of keeping up a drawn-out legal battle over its planned expansion.

Segment 1: A thirteen year old with limb difference writes a book with her mom.

Jordan Reeves was born without the bottom half of one arm, and she's spent the thirteen years since then proving that she can do anything, "except monkey bars." She invented a prosthetic limb that shoots glitter and looks like a unicorn's horn and she's founded a nonprofit. Now she and her mom are out with a new book.

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