Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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Charlotte held a candlelight vigil on Sunday, August 13th to memorialize the victims of the violence and stand up against the intolerance on display in Charlottesville, VA. Photo by Scott Jensen. 

The Events in Charlottesville, Virginia

Like most Americans, I was horrified by the images from Charlottesville, Virginia - particularly the appalling sight of a car deliberately plowing into people who had come together to raise their voices against bigotry and racism. The venom spewed by white supremacists, neo-nazis, the KKK, and other hate groups resulted in the deaths of Heather Heyer, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, and injured countless others. I hold the victims, their families, friends, and communities close to my heart and in my prayers.

There is a natural antagonism between our rights and the exercise of those rights by persons whose views we find loathsome and destructive - views that are an affront to all decent and moral people. We must continue to raise our united voices against hate groups, wherever and whenever they raise their ugly heads, that subvert and distort those rights in an attempt to spread bigoted racism, hatred, and violence. 

I agree with Governor Cooper’s statement that the toppling of the confederate statue in Durham was the wrong way to remove confederate monuments from public property. The memorials should be relocated to “places where they can be studied in context.” Many of them were erected in the 20th century, many years after the Civil War, in a backlash against painful progress on civil rights. These silent reminders cause unnecessary and righteous pain and anger for so many North Carolinians. Moving the memorials will not erase these shameful chapters of our history, but will end the practice of literally putting them on a pedestal.

In the aftermath of these terrible events, many NC legislators became even more concerned about the wisdom of HB330 - a bill that would give drivers broad legal protections if they struck protesters in the streets. I was heartened to learn that the leadership in the Senate has no plans to bring HB330 out of committee, effectively killing it.
Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke on 'Presidential Leadership in Challenging Times' at the close of the NCSL in Boston.

The National Conference of State Legislatures

Last week, I attended the 2017 Summit of the National Conference of State Legislators (“NCSL”) in Boston, MA. There were programs and presentations on just about every subject that a state legislature could encounter. Here are a few that inspired me to bring new ideas and passion back to these issues in North Carolina:

The Opioid Epidemic - The Commonwealth of Massachusetts just passed its own multi-part opioid misuse prevention bill this year, and it includes a number of ideas we should consider here in North Carolina. First, like the NC STOP Act, it limits prescriptions of painkillers to approximately one week to start. But the Massachusetts law goes further and introduces an official ‘opioid letter’ attached to a patient's medical record, if they have a known history of opioid misuse. Similar to the Opt-Out Bill I proposed this year (H738), this information is shared with pharmacists if the patient attempts to fill an opioid prescription and the pharmacists are required to offer non-opioid alternatives.

The Massachusetts bill also allows medical professionals to use civil commitment procedures to essentially begin basic substance misuse counseling for overdose patients without their express permission. One of the more persistent issues first responders in Massachusetts recognized was that overdose patients were rarely in a frame of mind that was open to intervention and counseling immediately after treatment. This would often lead to a cycle of an individual overdosing and requiring emergency treatment multiple times before they sought help. By imposing a ‘cooling off’ period at the recommendation of medical professionals, they found that many patients were more receptive to treatment and less likely to return to opioid misuse. We need to explore and implement more evidence based policies like this to be successful in our battle against the opioid epidemic.  

North Carolina is leading the way on allowing the use of medication-based treatments, including morphine replacement therapies, in conjunction with traditional therapy models. Now, I hope we can move from allowing the licensing and practice of these methods to actively encouraging our local LME/MCOs to adopt and deploy them across the State. We also need to start having serious discussions about creating programs to study other progressive risk reduction strategies, such as needle exchange programs and ‘safe injection sites’ that have shown promise in other states. Before we can have these discussions, we need to have a better baseline of information to inform our debates. 

