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Newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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Hundreds gathered outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL to mourn the killing of seventeen students and teachers on Valentines Day, 2018. Credit: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

It Is Time for the Gun Safety Debate

When the news came last week of yet another school shooting, this time at a high school in Parkland, FL, my heart broke for the parents and families of those who were killed in another senseless tragedy. They have joined in kinship with thousands of families from across our nation who have lost loved ones in similar mass shootings and gun violence that continues unabated without action from us, your elected leaders. 

Here in North Carolina during the Long Session, the debate seemed to center on how we could make it easier for people to purchase and conceal guns in more places where we gather, learn, and worship. That just seems so out of touch with the reality of high school students killed by one of their former classmates who could purchase a tactical rifle at 19, despite a history of mental instability and multiple direct contacts with law enforcement. 

Even an issue where there seems to be rhetorical agreement between the parties, like preventing people with serious mental health issues from purchasing guns, falls apart when we actually attempt to craft meaningful regulations. During debate on HB746 in the Judiciary IV committee, I presented an amendment that would have allowed information from medical providers about a person’s mental health to be considered in the background check process. Even though the bill sponsors conceded that a small percentage of people with serious mental health concerns are actually taken to court to be declared a danger to themselves or others, a process generally known as ‘involuntary commitment,’ they refused to include any mental health information outside the judicial process. 

We need meaningful, universal background checks for firearms purchases and transfers. We need to come to something more than rhetorical agreement on the intersection of mental health and guns in our country. And, we need more meaningful discussion in this country about the broad availability of guns, especially weapons originally designed for modern militaries.
February 12th was a big day at the Mecklenburg Board of Elections as filing opened for the 2018 election season. 

Class Size Fixes at a Cost

I’m back in Charlotte after the House adjourned an extraordinary Long Session that included 35 days of 2018, during which, we did manage to pass one major piece of legislation, HB90. This bill is a great example of the type of political gamesmanship the super majority plays because they don’t have to find compromise. It combined two issues where there is broad agreement with two partisan attacks on the office of Governor Roy Cooper. In the end, I had to consider the promise I made to my constituents to put education and opportunity for all students at the top of my priority list, and vote for a bill that makes real progress fixing the class size chaos created by the leadership.  

First, let me say to every parent, teacher, student, and administrator who reached out on this issue, “Thank you!” When we were debating HB13, the temporary fix for the 2017-18 school year, it seemed like there was very little agreement about additional funding for teachers, and less awareness of the importance of special subject teachers. For the last five months, every office in the General Assembly has been inundated with emails and calls from all over the state from people telling us how important these subjects are to their children. I truly believe that your voices were heard loud and clear, because HB90 takes some major steps to fixing the funding issues you pointed out in your emails and phone calls.

On class size funding, HB90 takes two big and important steps by phasing in the class size requirements so school systems have time to plan, and finally providing funding for K - 3 special subject teachers like PE, Art, Foreign, Language, and Science. These two changes will go a long way to avoiding the worst unintended consequences of the original plan. The bill also partially adopted one of Governor Cooper’s budget initiatives in providing enough funding to theoretically eliminate the SmartStart waitlist by the 2019-20 school year. Sadly, the bill does not include the cost sharing plan for districts that will need to build additional classrooms, and the truth is that there are currently enough unappropriated funds to eliminate the SmartStart waitlist next year. Those are the types of initiatives that would be on the table if we could set the agenda.

What would not be on the table are the two other parts of the bill that run roughshod over an environmental mitigation fund and continue the leadership’s unconstitutional attacks on the Board of Elections. If you’re wondering what those two things have in common, or if they have anything to do with K - 3 class size, you’re in good company. The two totally unrelated parts of the bill could have been put in separate bills, debated, and passed with the (total) support of the supermajority, but the leadership can’t let an opportunity to play political games pass them by. 

It is my hope the Governor will be able to successfully battle the objectionable parts of this bill in court, but I felt I had to heed the call of school administrators who need to budget for the 2018-19 school year next month. I promise you I am going to spend 2018 making sure we have a seat or two more at that table after the dust settles.  

Please stay tuned to my official Twitter  feed (@BelkRep) for updates and announcements.
District 88 Map

What Happened to Mecklenburg House Districts?

A big court decision came down from the Supreme Court in the Covington v. North Carolina case that changed up the Mecklenburg and Wake County House districts at the last minute before filing for the 2018 election opened last week. Basically, the court ruled that the Special Master’s House and Senate maps would go into effect everywhere EXCEPT the Mecklenburg and Wake County House Districts. This means that the 2018 Primaries and General election will be held in Mecklenburg and Wake using the maps drawn by the General Assembly and passed in August of 2017 (pictured above). I’m not sure they could have come up with a more confusing ruling, so let me do my best to explain the reasoning.

First, it’s important to note that the Senate map was NOT redrawn by the Special Master in Mecklenburg or Wake Counties, therefore the Senate districts drawn in August 2017 have not been changed by any court order. 

