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Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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Charlotte Recovery Rally 2017

I was proud to participate in the Charlotte Recovery Rally to support Recovery Communities of NC, their sister organizations, our local recovery community, and my daughter, Hillary Belk, a co-founder of the Artists Recovery Movement. Special thanks to my sister, Connie, for the continued unconditional support. 

Judicial Gerrymandering is Next

I believe strongly that judges are not representatives. They are judges. The people elect them to do a job, to hold an office. Judges do not represent a certain group or a certain area. Because we believe judges should remain independent, House Democrats have opposed efforts to make every single judicial election partisan, to shrink the size of the NC Court of Appeals, to eliminate emergency judges, and to change how we fill judicial vacancies. Now the House Leadership is taking a necessary administrative process, the allocation of judicial seats and resources, and twisting it to partisan advantage by racially gerrymandering the judicial voting map. 

We recognize that the Bell Commission, which spent years of study and consultation before creating the basis of the system we use today, happened 50 years ago and our State has changed. The Democratic Caucus supported the bipartisan creation of the Chief Justice’s Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice to study recommendations to update the system. The report is available HERE, but HB717 does not address any of the findings or include any recommendations presented by the Chief Justice’s Commission. Instead, they’ve drawn new lines designed to elect as many Republican judges as possible. 

The plan for Mecklenburg County highlights the problem. First, proposed District 25A attaches the South Charlotte ‘wedge’ of Republican voters to the more conservative outer suburbs of Matthews, Pineville, and Huntersville, despite the fact that those towns are on opposite sides of the County. The sad truth is that if linking up their Republican voters was all the leadership wanted, it would be legal under the law. Gerrymandering for partisan advantage has not yet been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
The new judicial voting districts (left) seem to 'pack' the African American population (right) into a single voting district.
However, if you dig just under the surface of the plan and study the demographic data of the proposed districts, there is evidence of racial gerrymandering, much like what the Supreme Court recognized in throwing out the 2011 legislative districts. Mecklenburg County has a Non-Hispanic White voting population of about 465,000 or 50.1% and a Black voting population of approximately 295,000 or 30.2% of the total. African Americans are vastly over represented (referred to as “‘Packing”) in proposed District 25A. Black voters would represent 46.2% of the population of the proposed district, 16% over their share of the larger Mecklenburg County voting population.

There is a case to be made that population groups make it difficult to draw districts with the exact same proportions, but these swings of over 15% (the Non-hispanic White population is 75.4% of District 25B) are evidence that GOP mapmakers have yet to learn their lesson. The courts have been stating, loud and clear, that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional, yet the majority party in the NCGA continues to make proposals to do that. 

I am starting to believe that the leadership does not expect the maps to last indefinitely. Instead, I’m afraid they expect the courts to take so long to declare them unconstitutional, that the GOP takeover of the judicial branch of our State government will already be complete. Much like the maps that were used to prop up the unconstitutional supermajority for nearly a decade now in the legislative branch, changing them has taken so long that much of the damage has already been done. Our best hope is to work hard in the 2018 election to change the math in the General Assembly.

Please stay tuned to my official Twitter (@BelkRep) feed for updates and announcements.
Ralph and his fellow Legislative Assistants, Tina, Ruth, Daphne, and Dustin at the NCSU Solar House. 

The NCSU Solar House

This past week I sent Ralph III on a field trip to the Solar House at NC State because I wanted more information about renewable energy for homes and small businesses after the passage of Competitive Energy Solutions for NC (HB589). I think the most interesting thing he learned was that the original house, complete with solar panels for electricity and hot water, passive solar building methods, and geothermal heat pump, was designed in the late 1970’s and dedicated by Governor Jim Hunt in 1981. I couldn’t believe how much of the technology has been available for the past three decades. 

The ‘garage’ that originally housed additional equipment storage has been recently renovated using modern sustainable building practices and materials, showing the advancements in the various technologies over the last 35 years, as well as the new building materials the sustainability movement has introduced to the building trades. 

Ralph was particularly impressed with the geothermal heat pump because it looked like it was no harder to install than a septic system and drainfield, and seemed to actually require less space. Their system includes a backup compressor, like a standard heat pump, which allows it to supplement the geothermal temperature difference as necessary during particularly hot days or cold nights. Similarly, the solar hot water heater includes a natural gas backup and temperature regulator, in case the sun is unable to heat the water enough. 

With HB589, residential and business energy customers now have additional financing options when it comes to installing solar panels on their rooftops. Previously, customers had to work out purchase or leasing-to-own agreements so that they would ‘own’ the panels and sell unused electricity back to the local utility. Under the new law, programs are available that install the panels for a much lower cost under an equipment lease agreement and ‘sell back’ the electricity generated to the consumer. This should open the market up by reducing the monthly cost of moving to renewable energy for the average home or business owner.

