Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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My Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend was filled with friends and allies who believe the work of the Civil Rights Movement is ongoing and essential. This week's newsletter closes with a passage that speaks to me in these interesting times. 

No Fix for #ClassSizeChaos (Yet?)

I’m just returning to Charlotte after a week of sound and fury in Raleigh. There were some significant developments in the ongoing battle over the judiciary, but no progress on the issue about which I get the most phone calls and emails, the K - 3 class size mandates. 

If you haven’t heard about these, there were provisions added to the 2016 Appropriations Act that reduced the maximum allowable class sizes for grades Kindergarten through 3rd, starting in the 2017-2018 school year. I will not get into the technical details, but Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools would need to hire 353 K-3 teachers and build over 200 classrooms (that’s 4-6 new elementary schools) in a year to just meet some of the basic requirements this mandate creates, and it included absolutely no additional funding for school construction. 

For a more in depth look at how we fund teachers and the unintended consequences of the mandate, check out this report from NC Policy Watch.    

I was part of the bipartisan coalition that came together to pass HB13, a temporary fix that delayed the mandate for one year, but was understood to be a temporary fix. Now, the time for our school systems to budget for the 2018-19 school year has arrived and the leadership seems to have no intention to discuss the issue again until we convene in May. However, that is well after hiring and temporary classroom rental decisions need to be made by school boards across the state, so if we ‘fix the problem’ at that point, we’ll just create a host of different problems as school assignment and teacher hiring decisions will have to be remade. 

Legislative Democrats and Governor Cooper agree that lower class sizes will benefit students across the state, but don’t want to steal funding from successful educational programs and subjects like Science, Art, and PE to pay for unfunded construction and personnel mandates. Once again, it seems like the leadership in the General Assembly have decided that their policy decisions, once made, must be defended at all costs, even when they are shown to have severe unintended consequences that rightly provoke public ire.

I have a folder with over 1000 emails I received since January of 2017 from parents across the state who have contacted the legislature asking us to address this issue, but we have only been able to pass a stop-gap measure that has now expired. 

We need full funding for a new set of K-3 class size priorities that include specialist teachers, a reasonable implementation timeline, and a cost sharing program to help districts build enough classroom space to accommodate the new, smaller classes. Ideally, we would create a flexible funding structure that allowed schools to invest in additional grade level teachers for intensive basic instruction, or to use the funds for additional specialty subjects or programs in schools where the student population performs on grade level with slightly larger ‘home room’ classes. Education reform is supposed to be about looking at what works and avoiding ‘one size fits all’ policies, not blindly enforcing mandates without regard to the consequences. 

Those of you who met me in 2016 know that education funding and decisions were my top reason for wanting to become a Representative. I promise that I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House to present realistic solutions for education and reducing class sizes in North Carolina. The Republican Chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Craig Horn, has indicated he's open to fixing the law, but it seems like he has been unable to convince Senate Republicans the issue merits immediate attention.
If you have the time, I would encourage you to write your North Carolina Senator and ask them to pres this issue with their leadership. Unfortunately, that’s the only way we’ll see progress on this issue before the 2018 school year begins.

Please stay tuned to my official Twitter (@BelkRep) feed for updates and announcements
Thank you to the Black Women's Caucus and the Charlotte Women's March for everything they did to get women elected in 2017!

Keep Up the Pressure for Fair Courts

There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding what type of changes to the judiciary might come up for votes in our sessions last week. I’m relieved to report that there was not enough consensus between Republican members of the House and Senate to bring forward any plan at this time. 

There are a number of theories about why this happened, but I believe it was a combination of the public pressure brought to bear on the redistricting process combined with a recognition that the recent Virginia and Alabama elections may foretell less than stellar outcomes at the ballot box in 2018, when any NC Constitutional Amendments would need to be approved.
In my last newsletter, I reviewed a number of the proposals that are currently under debate, including a partisan redistricting of the District & Superior Court districts, and constitutional amendments to allow for legislative selection of judges, or to ‘reset’ all NC judicial terms and shorten them to two years. Our caucus, led by Representatives Marcia Morey and Joe John (both former district court judges), has been fighting these proposals, but lacks the numbers to stop legislation without public pressure to let the leadership know they will pay a price at the ballot box. 

I want to thank anyone who has been a part of the Fair Maps or Fair Courts movements. I truly believe your work has forced the leadership to rethink their partisan attacks on the judiciary. However, we must remain vigilant because there is still plenty of time for them to reach consensus on the issue of redistricting the courts and there’s no guarantee Governor Cooper’s expected veto would stand up to a vote of the supermajorities in the NCGA.
"I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats." Representative David Lewis explaining the 2016 decision to approve 10 Republican and 3 Democratic leaning congressional districts. 

Gerrymandering Takes Another Hit

This past Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Federal Court in Greensboro ruled that the 2016 federal congressional district lines, drawn by Republicans, were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders and ordered the legislature to redraw the maps in two weeks. As many of you know, racial gerrymandering is an issue that has been battled in and out of the courts for decades, but this ruling marks the first time a federal court has struck down a federal congressional district map due to partisan gerrymandering. (Read the full ruling HERE, and a synopsis HERE.)
There are two similar cases before the Supreme Court from Wisconsin and Maryland, but they involve partisan gerrymandering of State Senate and House districts, not the House of Representatives. Also, the North Carolina case includes a novel 1st Amendment argument against partisan gerrymandering that may make it ‘stronger’ than the Wisconsin and Maryland cases.