The message that every speaker emphasized was ‘Data, Data, Data.’ We need to establish study programs for these methods in North Carolina so we can gather that data and make fact-based decisions. This past session, we passed a limited opioid intervention study program for Wilmington, NC. While a great start, we are probably 2-4 years away from implementing any program we begin to study now. If we want to find strategies that work, we need to start looking at strategies that have already shown promise in other states, and put them on the fast track to implementation here in North Carolina. 

Multidisciplinary Reentry Approach - Another persistent problem that we experience here in North Carolina is a 60% rate of incarceration recidivism within 24 months. Often, criminal justice issues are portrayed in the press as partisan battles, but the seminars on reducing recidivism and treating substance abuse disorders engaged legislators from both sides of the aisle. There was broad bipartisan recognition that high recidivism rates and inmate populations reporting a 50% or more rate of substance misuse represent a failure of our current methods.

Far from being partisan battles, the discussions about early screening, intervention, or outright diversion from corrections were facilitated by conservative legislators from states like Utah and Tennessee. The message I heard from them was, “We tried locking everyone up and it didn’t solve the problem.” This led to broader conversations on new evidence-based strategies to address these persistent problems. For example, there is a growing body of evidence from other states that medication-based treatments in conjunction with traditional psychological therapy can seriously cut addiction rates in prison.

The multidisciplinary approach recognizes that the vast majority of people who run afoul of the criminal justice system are experiencing mental health disorders, substance misuse disorders, or a combination of the two. Traditional rehabilitation focuses on providing basic education or technical skills, assuming the lack of one or both has led the inmate to commit criminal acts. The multidisciplinary approach to rehabilitation recognizes that the lack of skills or education is often a symptom of an underlying mental health or substance misuse disorder. When the system is set up to first recognize and treat the underlying disorders, inmates are more likely to participate and succeed in traditional skills or education based programs. 

Every expert speaker also stressed the importance of immediately connecting people who are released from prison to social service and substance misuse prevention programs as soon as they are released from prison. Most communities in our State have social services and local charities that stand ready to assist, but it can take weeks for them to find the right groups and assistance required. Mecklenburg County is lucky to have people like Darius Deese working with his team to coordinate post-incarceration services and supervision, but they don’t have the funding or personnel to also connect their population to the social service safety net. We can work here in Raleigh to provide that funding to every county in the State.

The NCSL Summit closed with a fascinating presentation from well-known presidential historian and author Doris Kearns-Goodwin. Professor Kearns-Goodwin focused on the leadership qualities that have guided our country through past eras of crisis. She presented examples of each from the lives of Lincoln, Johnson, Kennedy, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. 

Two leadership qualities struck me in particular. The first was persistence, tempered by self-reflection, in the face of failure. The second was the willingness to consider advice from political adversaries as well as allies. 

My hope is that we in the North Carolina General Assembly can bring this same ‘Team of Rivals’ approach to fighting high recidivism and substance abuse rates here at home. I’m looking forward to engaging my fellow Justice & Public Safety Appropriations sub-committee members in these important discussions before the short session.
Our High School Fellowship Program welcomed Langley Smith, Rhea Desai, and Mary Pryor for a whirlwind look at the legislature and the redistricting process. 

Redistricting Update

Last week also saw another meeting of the Joint Redistricting Committee at the Legislature. As you may remember, we are on track to vote on new legislative district maps around August 24th. The committee met last week to formally adopt the criteria that will be used in drawing the maps, and it looks like we may have to abandon any hope of non-partisan districts at this time. 

As I mentioned last time, the leadership has rehired Tom Hofeller, the same consultant who drew the unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts. That hire did not inspire confidence as to their intentions to draw districts based on anything other than their own political survival. After the redistricting committee meeting last week, their intentions became quite plain.

The committee voted (i) to use political affiliations and past election results to inform the district lines, (ii) to take current legislator home addresses into account, and (iii) to allow individual voting precincts to be divided as many times as the map-makers deem appropriate. These three criteria, applied together, will allow the leadership to draw lines that protect incumbents who won their seats by virtue of unconstitutional districts. 

