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Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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Halloween at the General Assembly for the Morehead School for the Blind and legislative staff families was a big hit this year!   

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Open Enrollment Begins

The Open Enrollment period for the ACA has officially begun, but will end early this year, on December 15th. If you get your plan through Healthcare.gov, you will have much less time to make insurance decisions. Even if you plan to keep your current plan, be sure to log into your account as soon as possible and update your financial information to ensure that you get the correct premium subsidy in 2018.

I’ve had a number of constituents contact me about letters from Blue Cross Blue Shield stating that premiums will dramatically increase next year. Do not panic. This year, the Administration did not provide insurance companies with expected subsidy levels. As insurance companies must send premium increase notices by law, they sent them without factoring in the subsidy information. 90% of North Carolinians who purchase insurance through Healthcare.gov will qualify for some level of premium subsidy. Log in to your account and update your financial information to get a complete picture of your premium payments for 2018.  

The current Administration in Washington has cut open enrollment by seven weeks, slashed the education and outreach budget, and even scheduled 60 hours of web site ‘maintenance’ during the already shortened open enrollment period. They have made no secret of their disdain for the ACA, but they cannot muster the political will to offer a viable solution. Apparently, their strategy is to sabotage the ACA at every turn and then pray that their malfeasance brings about the mythical ‘collapse’ that they have claimed has been happening for years. No doubt they will protest their innocence if they are successful. 

It is up to us to make sure this ploy fails. There are a number of organizations working on the grassroots level to spread the word about Open Enrollment and to make up for some of the lost education and outreach dollars. Visit  https://www.getamericacovered.org/ to find out how you can help with this effort. If you are signing up for the first time, or need help making your decision, visit www.getcoveredamerica.org/connector to find local organizations who offer one-on-one appointments to help people get covered. 

Please help spread the word.
GetAmericaCovered.org has a number of easy to share info graphics and simple steps to help spread the word about ACA Open Enrollment. 

Covington Case Gerrymandering Update

Last week saw a huge development in the Covington case. The federal court ordered a Special Master to redraw several districts, rejecting the argument of the legislative leadership that they deserved yet another chance at getting the maps right. The order (read it here) will result in new NC House districts in Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Wayne, and Sampson counties. The order also includes NC Senate districts in Cumberland and Guilford counties. The Court instructed the Special Master to (i) ignore all political data and (ii) only use racial data to ensure that unconstitutional gerrymandering has been corrected. Taken together, these instructions could lead to very different district lines in the two largest urban counties in the State. 

The Court found that the NCGA leadership made two critical mistakes in redrawing the new maps. First, that African American voters were still being packed into single districts in House districts in Guilford, Sanford, and Wayne counties and Senate Districts in Cumberland and Guilford counties. These were determined to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders and those districts and the ones surrounding them will need to be redrawn. 

Second, the Court found that the legislature went too far in redrawing district maps in Mecklenburg and Wake counties. They redrew districts that did not border unconstitutional districts (like House District 105, currently represented by Rep. Scott Stone). Basically, the Court held that if a 2011 district did not border one of the 28 districts that was previously declared unconstitutional, the legislature did not have permission to redraw them, based on our State Constitution’s ‘once per decade’ redistricting clause. Practically speaking, this means that all of the districts drawn in Wake and Mecklenburg counties will be redrawn, with some reverting to their 2011 shape and others changing completely.       

The upshot of all this is that I’m not sure what District 88 will look like when the Special Master publishes his first map drafts on December 1st, but I am confident that the result will be more competitive districts. The Court’s order specifically instructs the Special Master to ignore any and all political considerations, including party affiliation or election outcomes, and to consider incumbency as ‘subordinate’ to all other instructions. This is a very different set of priorities to bring to the map-making process, so the final Mecklenburg map could be completely changed, with only District 105 left as recognizable.