On the House side, I believe the Supreme Court ruling was a result of the novel argument the Plaintiffs used to challenge the 2017 districts. As you may recall from my previous newsletter, the Mecklenburg and Wake districts were challenged under the NC Constitution’s mid-decade redistricting prohibition. The District Federal Court agreed the legislature had exceeded their mandate to draw new lines based on racial gerrymandering in non-adjoining districts, but the Supreme Court agreed with the Defendants, that the argument was novel and open to a separate appeal. 

The Supreme Court was basically telling the District Court that they concurred with their findings and solutions for the unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, but they wanted to take a second look at the ‘limited mandate’ decision that was specific to districts in Mecklenburg and Wake. 

The consequence of this has been more than a little bit of confusion, but the state has updated the voter information files based on the new lines, so you can find your current district information on the NC Voter Lookup page.

 
Rep. Henry M. 'Mickey' Michaux - Credit: Bernard Thomas, Durham Herald Sun

Saying Goodbye to a Living Legend

Serving as your Representative has offered me opportunities to meet and work with some of the most extraordinary people, but none of them could match the wit, charm, intelligence, and sheer living historical gravity of Representative Henry M. ‘Mickey’ Michaux. He provided a living record and link to the struggles for representation and equality for African Americans that spanned the late 20th Century and often seem too distant from our national memory today. I will always remember the time he was telling a story about Durham during the Civil Rights era and he referred to a ‘Marty’ in the story two or three times before it dawned on me he was telling a story about the time Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed at his house.

I only regret that I have not had more terms in office to learn from Representative Michaux. In our caucus meetings, he is always the person who remembers how many times the issue has come up in the past and how the caucus handled them before. I’m not just talking about social justice issues. Rep. Michaux could quote line item budget numbers and tax brackets from over a decade ago and any time anyone thought to check it out, he was spot on. When I say we are loosing institutional memory, I mean we’d need to hire Google to build a replacement and they’d never make the answers as relevant or entertaining as Rep. Michaux on a bad day.       
 
Faulkner is famously quoted as saying, ‘In the South the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.’ In his retirement speech to the House, Representative Michaux warned us that the progress toward equality of the 20th Century is imperiled by the 21st Century politics of division and fear mongering that hark back to the dark days of the 19th Century. His life story, spanning from a segregated school house, through being the first Black United States Attorney in the South since Reconstruction, to being the longest serving member of the NC House, is proof that the world changes. It’s up to us who remain to make sure those changes are the ones we want to see.
Rep. Beverly Earl, one of the women who has guided my development as a legislator, and the African American woman who blazed a trail as Chair of the Black Legislative Caucus and candidate for Mayor of Charlotte in 2007, unexpectedly announced her retirement last week. If you see Representative Earle around town, please offer her your thanks for her 24 years of service to North Carolina.

Your State, Your Government

he 2018 Election Season is upon us! You can find a complete list of offices on the ballot this year HERE. These are the ‘headline’ dates for the 2018 Elections:

February 12 - 28 - State & Federal Office Filing
Tuesday, May 8 - Statewide Primary
June 11 - July 6 - Soil & Water Conservation Filing
June 18 - June 29 - Judicial Elections Filing Period
September 7 - Absentee Ballots by Mail Available
October 12 - Last Day to Register @ BOE for 2018 General Election
October 18 - November 3 - One Stop Registration & Early Voting Open
Tuesday, November 6 - General Election Day


Due to all the redistricting, some folks are not sure who represents them now, but the NC BOE has updated their online voter information files with the new district info. 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.

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.

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.

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

In the News

Bill fixing North Carolina’s class-size challenge loaded up
Associated Press
 
School Districts Get Money And Time To Reduce K-3 Class Sizes With Strings Attached
WFAE
 
Editorial: Legislative leaders hold shameful kangaroo court session
Capital Broadcasting Company

NC must do a better job educating workers to land firms like Amazon, Cooper says
Charlotte Observer
 
NC Requiring New Steps To Reduce GenX Emissions
WUNC
 
Lawmakers leave town after passing class size fix measure
WRAL
 
Our Opinion: Class-size funding comes with catch
News & Record
 
EDITORIAL: Does Berger even care about GenX?
Wilmington StarNews
 
Our View: Senate GenX response is a dangerous fraud
Fayetteville Observer

North Carolina Mismanaged Itself Into Electoral Chaos
Bloomberg Businessweek
 
The class size debate: 5 important findings from research
EdNC
 
Supreme Court temporarily blocks Stanford professor’s election districts for Wake and Mecklenburg
News & Observer
 
North Carolina redistricting litigation: What the heck is going on?
NC Policy Watch
 
Two more GenX spills reported at Chemours plant
Fayetteville Observer
 
Pricey Harrison: Working people are under attack in our country
News & Record
 
Billy Richardson: This is how to solve our GenX problems
Fayetteville Observer
 
MaryAnn Black:  Let’s put politics aside and expand Medicaid now
Durham Herald-Sun
 
 
Copyright © 2018 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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