Like the current Wisconsin & Maryland cases, all three federal judges in the North Carolina case agreed that the level of partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina (where Democrats garnered 47% of the federal congressional votes but won 23% of the seats) constitutes a violation of the Equal Protection Clause because the districts were specifically designed to disadvantage voters who supported non-Republicans without a compelling state interest. They also agreed that the legislature had violated Article I of the constitution by overstepping their authority to draw district lines by infringing on the people’s right to choose their representatives. 

The novel argument set forth in the new case, and agreed by two of the three judges, is that the legislature also violated voters’ Right to Free Association in the 1st Amendment by punishing them for their past political association with the opposition party. This is an argument that has been suggested and one that might be more in line with the principles of conservative jurisprudence, and therefore possibly more likely to convince one of the Supreme Court’s five conservative members.
Because we are so close to the 2018 candidate filing period (February 12th), the conventional wisdom is that the Supreme Court will stay the order to draw new lines, rule on the Wisconsin and Maryland cases, and then either affirm the NC case if they agree Wisconsin & Maryland are guilty of partisan gerrymandering, or schedule a hearing for North Carolina if the Wisconsin and Maryland maps are ruled constitutional. Either way, it doesn’t seem like there is time for us to get new maps in 2018, but if 2017 taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
Martin Luther King, Jr. - September 1964 - Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

Excerpt from 1964 London Address on Segregation and Apartheid 

But in the final analysis, racial discrimination must be uprooted from American society and from every society, because it is morally wrong. So it is necessary to go all out and develop massive action programs to get rid of racial segregation.

Now I would like to mention one or two ideas that circulate in our society—and they probably circulate in your society and all over the world—that keep us from developing the kind of action programs necessary to get rid of discrimination and segregation. One is what I refer to as the myth of time. There are those individuals who argue that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice in the United States, in South Africa or anywhere else; you’ve got to wait on time. And I know they’ve said to us so often in the States and to our allies in the white community, “Just be nice and be patient and continue to pray, and in 100 or 200 years the problem will work itself out.” We have heard and we have lived with the myth of time. The only answer that I can give to that myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I must honestly say to you that I’m convinced that the forces of ill will have often used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And we may have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around saying, “Wait on time.”

And somewhere along the way it is necessary to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always ripe to do right. This is so vital, and this is so necessary.

Now, the other myth that gets around a great deal in our nation and, I’m sure, in other nations of the world is the idea that you can’t solve the problems in the realm of human relations through legislation; you can’t solve the housing problem and the job problem and all of these other problems through legislation; you’ve got to change the heart. […] If we’re going to get this problem solved in America and all over the world, ultimately, people must change their hearts where they have prejudices.

If we are going to solve the problems facing mankind, I would be the first to say that every white person must look down deep within and remove every prejudice that may be there, and come to see that the Negro, and the colored peoples, generally, must be treated right, not merely because the law says it, but because it is right and because it is natural. I agree with this 100 percent. And I’m sure that if the problem is to be solved, ultimately, men must be obedient not merely to that which can be enforced by the law, but they must rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable.

But after saying all of that, I must go on to the other side. […] It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law can’t change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important also.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
December 7, 1964
Video & Transcript of Complete Address


Your City, Our Community

The Mecklenburg Arts and Science Council is hosting their annual Connect with Culture Days on Friday, January 26th and Saturday the 27th. Museums and cultural heritage sites throughout Mecklenburg will welcome residents and visitors free of charge for these two days. Plus, the ASC is sponsoring over 60 free cultural events in neighborhoods throughout the county so everyone can access at least one free cultural experience without traveling too far.
Have you wanted to check out the Bechtler? How about an African Dance Class? Are your kids at the ‘Storytime Reading with Ballerina Claire Hutchinson’ age? These and many more experiences are available to everyone on Connect with Culture Days. 

You can find a list of all the neighborhood cultural experiences available HERE. Be sure to register for the ticketed events if you decide to go!

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.

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.

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

NC congressional districts struck down as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders
The News & Observer
Our View: Court takes a strong stand on gerrymandering
Fayetteville Observer
House, Senate divided over GenX bill
North Carolina lawmakers back at work, no new GenX deal yet
Associated Press
NC Governor Cooper Seeks Offshore Drilling Exemption
Protesters in Raleigh gather to stop what they call ‘Class Size Chaos’

New NC Laws Taking Effect Jan. 1
Spectrum News
New NC Laws for 2018: Opioid Rules, Traffic Stop Procedures and More
New NC laws take effect Monday. What the changes mean to you
Charlotte Observer
New North Carolina laws take effect in 2018
A Look at the New Laws Coming to North Carolina in 2018
Silent Marchers Protest Plan They Call 'Judicial Gerrymandering'
New Year's Day minimum wage hikes again don't include North Carolina
Winston-Salem Journal
Our Opinion: The wages of low pay
News & Record
GenX Bill Orders Studies, Provides No Money
Coastal Review Online
Who will choose NC’s judges – Voters? Lawmakers? The governor? New plans released.
The News & Observer
Changes to the NC constitution have been rare lately, but that might change this month
The News & Observer

Gov. Roy Cooper says lawmakers must pay for smaller K-3 classes
The News & Observer
District 88 Map
Copyright © 2018 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.

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