Newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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Happy 4th of July from the banks of the New River!

I Say #NixAllSix Amendments this Fall

When I first ran for office, my campaign didn’t start out with many resources, so we had to knock on doors and call people to introduce me to the voters of the 88th District. It was hard work, and it definitely helped my campaign, but the most rewarding thing was hearing that voters agreed with my message of finding common sense bipartisan solutions to the problems that confront our state. 

Whether it was Medicaid expansion or education funding, people saw that when one side of the aisle gets to make decisions without compromise, ideology trumps common sense and problems multiply in place of solutions. I’m joining the #NixAllSix campaign, because these NC constitutional amendments are just more of the same one sided governing tactics that continue to hold North Carolina back.  

Appointment Power to All Boards & Commissions (HB913)

Ballot Language: [ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST 
Constitutional amendment to establish a bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to administer ethics and election laws, to clarify the appointment authority of the Legislative and the Judicial Branches, and to prohibit legislators from serving on boards and commissions exercising executive or judicial authority."

I’m against this bill because it is the clearest and most blatant attempt of the supermajority to cement the power they won with maps that were ruled unconstitutional at both the State and Federal levels. The ballot language seems limited, but the actual bill states:

The legislative powers of the State government shall control the powers, duties, responsibilities, appointments, and terms of office of any board or commission prescribed by general law. 

This bill would give ALL power of appointment to Boards and Commissions of our state to the majority leaders of the House and Senate. These powers are currently shared by the voters (in the case of the State School Board), the Governor, the Supreme Court, and the Legislature, depending on the particular Board or Commission. 

Separation of Powers is written into our State and National constitutions because absolute power corrupts absolutely. This amendment flies in the face of one of our greatest political achievements as a nation. I cannot, in good conscience, support it. 

On a more practical level, in 2016, the voters of North Carolina cast more votes for Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President. At the same time they returned Republican supermajorities to the NC House and Senate, they elected a Democratic majority to the NC Supreme Court. This is all to say that our state is clearly home to many and diverse views, and awarding absolute power to the group that can gerrymander themselves the best legislative majority doesn’t seem like the type of system we should choose. 

Legislative ‘Merit’ Selection for Judicial Vacancies (SB814)

Ballot Language:
[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST 
Constitutional amendment to implement a nonpartisan merit-based system that relies on professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating Justices and judges to be selected to fill vacancies that occur between judicial elections."

If the attempt to steal the appointment powers of Boards and Commissions is the most blatant power grab by the supermajority, this must be the most cynical. The ballot language talks about a process ‘that relies on professional qualifications instead of political influence,’ but it sets up the exact opposite type of system. It’s just another attempt to increase the supermajority’s power. 

First off, calling this system ‘Merit Selection’ is nearly farcical. The commission it sets up would only rate lawyers either ‘qualified’ or ‘unqualified’ to be a judge. They would not be compared to each other, and any ’scoring’ used to determine the ‘qualified’ rating would be secret. Then, the majority leaders of the House & Senate would choose 2 nominees from the large pool of ‘qualified’ candidates. They send those two names to the Governor, and he must select one within 10 days, or the legislature can install the judge on their own. Sounds like the only ‘merit’ they’ll need is the ‘political influence’ of the House and Senate Majority Leaders. Funny that.

More seriously, the amendment specifically avoids mentioning what type of judicial vacancies are eligible to be filled by this process. When Democrats offered a change that would limit the system to deaths and retirements of existing judges, it was rejected. That tells me this system is being set up to appoint judges to new seats that could be created on the Appeals and Supreme Courts of NC after the 2018 election. The legislature has the power to create new seats by law and this amendment would give them the power to stock those seats with judges friendly to the supermajority.

Voter ID (HB1092)

Ballot Language:
[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST 
Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person."

