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Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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I was welcomed to TROSA by Brian Buland, Associate Director of Special Projects, Karen Kelly, the Chief Program Officer, and Keith Artin, the Chief Operating Officer. 

TROSA: A Social Enterprise Model 

One of my favorite things about being a legislator is that state agencies, businesses, and nonprofits invite me over for a tour to educate me about how they serve our community. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of visiting Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA) in Durham. As we search for options and strategies to address the opioid epidemic, I hope the TROSA model can be studied and replicated. It has an astonishing success rate and has proven to save the State millions of dollars.
 
TROSA is a two-year residential treatment program that uses the Social Enterprise model to fund most of its operations, so it does not have to charge the people in treatment. TROSA is able to fund 58% of its operational costs through vocational program enterprises such as TROSA Moving, TROSA Framing, and TROSA Lawn Care. Residents go through a process that starts like a traditional rehabilitation program, with intensive individual and group therapy, but quickly expands to include life skills and vocational training. By the time residents complete the program, they have the tools needed to build a successful life free from substance misuse, from how to dress for a job interview to how to open a checking account at the bank.   
 
Of those residents who complete the two-year program, 90% are free from substance misuse one year after graduation. Considering that many treatment centers consider a 60% success rate ‘high,’ clearly TROSA has created a model that works. According to an independent study done by RTI, these numbers translate directly into $750 million per year in savings on incarceration, police intervention, and public health services for the State of North Carolina. 
 
I believe TROSA is successful because the program recognizes that many people spiral down into drug and alcohol abuse due to the loss of social connections that give meaning to our lives. By showing people that improvement is always possible and they are not alone in their struggle, TROSA offers concrete ways to rebuild those connections and a community that offers rewards for building them.
Our first sponsored House Page, Eleanor Williams, joined us at the General Assembly last week. Remember to get your 2018 House Page applications together in January!

Redistricting - Where We Are Now

There has been a flurry of decisions around redistricting in North Carolina, so let me get you up to date on where we are right now. In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that tossed out a number of NC State Senate and House legislative districts as racially gerrymandered, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. North Carolina will have to redraw the boundaries of those unconstitutional districts, and doing so will change surrounding districts, almost definitely including our own House District 88.  
 
The General Assembly will draw the new districts, but a three-judge federal court will have to approve them. The court could approve the legislative districts or reject them in favor of a more equitable plan. What this means is that most of North Carolina will have new districts for the next election.
 
The big question is whether we will have special legislative elections in 2017. The three-judge panel originally ruled that special elections were required immediately, so North Carolina could have legally-elected legislators as soon as possible. The U.S. Supreme Court asked them to reconsider that order and the reasoning behind it. There are widely differing opinions on whether the federal courts will require special elections in 2017. Special elections would provide an immediate opportunity to correct the supermajority imbalance in the NC General Assembly, which I believe reflects a skewed representation of the NC electorate, due largely to unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.
 
In an exciting related development, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal that may determine the constitutionality of “partisan gerrymandering” or the drawing of districts for a partisan political advantage. Gill v. Whitford is an appeal from a lower federal court panel decision that held the Republican leadership in Wisconsin had so blatantly drawn districts for purely partisan purposes that they violated the First Amendment and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The precedent set from whatever the Supreme Court decides will reverberate throughout the States and may have enormous consequences in future elections, including those in North Carolina.
I survived my first Charlotte Squawks in office without too many charred edges! Thank you to writers Brian Kahn and Mike Collins, and the entire cast (including the immensely talented Robbie Jaeger, pictured here) for a lighter take on Queen City politics.

Issues That Matter to You

I receive a fairly large number of emails and calls in my office about most issues that come before the House. I’m consistently impressed by the level of constituent engagement on specific issues that engender strong convictions or impact daily lives. Recently, we’ve been debating rules around billboard placement and solar energy that raise questions about the relationships between government and business and how much control individuals and localities have on their build environment.   
 
Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws (HB581) – I was discouraged to read the original bills that were combined to form HB581, because they reflect the intense lobbying of the billboard industry of North Carolina, at the expense of local governance. First, HB581 essentially crushes the authority of local ordinances to determine where and what type of billboards can be put in cities and localities. I personally don’t mind LED signs on the interstate, but putting them all the way down Park Road doesn’t seem like a way to make our city more livable. Second, it gives the companies the right to chop down trees (even dogwoods and redbuds) up to three football fields away from billboards - including trees and vegetation in highway medians planted and maintained by State tax dollars! Finally, the bill would require the State and localities to reimburse companies for “lost advertising revenue,” as opposed to just the cost of the land and sign, when they widen a road or build a bridge. This bill is just a corporate sweetheart deal that does little or nothing to benefit the people of North Carolina.     
         
