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City Council extends mask mandate 60 days
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The St. Joseph City Council voted to extend the mask mandate 60 days during their meeting Monday, as it was set to expire this weekend.

The initial resolution, sponsored by St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray, proposed a 120-day extension, which was recommended by health experts at Mosaic.

During the meeting, Dr. Davin Turner, Mosaic’s chief medical officer, said the 120 days would allow the city to vaccinate more people. The extension would also be in place through the end of the flu season and possible super spreader holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day and Memorial weekend.

However, some on the council only wanted to extend it 30 days. Councilman P.J. Kovac requested a motion for a month, but it failed to pass with a 5 to 4 vote.

The council ultimately voted 7-2 for the 60-day extension, with councilmen Gary Roach and Madison Davis voting against it.

“We’re not quite out of the woods yet,” McMurray said. “We don’t want to get too lax here. So I think 60 days is a good compromise. I asked for 120, and some of the council wanted 30. When I talked to a few of them privately, they wanted zero. So we ended up kind of in between zero and 120, we ended up at 60. I thought well, alright, that’s a good compromise. We’re going live with that.”

The council mentioned the declining number in COVID-19 cases and the low hospitalizations — currently about 20 people in the Mosaic system — as the reason the mandate should be extended. But those statistics are promising enough to keep the extension short and continue to monitor the situation.

“We just just have to be careful,” McMurray said. “I mean, 60 days? All right, I’ll go with the consensus of the group, and let’s go do 60 days. If things get a lot better, we can do even fewer days than 60. If things get worse, if some of these variants show up here, and we have a spike in cases, we may have to strengthen that 60, to 90 or more.”

Other notable bills and resolutions that passed:

In-person meetings

The city council voted 5-4 to return to in-person meetings in the council chambers. This will go into effect immediately, meaning the next city council meeting Feb. 22 will be in person. The city is working on ways for residents to participate, who wish to stay home.

Additional funds for CAP

The council voted unanimously, with McMurray abstaining, to provide an additional $45,000 to Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph for a housing project on 21st Street.

Application for loans

The council voted unanimously to submit an application for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Program through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. This will be for the Biogas Optimization and Capital Reinvestment Project at the water treatment plant by Schneider Electric.

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Victim advocates play key role in human trafficking operation
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Six victims and two children were rescued as a result of a human trafficking operation conducted at Bucky’s and Love’s Travel Stop on Friday night.

Christi Miller, president of Break Every Chain, a human trafficking awareness organization, assisted law enforcement during the operation and discussed how they worked to help victims who were rescued.

“What was different about this operation was we were able to have a mobile medical unit that came in from Joplin,” Miller said. “There were nurses on-site as the victims came in, they were able to get medical attention.”

Along with multiple law enforcement agencies, numerous victim advocate organizations took part in the operation including the YWCA and Sisters of Solace, according to Miller.

“We’ve never had that many victim advocates working together to make sure they had the resources they needed when they walked out the door,” Miller said.

The victim advocates gave bags of clothes and gift cards to the victims to help during the stressful time. Miller said this is also helps victims know they are cared for.

“One of the victims said, ‘Can you please go back and tell that officer that I felt like she really cared about me?’ And that’s huge because so many times they’re taught that law enforcement is the bad guy, or that they’re just out there to arrest them and get them in trouble and I think victims were able to see people really cared,” Miller said.

Miller said victims of human trafficking can be anyone, anywhere.

“Many people think human trafficking is the moving of people from place to place and they think it’s just passing through here, or anywhere, not just here. It’s everywhere,” Miller said. “These victims live here, they go to school here. They shop at Target and Walmart, just like the rest of us, we see them. They’re there in plain sight.”

For anyone interested in helping prevent human trafficking, Miller said it isn’t always a necessity to join organizations.

“The easiest simplest way to prevent human trafficking is to care about the kid that lives next door to you,” Miller said. “If you’re a caring adult that they can come to when they get approached, or they get stuck in a place like this. They have someone, not every kid has a caring adult in their life. And so just being that caring adult is huge.”

Miller went on to say that the operation was not only a win for victim advocates and law enforcement with helping victims but for making arrests as well.

“We got to stop the buyers and you got to stop the one promoting it. And then for the females or the males that are the victims, we need long term care,” Miller said. “It’s such a huge win for us and such a message to somebody when they have to go behind bars because they think they’re invincible and they’re not.”

According to a probable cause statement, Derek Deal was charged with promoting prostitution after transporting a victim to an agreed location at 4601 South Leonard Street on Feb. 5.

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Republican senators stymied as Democrats push new stimulus
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Republican senators from Kansas and Missouri have introduced legislation in the new Congress, but Democrats, who control both chambers, are singularly focused on passing a new stimulus package and holding an impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., introduced a budget resolution amendment that essentially would require schools to reopen for in-person instruction once all teachers are vaccinated. Blunt’s amendment failed in a 50-50 party line vote, with no Democrats defecting to the Republican side.

“The evidence is clear: school closures are hurting students,” Blunt said in a news release. “Unfortunately, despite President Biden’s pledge to reopen schools within his first 100 days, the administration is bending to the will of politically connected teachers unions.”

Functionally, Blunt’s amendment would’ve prevented COVID-19 emergency funds from being spent on K-12 schools that don’t reopen after all their teachers have received the vaccine.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., introduced legislation that would require high school athletes to compete against their biological sex. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, comes in response to an executive order by President Joe Biden that seeks to clarify the administration’s position that students can’t be discriminated against because they’re transgender.

“As a doctor and a former coach, I find it un-American to allow biological boys to compete against biological girls when it comes to athletics,” Marshall said in a news release. “Letting biological boys compete in biological girls’ high school and college sports is not equal, it doesn’t level the playing field, and it’s certainly not fair. I want every person, regardless of sex, to have access to opportunity, but this move by the Biden Administration shows no common sense and will bring about the destruction of women’s sports.”

In Biden’s executive order, he cited a recent United States Supreme Court case where it was found the word “sex” includes sexual identity and not just biological sex. Marshall counters that the court’s order was a narrow one, and that the issue hasn’t been decided in relation to Title IX and high school athletics.

“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” part of the order reads.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., is part of a 10-member group of Republican senators hoping to negotiate a new stimulus package with the White House. The group met with Biden on Feb. 1. Both sides remain far apart, with Biden refusing to budge on the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” and the senators not tweaking their roughly one-third size proposal.

Under the White House plan, some Americans would receive $1,400 stimulus checks, though the exact income level for when those checks would begin to phase out is still under debate.

“A lot of folks are losing hope,” Biden said in a speech at the White House Friday. “I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help, to do our job, to not let them down. So I’m going to act. I’m going to act fast. I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans ... they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”

Democrats forced through a budget measure on their own last week, without any Republican support, effectively passing the vehicle in which their plan can pass the Senate by a simple majority vote, avoiding a filibuster. Vice President Kamala Harris has the right to break any ties in the equally divided chamber.

On Tuesday, the Senate will convene for the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, who was impeached by the House for inciting the riot at the Capitol earlier this year.

The Associated Press

contributed to this report.