I have made the decision to run for re-election in 2018, no matter how my new district is reconfigured. Serving District 88 has been one of the great honors of my life and there is much work left to do. I look forward to tackling it with conviction and determined optimism. If the current General Assembly is forced to correct the racial gerrymandering of districts, and the GOP continues to suffer from their crisis of leadership, we could be looking at a Democratic Speaker of the House after the 2018 elections. Get ready and get active in the upcoming campaign season. Each of us has a responsibility to help effect positive change - the future of our great State depends on it. You can track down your precinct chairperson for news and volunteer opportunities by calling the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party Headquarters at (704) 525-5843.


Please stay tuned to my official Twitter (@BelkRep) feed for updates and announcements.
Photograph: Ian Waldie/Getty Images via The Guardian

Prison Reform Now

Like you, I have read a number of disturbing articles about the North Carolina Department of Corrections. The two recent situations that led to the deaths of corrections officers are just the most egregious lapses in administration and safety that have come to light. Just before these two incidents, the Charlotte Observer ran a lengthy and well researched series of articles that explored corruption and safety violations throughout the prison system. Only months after I started work as a legislator, I received a letter from a former mental health worker in the NC Department of Corrections who detailed rampant under-reporting, misdiagnosis, and over-medication of mental illness in our state prisons. Taken together, these incidents and revelations suggest that there are no ‘tweaks’ that will fix such a broken system.

As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Justice and Public Safety, I fully support Rep. Bob Steinberger’s call for a Prison Reform Commission to study our current Department of Corrections policies, procedures, training, and funding structures. I am well aware that the Department of Corrections is chronically underfunded, that we have offloaded responsibility for the mentally ill onto our prison system, and that we are suffering staffing shortages at a number of our facilities. These issues were not created by the Department of Corrections. They were created by years of budget cuts and policies created by the General Assembly that gutted mental health care in our State and expected the criminal justice system to pick up the pieces without any additional funding or training.  

These are not problems that can be solved by firing one or two administrators or giving a 10% raise to our corrections officers. The General Assembly must take a closer look at our corrections system - from the policies that fill state prisons with nonviolent offenders and the mentally ill, to the funding plans that consistently short-change corrections officer training and retention programs, to the lack of meaningful education and job training opportunities that could put people on a path to responsible citizenship. The recent deaths of corrections officers as well as the revelations of shoddy management and training practices throughout the Department of Corrections prove that the time has come for a Prison Reform Commission to address the shortcomings of the system.
I was honored to work with volunteers of the 13th Annual Blanket Banquet! Visit their website to learn more about this event in support of Charlotte's homeless community. 

Your City, Our Community

Thanksgiving has always been one of my family’s favorite holidays. I come from a large family and we can only wrangle everyone into one spot once a year, and Thanksgiving dinner is usually it. However, my wealth of family and kinship reminds me that not everyone is able to spend the holidays surrounded by such warmth and plenty. 

This week, I’d like to highlight a few local volunteer organizations that will be working to make sure the holiday spirit is felt in all corners of our community. If you have the inclination or time to help them this season, you’ll be a part of making Charlotte a better place to live.
  1. Second Harvest Foodbank of Metrolina
  2. Charlotte Rescue Mission
  3. Friendship Trays
    .
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
Thank you to the Union County Democrats for welcoming me with such enthusiasm and commitment to organize for victory in 2018!

In the News

You don’t get ‘multiple opportunities’ to fix gerrymanders, judges say. Stanford prof gets job
The News & Observer

Federal court officially appoints special master over legislative objections in racial gerrymandering case
The Progressive Pulse

Opinion:  NC Republicans are worried about the man who might redraw our voting map. They should be
Charlotte Observer

In North Carolina, Republicans Stung by Court Rulings Aim to Change the Judges
NY Times
 
Editorial:  Legislators to judges: You better watch your back
Charlotte Observer
 
Is NC lawmakers’ proposal a threat to judges who won’t go along with their agenda?
The News & Observer

Editorial: Cooper, legislative leaders must cooperate for better pay, staffing and security for prisons
Capital Broadcasting Company
 
Researchers get $275k grant for GenX health study
Star-News
 
N Carolina legislators begin school funding formula rewrite
Associated Press

Cooper says review of prison security on fast track
WRAL
 
Commission OKs 56 ways to curb opioid crisis. Cooper asks: Who will follow through?
The News & Observer
 
District 88 Map
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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