Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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The new NC House district map approved by the supermajority.

Redistricting Goes Back to the Courts

The redistricting process has moved through the legislature at a fast clip over the past two weeks, and the new maps are on their way back to the Federal District Court for review. You can find complete details on the House maps HERE, and the Senate maps HERE. We should know in the next two weeks if the judges believe the new district lines sufficiently address the racial gerrymandering they found in the previous district plans. Right now, the leadership believes that their new maps will survive the court’s scrutiny because they are on record as ‘ignoring’ race when they drew their new lines. However, as a practical matter, by also deciding to use past partisan election data and preserve existing incumbents as much as possible, they have essentially redrawn many of the same districts. They also took steps to strengthen Republican leaning districts that were not connected to the districts ruled unconstitutional. I believe there is still a good chance the courts could reject these new lines for one or both of these reasons. 

First, and most importantly in my mind, is the concept in law that says if the outcome of government action(s) is unconstitutional, it doesn’t matter if the government used constitutional means or rationale to arrive at that outcome, the action(s) still must be changed. This concept is the basis of ‘disparate impact’ in our body of constitutional law. That’s the idea that if a particular group or minority is ‘singled out’ as a consequence of a law, it doesn’t matter if the law was intended to be discriminatory, it’s effect is discriminatory, and it is therefore unconstitutional. The courts looked at our 2011 district plans and ruled they discriminated against African Americans by packing them into some districts and splitting their populations between other districts. When I look at the new districts that have been proposed, I see places where this is still obviously happening. 

For example, if you look at the way districts have been drawn in Guilford County, it’s apparent that the racial gerrymandering the court recognized has not been fixed. The population of Guilford County is approximately 54% White and 34% African American, and while you might expect some variation in the percentages, it would stand to reason that districts drawn in the county would be about as diverse as the county itself. You would be wrong. Instead, what we have are three districts (59, 61 & 62) where the White population is over 68% of the district (with District 61 at 77.43%) and three districts (57,58 & 60) where the Black population is 43% or more (with District 57 at 62.99%). The other urban counties were cut up in a similar manner, which seems like clear evidence of racial gerrymandering in practice, if not intent. 
There is a second, slightly narrower reason the courts may reject the current proposal, based on the leadership’s decision to redraw some districts that did not border the unconstitutional districts. The idea here is that the leadership filed a new plan for County Groups during the hearings, saying that some of the existing county groups should not change because they did
not contain districts that were declared unconstitutional. By their reasoning, changing them would amount to redistricting outside the 10 year process in the NC Constitution. The argument was accepted by the court and the County Groups were accepted without objection from the plaintiffs. However, when the new district maps were submitted, districts that did not originally border any of the unconstitutional districts, like District 105 in Mecklenburg, were altered. The plaintiffs in the case have rightly pointed out that if changing County Groups unaffected by the ruling is out of bounds, then changing Districts that are unaffected should be equally off limits. This argument is particularly interesting because it uses the leadership’s own reasoning to attack their current proposal. You can get details on the plaintiffs' proposal HERE.

Hopefully, we will have an answer from the courts soon. They will either 1) accept the new districts, 2) ask the legislature to redraw the districts with court mandated instructions, or 3) appoint a special master to create a new, temporary, map for the 2018 legislative elections. Please stay tuned to my official Twitter (@BelkRep) feed for updates and announcements.
The first map shows the three unconstitutional districts from the 2011 maps. Compare the recently enacted second map to the plaintiffs' map and note the plaintiffs don't change District 105, a Republican leaning district.

More News from the Courts

We’ve definitely reached the point with judicial reviews of our districts where you might need a program to know the players. All of my legal updates have concerned the Covington racial gerrymandering case, but there is an entirely separate, but related, judicial review going on.  North Carolina’s 2011 maps were also partisan gerrymanders, but no redistricting plan has ever been invalidated based on partisanship. That could change soon as the US Supreme Court takes up Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander in a case this fall. Keep an eye on the Gill v. Whitford case arguments on October 3rd to (maybe) see how the Supreme Court is leaning.