More than anything, what we learned from Ralph’s trip to the NCSU Solar House is that these technologies are mature, and in many cases, they provide cost-effective ways to reduce the care and upkeep costs for your home or business. For more information on renewable energy solutions, visit the NC Sustainable Energy Association and the EnergySage Solar Price Calculator.

The Affordable Care Act Stands … for Now

When it looked like the Graham-Cassidy effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) was gaining steam and possibly going to pass, I voiced my strong opposition. It would have gutted the ACA protections for preexisting conditions, thrown the future of Medicaid into serious doubt, and allowed insurance companies to sell ‘junk’ policies that only cover a small range of medical care or only kick in when your medical bills are in the tens of thousands of dollars. 

However, just because this particular bill did not pass, it doesn’t mean the ACA is safe from the current Administration or the leadership in Congress, who are clearly committed to their ‘Repeal & Replace’ promise. Right now, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has shortened the Open Enrollment Period for the ACA from 3.5 months to 6 weeks. The ACA budget includes millions of dollars per year to advertise ‘Open Enrollment’ and partner with local organizations to train volunteers who aid customers using the exchanges for the first time. Practically none of that money is being spent and those partnerships are being cancelled. Finally, and probably most central to the continued functioning of the ACA, there are monthly cost-sharing payments to the insurance companies that supplement the coverage they provide to the lowest income and sickest patients. Those payments are currently in doubt because they are not specifically mandated by law and it is possible the Administration could reduce them drastically or stop them all together.

We have to keep up the pressure on our Representatives and Senators in Washington. Senators Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander are currently working on bipartisan legislation that would stabilize the insurance markets by guaranteeing the cost-sharing payments, while also providing some flexibility in the plans that are available on the insurance marketplaces, especially to consumers that don’t qualify for premium cost sharing subsidies. This is the kind of bipartisan give-and-take that often produces lasting compromise and legislation that will stand the test of time. 

Please call your Congressional Representatives and Senators at (202) 224-3121 and let them know you believe healthcare is a right, and they should support the bipartisan effort to stabilize the insurance markets and keep people covered.
There's nothing quite like the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Fall.

Autumn: Season of Majesty and Mess

Peak leaf season is hitting the North Carolina mountains over the next three weeks, and it will be hitting our lawns in about six! My husband and I like to take a day trip up Highway 321 around this time of year to see our forests put on their full Fall show. We come away with enough goodwill to carry us through three months of raking and bagging leaves. The foreseeable weather forecast looks like it will be absolutely perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway, so pick your spot on this Fall Foliage Map from Appalachian State, and go see something breathtaking!

When you get home, once the goodwill batteries are fully charged, you can visit the Charlotte  Yard Waste Removal site and brush up on the rules of getting those branches & leaves carted off this Fall. 

Equifax Data Breach: Attorney General Josh Stein’s office has put up a page on their website with information about the breach and steps you can take to find out if your information was potentially stolen.     
 
Charlotte 311 is your connection to city services, including Animal Control, Street Maintenance, Bulky Trash Pick-up, Parking Enforcement, and all other non-police related matters. Dial 311 or visit their website to fill out a form and have your issue addressed as soon as possible.        
 
Don’t forget! Visit NCCash.com today to see if you have unclaimed property under the supervision of the NC Treasurer’s office.

Did You Know? You can request free mulch from the city’s yard waste recycling program! Fill out THIS FORM on the Landscape Management website to request your delivery.

My office is here to help you navigate any issues you may have with state services. Please call myself or my legislative assistant, Ralph Belk, at 919-733-5607 or email me at mary.belk@ncleg.net with any questions or concerns
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In the News

What’s happening to my children is a North Carolina tragedy
Charlotte Observer
 
Supreme Court case on gerrymandering could weaken GOP advantage
Charlotte Observer
 
Judges to NC lawmakers: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix us.’
News & Observer
 
What happened to 234 cars seized from DWI arrests, auditors want to know
News & Observer
 
As NC pollution concerns grow, so do environmental budget cuts
News & Observer

Charlotte vs. Raleigh: Which would Amazon choose?
Charlotte Observer

Mecklenburg preschool plan could cost nearly $80 million each year. Is it worth it?
Charlotte Observer

How to apply for a Charlotte Observer 2018 summer internship
Charlotte Observer

NC hospitals offer Medicaid solution
Charlotte Post

Advocates push for return of Charlotte homicide task force
Charlotte Post
 
District 88 Map
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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