Newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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Thank you to the teachers of Mecklenburg County for making your voices heard! 

Welcome to the 2018 Short Session

The 2018 Short Session started off with a bang - a breathtaking rally of North Carolina's teachers on opening day. Estimates put the number of educators and allies up to 20,000. It was not only historic, but an inspiring example of how direct political action can shape the direction of policy. New Bills were introduced the first day of the Short Session to allow reciprocity in certification for school psychologists and to implement peer to peer counseling programs in NC - they might not have won the leadership’s support if teachers had not been there in such great numbers. 

Looking forward to the next six weeks, we must keep up the pressure for additional educational funding, even if it means foregoing planned corporate tax cuts. We need additional funds for classroom supplies and textbooks, not just school safety measures. We need funding for higher teacher salaries, and to help us build schools to meet the elementary class-size mandates. Of all the issues facing us this Short Session, I’m most hopeful that we will find some areas of bipartisan agreement on educational funding for our students.

Beyond education, another debate I’m ready to continue this year is Medicaid Expansion. We have come to the bipartisan realization that the opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, but we’re still letting politics get in the way. Our State is missing out on 10 BILLON dollars a year in matching funds from Medicaid - money that would fund substance abuse counseling, mental health facilities, rural hospitals, and neighborhood clinics. It seems like a no-brainer when you consider the depth of need across our State.

Which brings me to back to the heart of our current dilemma. This Short Session starts with myself and my Democratic colleagues in exactly the same place we left off last session - in the superminority. I can promise you that we will do everything in our power to fight judicial gerrymandering, force polluters to clean up their messes, build out mass transit, and expand voter access - but the truth is that we don’t have the power to do any of those things right now. All of us who care about these issues must get to work, with steady, sustained energy and determination, to shift the balance of power in November.

Shut Out of the Budget Process

Early this week, our Democratic Caucus Leader, Rep. Darren Jackson, sent a letter to the Chairs of the House Appropriations Committee. For reference, the House Appropriations Committee has 92 Members and 8 standing subcommittees, with about 27 Democratic representatives (including myself), who are tasked with writing the budget in odd-numbered years and then reviewing and amending it in even-numbered years. Rep. Jackson’s letter directly addressed rumors that the House and Senate leadership intended to conduct the budget review process behind closed doors and only offer a single plan for an up or down vote, with no time for review and with no additional amendments or debate.

Rep. Jackson pointed out that Democrats faced a very similar electoral landscape the last time they were in the majority during the 2010 Short Session.That year, 77 amendments to the leadership’s plan were offered in the Appropriations Committee, and 5 of the 33 that passed were from the minority party. Later, during floor debate, the Democratic majority entertained 27 amendments and 12 of the 18 that passed came from Republican members. You might remember that 2010 was the height of the Tea Party movement. This was not some distant age of bipartisan comity. 

He rightly indicated that a budget process that bypasses committee and floor debate would be an historic undemocratic first for North Carolina. Sadly, by the time I saw a copy of the letter, I was on my way to the session where the House Speaker announced he was appointing 40 Republican and 0 Democratic House members to the conference committee that will work out differences with the Senate budget. 

Normally, the conference committee is the second-to-last part of the process, following committee and floor debates. They produce the Conference Report, which is a version of the bill that must be passed by both the House and Senate, without amendment. By skipping the committee and floor debates, the leadership has effectively prevented any Democratic members of the House from presenting or debating amendments to the budget.

The truth is that, with their supermajority, Republicans could easily defeat any amendment offered by Democratic House members. In fact, they would have the power to remove any language favored by members of the minority party in the conference committee between the House and the Senate, and pass the budget with only Republican votes. Instead, they have chosen a path of petulant partisanship, refusing to accept that other viewpoints have merit and, at the very least, deserve a chance for debate.  

Frankly, I take their actions as an insult to the taxpaying citizens of District 88 and our great State. I hope they will see the error of their ways and at least allow us to have a spirited debate on the budget, even if we already know the likely outcome.
CMS School Board Members Elyse Dashew and Carol Sawyer with our High School Fellow, Sofia Bordalejo, from Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Be on the Lookout

Now that the budget fiasco has pretty much set the hyperpartisan tone for the Short Session, there are a couple of bills out there that should give us all pause. 

SB486 (PCS) - We got word about a Proposed Committee Substitute that would dramatically expand the scope of this Bill, which was originally intended to set the election calendar. You can find the proposed bill language HERE, with a summary from the nonpartisan staff HERE. There’s quite a bit happening in this Bill, so let me highlight the parts that I find worrisome.

First, the provision that requires all employees of county boards of elections to undergo criminal background checks would dramatically increase the cost of finding the election judges and workers to staff all the voting precincts throughout the State. For a large county, that could mean paying and waiting for over 1000 criminal background checks to staff polls by November. I accept this could improve ballot security for the administrators who have access to vote totals and system passwords, but I don’t understand why they need to know if Mr. Meyers from down the street got a speeding ticket 20 years ago before he can check me in to vote. As someone who has helped recruit poll volunteers in the past, I can assure you this provision will discourage qualified candidates.

Second, and more blatantly partisan, the proposed law would move our North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals elections to the bottom of the November ballot. Traditionally, the ballot first listed Federal offices (President, Senate, House of Representatives, etc.), then State offices for the Council of State (Governor, Attorney General, etc.), then State judicial seats (NC Supreme Court, Court of Appeals), then Local elected offices, ending with local Superior and  District Court judicial seats. 

Because the Democrats are fielding superstar NC Supreme Court candidate Anita Earls, the supermajority is trying to flex its political muscle by burying her race at the bottom of the ballot, where there is traditionally a drop-off among Democratic voters.