To add to the confusion, there is still yet another judicial review going on.  Remember that the 2011 North Carolina maps were first challenged in state court and upheld by the NC Supreme Court.  That case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  After its decision in the Alabama case (which jump-started the invalidation of NC’s maps), the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state case back to the NC Supreme Court for reconsideration.  Dickson v. Rucho is still pending and a hearing was held just this week before the seven justices of the NC Supreme Court. We can expect a ruling some time in the next month.

Finally, there is the possibility of more lawsuits being filed. So to recap, federal courts are involved, state courts are involved, several lawsuits are still pending, and more could be coming.  The only thing certain is it will all end with the 2020 census when the process starts anew.

HB56 Hurts NC Beaches and Wildlife 

The House leadership continued a worrying trend of using situations that require specific action as a cover for passing partisan legislation that was broadly unpopular during our regular session. Today, we debated and passed HB56, which in part was meant to start addressing the GenX pollution issue in the Cape Fear River, over the objections of the entire House Democratic Caucus, because it failed the basic test of actually addressing the problem.

Governor Cooper issued a detailed request for $2.6 million in funding to add new scientists, toxicologists, and public health officials to our Water Quality Assurance team so we can address the GenX contamination of the Cape Fear River. Recent evidence suggests that GenX was just one of a number of unregulated pollutants that the EPA discovered in the Cape Fear and it’s certainly not the only river that both supports industrial production, and supplies drinking water in our State. The truth is that since 2013, funding cuts at the DEQ have led to a 41% reduction in the water quality and water resources staff. The Governor’s plan recognizes the GenX issue is probably only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unregulated and unknown chemicals being discharged into the drinking water in our State.

Instead of real long term solutions, the leadership decided to give $100,000 to the local electrical utility, who knew about the contamination in the river for months before they brought it to anyone’s attention, to study clean up procedures. The $250,000 to UNCW to study the effects of GenX on the local environment is a nice touch, but once again, it failed to address the basic issue. I suppose the local water utility should be happy with the $85,000 they will receive to actually clean the chemical out of Wilmington’s drinking water, but that’s cold comfort when it’s clear there are more currently unidentified chemical byproducts in the water. With over $400 million of unallocated funds in the last budget, I could not, in good conscience, support such a paltry effort to address such a serious issue. 

We also objected to the legislation because the Senate added a provision that would eliminate the plastic bag ban on the Outer Banks. Plastic bags look like jelly fish to hungry sea turtles that see them floating in the water. A couple of Outer Banks counties tested out banning the bags from stores on their islands. This produced positive results and they convinced the other counties to join them in requesting a State law that bans plastic bags on all Outer Banks islands. Since discussion of eliminating the ban started, I have received letters in my office from leaders of counties and cities up and down the coast that say they like the bag ban and can’t understand why it’s being removed. This seems like it should be a clear-cut case in favor of deference to local wisdom about what works for them.   

HB56 is a bit of a microcosm of working up here for the past year. Originally, it was a 17-page bill that clarified the laws on oil tank removal, septic systems, and permits to build on polluted sites - and it passed the House unanimously. However, by the time the legislative process was complete, it had grown to a 19-page bill that (i) weakened the riparian barriers on the Catawba River, (ii) removed the plastic bag ban on the Outer Banks, and (iii) compounded the funding failures at the DEQ that led to the GenX situation. All without meaningfully addressing the current crisis. I was proud of our Caucus and our Leader, Darren Jackson, who stood up and laid into the leadership on their failure to meaningfully address the water pollution issue.
Charlotte Municipal Primary Election Schedule 

Your City and Your Government

Charlotte Municipal Primaries are underway! Have you voted yet? Remember that local primaries are often the first stepping stone to future political leadership. You should find candidates that see the world the way you want it to be and start supporting them now. 

Check out the Early Voting locations and schedule HERE. You can download a sample ballot HERE, or check your registration HERE

REMEMBER! You can still register & vote all at once during Early Voting.     
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 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 with any questions or concerns
I always get a kick out of visiting with the volunteers at the polling place. We couldn't win elections without dedicated supporters like these folks. Good luck to everyone running!

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Republican NC senator, facing a new district, says he’s not running in 2018
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Conservative Rep. Millis resigning from North Carolina House
North Carolina's 6 black justices from past, present honored
District 88 Map
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.

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