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Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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Happy 4th of July from my family to yours! There's nothing like the beach with my brother Mike, niece Jeanine, and our family friend Lauren.

Budget Season 2017: Missed Opportunities

Budget season highlighted in stark terms why North Carolina needs to fix unconstitutionally gerrymandered legislative districts. If Democrats and Republicans were sharing political power at similar proportions to actual vote totals in the last election, we could have had a real budget negotiation and achieved a workable compromise.
 
It appears ideological extremists in the leadership crafted the budget behind closed doors with no input from moderating voices, at the expense of investments in education, infrastructure, and healthcare. This is not how good, strong, sound fiscal and public policy is forged. I voted against this slash and burn spending plan, because it does not invest in North Carolina’s future. 
 
Instead, the supermajority pushed through a plan that disingenuously calls small, one-time bonuses for teachers “raises,” doles out almost a billion dollars in tax breaks to mostly higher income earners and corporations, and still fails to deliver on their own campaign promises of rural infrastructure investment and K-3 class size reduction. The most egregious examples of hyper-partisan pettiness were deep, last-minute cuts to the budgets of the Governor and the Attorney General, and the firing of State Board of Education staff who had been hired by the previous State Superintendent. Those cuts then flowed directly back to Republican districts in the form of ‘earmarks’ for special projects.    
 
You can look at this chart to see a comparison of Governor Roy Cooper’s budget to the one passed by the General Assembly. When he vetoed the budget, the Governor offered to compromise with Republicans on tax cuts, teacher raises, and infrastructure investments, but he was summarily rebuffed. I could not in good conscience support a budget that was not built by consensus, effectively ignoring the voices of the half of our state that elected Governor Cooper and legislators like me.
Governor Hunt happened to be having chili dogs at The Roast Grill when I was there for lunch on June 30th with Representatives John Autry and Graig Meyer. 

Looking Back at the Long Session

Just last week, after the override of Governor Cooper’s budget veto and the surprise introduction of a bill to investigate Secretary of State Elaine Marshall for possible impeachment on the flimsiest of grounds, I had an unexpected encounter. It helped put this past session in perspective and encouraged me to resist cynicism and despair. I ran into one of my heroes, Governor Jim Hunt, the ultimate “purple State” leader, and he had some inspiring words of encouragement. In no uncertain terms, he said, “Keep at it. You are doing the Lord’s work. This has gone beyond the political to a question of morality.”
 
These last months in Raleigh have convinced me that the unchecked power of the supermajority has lead to policies that will hurt our families and our State. How is that not a moral struggle?
 
Looking forward, with redistricting looming, it will be difficult to organize campaigns and support candidates without knowing the new district lines. Without the legislature in session, there will not be daily reminders of what partisanship is doing to our State. It may prove difficult to maintain enthusiasm among those who want to see North Carolina move in a different direction. I plan to go back to Charlotte and talk to as many of you as I can about how we’re going to stay organized, motivated, and ready to make our voices heard. Governor Hunt is right. This is a struggle for the soul of our State and I do not intend to give up.
After weeks of bruising battles and a budget 'negotiation' that felt more like a partisan grudge match, Governor Hunt's encouragement was a breath of fresh air.  

AHCA. BCRA. Either Way, it’s a Disaster

I’ve kept my newsletter focused on issues that come before me as a NC House Representative, but I cannot stay silent while the US Congress considers a bill that would strip 22 million people of health coverage, reduce Medicaid funding to our state below sustainable levels, and dramatically weaken the level of care provided to the rest of the population as well. The Affordable Care Act repeal bills being considered would dramatically redefine healthcare by allowing waivers of essential health benefits like reproductive healthcare and substance abuse treatment.
 
There was an article in the Charlotte Observer on June 30th that explains how the provisions of this bill would specifically impact women’s healthcare by defunding Planned Parenthood and slashing the Medicaid roles, which cover over 50% of the live births in the US. After hearing that, it didn't surprise me to learn that there were no women among the 13 Senators who wrote the Senate's repeal plan in secret.    
 
Our Senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, are supporting this headlong rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act at any cost. I hope you will take the time over the next week to contact them and let them know they’re making a big mistake.
 
Senator Thom Tillis
185 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-6342
Fax: (202) 228-2563
Email Form
 
Senator Richard Burr
217 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-3154
Fax: (202) 228-2981
Email Form
Representative Verla Insko and I enjoyed fresh tomato and Dukes mayonnaise sandwiches, provided by Senator Gunn's District 24 tomato producers. 

Whatever Happened To …?

So much has happened this session that I cannot believe it’s only been six months since I arrived in Raleigh. Now is a good time to let you know what happened with some important bills we discussed in previous newsletters. The budget has been passed and the House adjourned until August, when we’ll mostly debate redistricting, so if a bill did not get past both chambers of the legislature, it is effectively dead unless the leadership decides to reintroduce it.