Finally, the Bill makes a number of changes to the power structure at the State Board of Elections and Ethics, all of which serve to empower its Executive Director, who was appointed by Republicans and cannot be removed by the Governor or Democratic members of the Board, due to previous laws passed in 2017. This is just a continuation of the leadership’s efforts to shut Democrats out of election administration in North Carolina, no matter how many court cases they lose.  

HB791 (Bill Page)- Speaking of losing court cases, it may appear that the supermajority might trim its sails when it comes to their judicial gerrymandering plans, but in reality they have decided to play the long game. Instead of attempting to rework the judicial maps for the entire State, they have decided to concentrate on the venue where many of their unconstitutional election laws have been going to die, Wake County. 

As the seat of State government, lawsuits challenging partisan election laws usually start in the District or Superior courts of Wake County. From there, they are quickly moved on to the Court of Appeals and NC Supreme Court. HB791 seeks to split up Wake County into six new districts, four of which are clearly drawn to favor Republican voters.

I had hoped the primary voters’ rebuke to Representative Justin Burr, the architect of judicial gerrymandering, would have been enough to send the message that playing politics with our courts is out of bounds, but that is clearly not the case.
Thank you to the NC League of Conservation Voters for recognizing me as a Rising Star at the 2018 Green Tie Awards!

Your Summer, Our State

Summer is almost here again and that means it’s family vacation season again here in beautiful North Carolina. If you don’t have the time or treasure to take a big trip this year, why not check out some of the amazing state & national  parks we have right here? 

The NC State Parks website is an amazing resource for finding a park that fits your needs, exploring recreational options, and reserving campsites or picnic shelters. There are literally parks in every corner of our state, from Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks to Gorges State Park at the edge of the Nantahala National Forest. You can check out an informational brochure HERE.

If you’re looking for something a little closer to nature, you might want to explore North Carolina’s National Forests. While State Parks are generally manicured and set up with various amenities, our National Forests are designed to offer access and not much else. Their website does a great job of letting you know the level of outdoor skill that might be required to take advantage of any given park.   

One little-known gem that I’m always pointing out to people from Charlotte is Uwaharie National Forest. It’s closer than the mountains, less crowded than the lakes, and just as lovely as both. 

Domestic Violence Hotline: If you or someone you know is trapped in a domestic violence or partner abuse situation, please call Safe Alliance at 704-332-2513 and they can help you.

Mecklenburg Compost & Mulch are now available for purchase from the new Compost Central Recycling Disposal Center. Visit their web page for details and pricing.

Property Tax values and histories in Mecklenburg County can be searched on this site that includes links to Polaris and information about the reassessments that occurred in 2011. You can find more detailed information on real estate values on the Mecklenburg Modria 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.    

Voter Information: You can find your current information on the NC Voter Lookup page. You can also find interactive versions of the new House & Senate maps HERE.   
Don’t forget! Visit 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 with any questions or concerns

In the News

Editorial:  The Teachers March is already rattling NC Republicans
Charlotte Observer

For the first time in modern NC history, lawmakers won't allow changes to budget
The News & Observer

GOP heading to finalize budget likely without amendments
Associated Press

GOP seeks to prohibit amendments to proposed state budget

Democrats, Others Shut Out Of State Budget Process

Do we even need a legislature?
Richmond County Daily Journal (Tom Campbell column)
New GenX Bills Prompt Enforcement Worries
Coastal Review Online

NC Democrat pitches 'red flag' gun law. In less than a day, it goes to where bills die.
The News & Observer

NC Republicans propose $35 million for school safety. Democrats want much more.
The News & Observer

Editorial;  NC needs a red-flag law to stem gun violence caused by mental distress
The News & Observer
CMS report blasts plan to let towns open charter schools: 'A nightmare for taxpayers'
Charlotte Observer

Teacher March Brought Dialogue, But Will It Bring Solutions?
The Mountaineer (Colin Campbell column)

Attorney Gen. Josh Stein sues opioid manufacturer over Medicaid concerns
Spectrum News Charlotte

We can fight opioid abuse by expanding Medicaid
The News & Observer op-ed

Governor talks schools, innovation during community college visit

NC Dems Renew Fight For $15

Teachers take to the streets: WNC teachers demand more money for public education
Smoky Mountain News

Thousands of NC teachers rally in Raleigh for more education funding
Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer

Teacher Rally Delivers Message, But Will Lawmakers Act?

Thousands Of NC Teachers Rally For Funding, Resources

Guilford County school bus drivers join education rally to 'take a stand for everybody'
News & Record

Teachers rally in Raleigh
The High Point Enterprise

Thousands of educators, supporters congregate in Raleigh to demand more funding for education
Winston-Salem Journal

Teachers’ rally: ‘The schools, they don’t get what they need’
Fayetteville Observer

Rally in Raleigh: Teachers demand better funding in large march
Greenville Daily Reflector

Wilmington-area teachers rally in Raleigh for funding, support
Wilmington Star News

Historic teachers rally in Raleigh draws thousands, sights set on November elections
Asheville Citizen-Times

Teachers turn up the heat: Thousands demand better funding
Elizabeth City Daily Advance

Teachers make point 19,000 times
The Robesonian

Local educators join thousands across state in Raleigh march
The Daily Dispatch

‘Not just a meeting, it’s a movement’: Teachers rally for higher pay, smaller classes and more resources
The Wilson Times

'Why did you call us thugs?' Teachers seek answers from NC lawmaker.
The News & Observer

The NC education march was 7 years in the making, as GOP and teachers' group clash
The News & Observer (Rob Christensen column)

NC teachers' signs tell of their hard times
The News & Observer (Ned Barnett column)
Mecklenburg County NC House Districts Effective for the 2018 Election 
Copyright © 2018 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.

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