I went over the central reason I oppose Voter ID laws in my last newsletter, namely that statistics and the brief experience of using Voter ID in the 2016 primary election in NC show that tens of thousands of people will be prevented from voting because they lack the proper identification. The issue that Voter ID seeks to address, in person voter fraud, occurs very rarely, so we are taking away a fundamental right from thousands of people for practically no gain (unless, of course, those voters tend to support your political opponents). 

The actual bill that was passed says nothing about the types of ID that will be required (other than ‘photo’), the exceptions that may be granted, the state’s obligation to provide IDs to people who cannot afford them, or anything at all about implementation. All of those details will be provided AFTER the election. Given the current leadership’s record of ‘targeting African American voters with surgical precision’ in passing previous Voter ID laws, I cannot expect the outcome of this amendment to be any different if it passes.
Last Wednesday was a big night with the Airport's new terminal open house and the Democratic Women debating the RNC invitation.
Income Tax Cap (SB75)

Ballot Language:
[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST 
Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).

Last time I talked to you about this amendment, the number being proposed for the limit was 5.5%. I think the fact that they needed to debate the number among Republicans before it could be passed with only Republican votes illustrates my previous point perfectly. The specific tax rate is a policy decision that must be debated based on current conditions in any given year. Locking yourself into any given rate or range simply restricts the government’s ability to respond to extraordinary circumstances. 

The government provides services, infrastructure, and support to our state in proportion to the current need and the willingness of taxpayers to support providing those goods. We elect leaders to represent our views on these important and vital topics, and we should always have the option of deciding the current leaders and answers aren’t working.

Right to Hunt and Fish (SB677)

Ballot Language:
[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST 
Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife."   

North Carolina has a history and culture of hunting and fishing that predates our ancestors arrival on the shores of this continent. In all of my years as a political activist and now a state representative, I have never heard any serious suggestion that we should ban hunting or fishing, outside of common sense limitations like ‘no hunting in the city limits,’ ‘no hunting on other people's’ property,’ and ‘don’t hunt animals in the season they’re raising their young’ to promote public safety, protect property rights, and maintain the populations of animals. The language of the underlying bill would leave all of these geographic and seasonal limitations in place, including in our coastal waters.

In fact, most of the conversations I’ve heard lately around hunting and fishing lament the fact that fewer people are buying hunting and fishing licenses. Traditionally, North Carolina has been able to use those funds to promote environmental protection and the upkeep of our state forests and parks (and the amendment would leave license and take limits in place). The hunters and fishers in our state have a vested interest in keeping the fields, forests, and lakes of our state clean and full of wildlife. Why would we want to stop that?

All of this is to say, what does this amendment change about the laws, culture, or constitution of our state? I personally believe that the founding documents of our country and our state should only be altered when we see a pressing need that is not currently addressed by our system of government. This amendment seems to be a solution in search of a problem, and that doesn’t cross the bar to change North Carolina’s founding document.

Victim’s Rights (HB551)

Ballot Language:
[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST 
Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for victims; and to ensure the enforcement of these rights."

Here again, I find no disagreement with the basic premise of the amendment, that the victims of crimes have rights, and they should be respected by our justice system. In fact, I remember voting for a NC Victim’s Bill of Rights in 1996, when it was approved by voters and added to our constitution as Article 1, Section 37. It is a great idea, and I’m bit unsure why the current suggested amendment is needed, given that it does very little to change the underlying language of the existing section. 

The biggest change the amendment makes, allowing the rights of the victim to be exercised by their next of kin, is laudable, but it’s a change that could have easily been passed by near-unanimous votes in the NC House and Senate at any time and achieved the exact same outcome. 

Once again, we must ask ourselves, ‘What problem does this solve that cannot be otherwise solved by an act of the legislature?’ The answers seem pretty slim on this amendment.

Vote ‘YES’ for Affordable Housing Bonds

This Fall, voters in Charlotte will have the opportunity to make a new and meaningful investment in affordable housing when we vote on a $50 Million addition to our Housing Trust Fund, instead of the usual $15 MIllion that voters have approved every two years since it began. I encourage everyone who reads this to vote in favor of these bonds, and tell your friends and neighbors to do the same. 