Competitive Energy Solutions for NC (HB589) - Sometimes legislation comes to me that is not perfect, but makes progress on an important issue. In the time I have been here, I had not seen a single piece of renewable energy friendly legislation introduced by the current leadership, until HB589. In that context, with the bar set so low, this bill surpassed my expectations. It allows solar panel leasing for the first time in North Carolina, and sets up a system by which localities can maintain a central solar farm to ‘lease’ some of the power to consumers who don’t have access to direct sun on their own property.  
 
The bill has a number of problematic provisions - it limits the amount of total solar power generation that can be leased, does not provide for multi-family housing rooftop solar, and allows Duke Energy to reduce the amount of credit offered to customers who ‘sell back’ power to the grid. However, I firmly believe the primary way to fight the man-made effects of climate change is by producing energy without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This bill will increase access to solar power and dramatically increase the options homeowners have when deciding how to power their homes. 
 
Please contact your State Senator and ask them to support HB589, Competitive Energy Solutions for NC.
The NC Police Benevolent Association recognized me as part of a bipartisan group of legislators who have supported their legislative priorities around pay and pensions.

My Committees

To see a complete list of the bills that I have sponsored or cosponsored, please visit my NCGA ‘Introduced Bills’ page.

You can often tell if a bill has a chance of getting to the floor if it is assigned to a committee other than Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House. I have been assigned to five committees and one sub-committee. You can see the bills currently assigned to my committees using the links below.

My Committees:
Appropriations
Transportation
Banking
State & Local Government I
Judiciary IV

My Sub-Committee:
Appropriations – Justice & Public Safety
Belle Leonard, Historian and past Treasurer of the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County, shared our collection of DWMC news clippings at our recent luncheon. 

Your State and Your Government

Now that the weather is heating up, I know more than a few of you will be heading out to the NC coast to enjoy a bit of sand and sun with your family and friends. The natural beauty our beaches offer is one of the great treasures of our State, so you might consider lending them a hand while you’re there. 
 
This website lists the local beach coordinators for the NC Sea Turtle Project, as well as tips everyone can use to make our beaches more sea turtle friendly. Just find the beach you’re visiting and contact the coordinator to find out what’s happening while you’re in town and how you can help. You can also report sea turtle nests or strandings online!
 
The North Carolina Coastal Federation has been working up and down the coast for 35 years to protect and beautify our beaches and estuaries. They are working on wetland restoration, coastal cleanups, and wildlife restoration projects at different locations, so you can visit their volunteer page to find projects near the beach you’re visiting.        
 
Don’t forget! Visit NCCash.com today to see if you have unclaimed property under the supervision of the NC Treasurer’s office. A constituent, Suzanne, found out NC was holding $300 dollars in her name, and they informed her New York had another $3000 due to some housing issues she’d experienced decades ago. No guarantees you’ll be so lucky, but it’s worth checking out!

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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Do you ever walk out your front door & see something amazing? As usual, this photo doesn't do justice to the rainbow I saw the other day above St. Patrick's Cathedral.

In the News

Gerrymandering & Redistricting    
Justices' Ruling Could Help N Carolina Democrats Rein in GOP
NY Times      
 
Supreme Court affirms ruling striking NC legislative districts
News & Record
 
Cooper calls special session to draw new legislative district maps
News & Record
 
NC House, Senate cancel Cooper’s call for redistricting special session, calling it ‘unconstitutional’
News & Observer
 
Editorial:  Will NC have a special election in 2017?
Charlotte Observer
 
Editorial: End the partisan games, draw legal voting districts now
Capital Broadcasting Company
 
Editorial:  Illegal voting districts helped GOP win control of NC
News & Observer
 
Supporters of nonpartisan redistricting process gather at NC legislature
News & Observer

Governor Cooper Urges More Education and Job Creation Investment
Elementary schools struggle to meet state’s new class-size rules
News & Observer
 
Cooper urges Republicans to put more money in his priorities
WWAY
 
Cooper says NC House budget 'shortchanging' the state
ABC 11
 
Cooper: Lawmakers need to invest more in NC
WRAL
 
Cooper says NC can afford a more generous budget
News & Observer
 
UNCC Graduates Mary Belk & Linda Hunt Williams
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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