Revisions to Outdoor Advertising Laws (HB581) – Ding, Dong! The Billboard Bill is Dead! It was a rare moment of victory for the Democratic Caucus last Wednesday night when the Billboard Bill went down to defeat. This is a bill that would have allowed billboard companies to build giant two-sided digital billboards in any commercial or industrial state right of ways, with very few limitations. Luckily, enough Republican members represent communities that rely on tourism and the inherent natural beauty of our State. Even with a number of Democratic members absent due to an education conference, the leadership’s Billboard Bill was defeated.     
         
Competitive Energy Solutions for NC (HB589) - Just over two weeks ago, I was looking at the text of this bill and weighing the positive progress it made expanding green energy choices for consumers and localities against problematic provisions that extended the Duke Energy power monopoly in our state and left some very important constituencies out of the equation. At that time I chose to support the bill because, on balance, I think it did more to battle climate change than it did harm. 

Last week, the Senate leadership introduced a six month wind farm moratorium into this bill and I could no longer support it. Even after the House voted the initial six month moratorium down, members of the Senate reintroduced an 18 month wind farm ban in the conference report. With that moratorium threatening wind farms where the financing was already secured and the projects underway, the bill now does less to battle climate change overall by expanding one avenue for green energy while thoughtlessly cutting off another one. That is not policy I can support.

Omnibus Gun Changes (HB746) - I heard from many of my constituents on both sides of this issue and I have a tremendous amount of respect for members of the House that approached it from perspectives I did not share. However, at the heart of the matter, I still firmly believe that our public spaces will not be made safer if more people are carrying concealed firearms. After the debate in the House, the measure still passed, but without the 72 votes it would need to overcome Governor Cooper’s veto. 

The Senate chose not to debate this bill in the final two weeks of our regular session work, so it is possible they have decided not to consider it this year. However, the language of the adjournment motions in both houses leave the possibility open that the bill could be considered in August or September. If this is an issue that is important to you, know that I am keeping close watch on this bill in the Senate as we reconvene later this year.

Juvenile Justice & Reinvestment Act (HB280) - This was another learning experience for me this year because it’s a good example of how some legislation finds its way into the budget rather than being passed as a stand-alone measure. There was a tremendous amount of bi-partisan support in the House to pass HB280, but there were some questions about whether the Senate leadership could get the votes in their caucus to support the bill as it was written. Rather than risk a conference report that may or may not have achieved the same outcomes, the Senate chose to include the ‘Raise the Age’ policies in their version of the budget. 

While I could not support the overall budget because it failed to prioritize investments in our State ahead of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, I was happy to see this much needed change in policy included in the final package.

To see a complete list of the bills that I have sponsored or cosponsored, please visit my NCGA ‘Introduced Bills’ page.
Advocates for a new Convention of the States brought a Llama to the General Assembly last week, but Ralph and I did not find his arguments persuasive.

Your City and Your Government

If your family is anything like mine, Summer time will take you all over the streets and sidewalks of your neighborhoods and local city parks. The City of Charlotte has undertaken a massive expansion of our transportation network, called the Community Investment Plan, made possible by the city improvement bonds approved in the past decade. However, we need everyone’s help to maintain that network so we can all enjoy it. If you see broken or damaged sidewalks (or potholes in streets), please contact Charlotte 311 or fill out a form at the CDOT Street and Sidewalk Maintenance web 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.        
 
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
.
I hope everyone had a relaxing and safe 4th of July holiday, celebrating the birth of our nation 241 years ago. Always remember that the Declaration of Independence, in its call for equal rights, was a radical document for its time. Photo by Alex Grichenko 

In the News

GOP lawmakers press impeachment probe of Secretary of State Elaine Marshall
The News & Observer

Republican move to impeach Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is blatantly political
The News & Observer

What’s in the Senate health care bill and what happens next
Vox

‘There was only one issue:’ At parades and protests, GOP gets earful about health care
Charlotte Observer/Washington Post

North Carolina Republicans continue to meddle in education
The News & Observer

NC House votes 77-40 to OK budget as Democrats blast ‘pork’ projects
The News & Observer
 
AG's office faces steep personnel cuts under budget
WRAL
 
Our View: A state budget that will become a train wreck
Fayetteville Observer
 
Editorial:  GOP budget short on vision, long on breaks for the rich
The News & Observer
 
Editorial:  Legislators could whack legal aid for the needy
Charlotte Observer
 
Big pay raises? N.C. gives teachers just a tank of gas (op-ed)
Charlotte Observer
 
Cooper scrutinizing bill authorizing landfill water spray
News & Record
 
The NRA is pushing to eliminate concealed carry permits in NC and across the country
The News & Observer
 
North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Strip the Governor of His Power to Challenge Laws
Slate
 
UNCC Graduates Mary Belk & Linda Hunt Williams
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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