There will be a 'live' public comment meeting of the Redistricting Committee at 4:00 PM on August 22nd. The committee will take public comments in Raleigh and from 6 satellite locations, including CPCC. The video feed will be set up in the Hall Building, Room 215/216 (parking on Charlottetown, between Elizabeth & 4th). You can find the rules for submitting comments HERE.

I will be back in Raleigh next week for the presentation of the maps and the final votes. Please keep an eye on my official Twitter Feed (@BelkRep) for updates on breaking news and developments in the redistricting process as they occur next week.
No visit to the legislature is complete without a good protest photo! Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action drew attention to unconstitutional gerrymandering during the Redistricting Committee meeting. 

Your Solar System
and Your Government

The much anticipated Solar Eclipse will occur this Monday, August 21st, starting around 1:00 PM and ending around 4:00 PM for us here in Charlotte, NC. At its height around 2:40 PM, over 90% of the disk of the sun will be blocked out when viewed from Charlotte. The ‘path of totality,’ where the moon fully blocks the sun will cross from Swain, NC in the far West, through Greenville, SC and Columbia, crossing over the coast at Charleston just before 3:00 PM on Monday. Here are a few important points to remember:

Get Eclipse Glasses! A 90% eclipse can still damage your retinas, so Charlotte viewers will need glasses the whole time. Check with your eye doctor office or look on if you cannot find any in stores. Check out this site to see how to spot ‘fake’ eclipse glasses.  

Plan Your Viewing Spot! Here is an interactive map of the path of totality. If you have not already made plans to travel to the area on Sunday or earlier, you may want to pick a viewing spot outside the path. Hotels and campgrounds throughout the path have been sold out for weeks and traffic is predicted to be horrendous. Which brings us to …

Be Prepared to Be Patient! Some experts estimate that 60% of the population of the US will attempt to travel to a spot at or near the path of totality. As you might imagine, our road system is not really designed for 60% of us to gather in such a narrow band at once, so there’s a good chance for epic traffic jams. You should bring food, water, fully charged cell phones, something to distract the kids for hours, and a lot of patience. 

NASA has compiled a list of ‘citizen scientist’ projects that are being organized to study the event. For those of you with a long car ride home, one of them might provide a healthy distraction for your budding naturalists.      
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
The view of the eclipse from Charlotte will be over 90% of totality, so the moon will cover slightly more of the sun than seen in this image.

In the News

Solar eclipse expected to draw millions of travelers, and congestion, to Carolinas
Charlotte Observer

Rural Western NC Braces For Surge Of Solar Eclipse Watchers

Krispy Kreme Marks Eclipse With Chocolate Glazed Doughnuts

Durham Confederate statue: tribute to dying veterans or political tool of Jim Crow South?
Charlotte Observer

Backlash to racism and white nationalism starts at home
Charlotte Post
Gov. Roy Cooper urges repeal of Confederate memorial law
Charlotte Post
Burr denounces white supremacists and calls Trump ‘misguided’
News & Observer
‘We need to call it out’ – NC woman’s confrontation with Nazi flag-flyer goes viral
Charlotte Observer

More approval for relocating NC Confederate monuments while GOP leaders stay quiet
News & Observer
He’s the Raleigh man behind the Twitter account outing racists – and ‘I’m not going away’
News & Observer
As Work Proceeds, I-77 Toll Decision Could Take Months
Charlotte School Of Law Tells Students No More 'Degree Activity'
To Curb Opioid Use, Carolinas HealthCare System Using Alternative Treatments
No On Race, Yes On Political Party; Criteria Set For Court Ordered Redistricting
‘Jailed To Death’: An Investigation Into Mistreatment In NC Jails
City of Charlotte announces interim fire chief
Spectrum News - Charlotte
Confirmed case of West Nile virus in York County
Spectrum News - Charlotte
Allstate to create 2,250 jobs with North Carolina expansion
Washington Post
Rules on carrying guns openly in NC complicated
The Latest: Cooper removed lottery commissioner for comments
District 88 Map
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.

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