Average rents in Charlotte have gone from $842 to $1,142 over the past five years as our economy has recovered from the Great Recession. However, incomes, especially those at the lower and middle of the pay scales, have not even kept up with inflation over that same time. This has led us to a place where many of the people who work in Charlotte can no longer afford to live in the city. 

Getting people into stable housing that provides ready access to transportation and reasonable commute times to work sets up a virtuous cycle that can chip away at some of our most intractable problems. Families that aren’t worried about having a roof over their heads can devote more time to finding employment opportunities for parents. Parents who spend less time traveling to work can spend more time providing educational support to their children. Children with parents who can support their educational achievement have been shown to succeed at higher rates in school and in the job market later.

We can all be a part of making this virtuous cycle a reality for more families in our community by voting ‘YES’ on affordable housing bonds this November.
My son, Ralph, sent me this picture from his neighborhood park in Durham. 

Your Neighborhood, Our City

Do you live in a neighborhood with an active community organization? These groups do an amazing job of connecting neighbors and giving them the opportunity to band together and represent the needs of their local community. Not to be confused with Homeowners Associations (though some may double as such), these groups organize events like the National Night Out and your favorite semi-annual block party. 

You can find a list of all the currently active Neighborhood Organizations here.

Domestic Violence Hotline: If you or someone you know is trapped in a domestic violence or partner abuse situation, please call Safe Alliance at 704-332-2513 and they can help you.

Mecklenburg Compost & Mulch are now available for purchase from the new Compost Central Recycling Disposal Center. Visit their web page for details and pricing.

Property Tax values and histories in Mecklenburg County can be searched on this site that includes links to Polaris and information about the reassessments that occurred in 2011. You can find more detailed information on real estate values on the Mecklenburg Modria site. 

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.    

Voter Information: You can find your current information on the NC Voter Lookup page. You can also find interactive versions of the new House & Senate maps HERE.   
Don’t forget! Visit today to see if you have unclaimed property under the supervision of the NC Treasurer’s office.

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 with any questions or concerns

In the News

Amendment seeks to alter balance of power
Elizabeth City Daily Advance

Republican leader says voter ID has 'zero' effect on turnout; Fact Check Ruling:  Mostly False
The News & Observer
NC lawmakers push for prominent role in selecting judges who rule on their laws
The News & Observer

NC lawmakers want voters to decide some things, but not funding for school buildings
The News & Observer
Gov. Cooper: 'The I-77 contract is a bad contract'
Charlotte Business Journal

Thwarted before, North Carolina GOP wants photo ID mandate
Associated Press

Democrats' efforts to revise voter ID proposal rejected
The News & Observer
Post-Parkland bills to increase NC school psychologists appear stalled for this session
Marsy's Law would expand court notice requirements for victims
Previously undisclosed fiscal note says victims’ rights constitutional amendment could cost state millions
NC Policy Watch
January’s cold snap could spell 8.4% rate increase for Duke Energy Progress
Charlotte Business Journal
Poor education, quality of life grades drive NC down in CNBC business survey
WRAL TechWire
Cooper unhappy constitution amendments on ballot, not bonds
Associated Press
Legislators bring back the pork – spending taxpayer money on a dog park and furniture
The News & Observer
Constitutional amendments to bring legislators back in the fall
The Outer Banks Voice
Editorial:  Lawmakers will reap what they sow … eventually
The Sampson Independent
Our view: Legislators reject fairness
Winston-Salem Journal
Our Opinion: Getting to appoint personnel requires the North Carolina General Assembly to be more open.
News & Record
Editorial: Legislators put fat thumb on N.C. Supreme Court election scale
Capital Broadcasting Company
Mecklenburg County NC House Districts Effective for the 2018 Election 
Copyright © 2018 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.

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