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Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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As our family celebrates Christmas, we wish everyone the wonder, joy, peace, and light of the holidays, and a happy New Year!

Fair Courts for North Carolina

The current leadership of the General Assembly has not been shy about meddling with the North Carolina Judiciary when it was politically expedient or necessary to get a favored candidate elected (See: Honorable Phil Berger, Jr.), but their recent moves are nothing less than an attack on the independence of our courts. This past session, bills were passed that shrunk the Court of Appeals to preempt appointments by Governor Cooper (H239), turned all judicial races into partisan elections (H100), and eliminated judicial primaries (S656). There are currently bills introduced that would gerrymander judicial districts throughout the State (HB717) and shorten all judicial terms to only two years (S698). If the idea of judges having to campaign and raise money for elections every two years disturbs you, the leadership thinks you’ll settle for a ‘merit selection’ system that trusts the GOP supermajorities to pick everyone who is ‘qualified’ to be a judge in our State.

I am committed to opposing these changes with my colleagues, especially Representatives Marcia Morey and Joe John, who are both retired district court judges and intimately aware of how these changes could damage our justice system. The North Carolina State Constitution, like our U.S. Constitution, seeks to insulate judges and the administration of justice from political considerations. Nearly every ‘reform’ that has been introduced by the current leadership has sought to do the opposite. These latest unprecedented efforts by the legislative branch to subvert the independence of the judicial branch are an affront to the constitutional safeguards that keep our system in balance.

If you want to learn more about these legislative attacks, you can visit Faircourtsnc.com,  a project of the NAACP, Democracy NC, Progress NC, and the North Carolina Center for Voter Education. I support their pledge to oppose any attempts to further inject politics into the North Carolina Court System, including proposals that would shorten judicial terms, gerrymander court districts, or eliminate elections to allow legislators to appoint judges. FairCourtsNC is holding a Town Hall on Tuesday, December 12th from 6:30 to 8:30 PM, so please come out if you would like to learn more and get involved.

    Fair Courts Town Hall - Charlotte
    December 12th - 6:30 to 8:30 PM
    Midwood Cultural Center Auditorium
    1817 Central Ave #215 
    Charlotte, NC 28205

 

Comforting the Powerful at Our Expense

I have philosophical differences with my Republican colleagues, but often understand their positions, even if I do not agree with them. However, I have been absolutely shocked by the extent to which they are willing to allow companies and developers to foul the air, water, and soil of North Carolina without apparent concern for the consequences, including negative effects on the health and safety of our residents. The ongoing revelations about lax oversight and regulation of the Chemours plant in Fayetteville, the leadership’s successful effort to shield industrial scale hog farms from liability for spraying hog waste on private homes, and the Utility Commission’s clear preference to allow Duke Energy to actually charge rate-payers to clean up coal ash pits, paint a clear picture of legislators quick to take the side of the powerful against the people of our State.

Chemours has not only been dumping GenX and other ‘non-regulated’ compounds into the Cape Fear River, it has also allowed the release of aerosolized GenX, polluting wells and groundwater sources for miles around the plant. It is also clear they consistently lied on their reports to state regulators. Legislative leaders talk about ‘freeing business from regulation’ as being good for the economy, but lax oversight of just one chemical plant has negatively impacted tens of thousands of residents. Who is paying the cost for that? What about the people who may have to move out of their homes? The leadership continues to cut the budget for inspectors at the Department of Environmental Quality and loosen the reporting requirements for chemical plants across our State. How many more Chemours plants will the residents of NC have to pay for?

If anything, the Chemours situation reminds me of a debate we had earlier this year about a bill that shielded industrial scale hog farms from liability claims from neighbors whose property was coated with hog waste sprayed on agricultural fields. You would think that legislators who tout the importance of individual rights and claim support for small family farms would leap to the defense of these small farmers who are driven off of their property by animal waste sprayed by the large corporate farm next door. Instead, HB467 originally sought to change the law so that small farmers who had already proved their case in court could not receive compensation. In the end, it just provides that neighbors of these corporate operations can no longer receive compensation for hog waste sprayed on their property or found in their homes. Once again, the powerful find an ear in Raleigh, while the average citizen gets a kitchen table coated in pig poop.

Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, is the ongoing spectacle of watching Duke Energy patiently explain that they need permission to significantly raise electric rates for their customers in order to maintain their profit margin while they clean up their coal ash pits. The same coal ash pits they built and represented as safe for decades, but which turned out to be shoddily constructed and liable to collapse. When companies make mistakes like dumping 27 million gallons of coal ash water into a river due to their own poorly designed facilities, their profitability should take a hit. Instead, Duke Energy seems confident they’ll get their 9.5% profit margin next year and every year because they have better friends in Raleigh than their citizen rate-payers.

Economic growth produces jobs and prosperity, but regulations are in place to create a fair playing field. A company cannot just dump trash in it’s neighbor’s yard, post a large profit, and tell the neighbor to clean up the mess themselves. That’s not fair, but it’s what seems to happen again and again with the current leadership in the General Assembly.
Congratulations to Vi Lyles, the first female African American Mayor of Charlotte! 

Call Your Representatives & Senators

Net Neutrality: Call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to tell the FCC to cancel the Net Neutrality rule repeal vote. Right now, there are rules in place that treat internet service like a utility. Similar to electricity, you can be charged more or less money for using more or less internet service, but the electric company cannot charge you different amounts to power your air conditioner and your TV. If these rules (generally referred to as ‘net neutrality’) are repealed, internet service providers would immediately be allowed to charge customers different amounts to access different websites, and they would be able to charge companies different rates to maintain their presence on the internet and connections to their customers.

North Carolina is already behind on our commitment to expand broadband across out state, and the repeal of net neutrality laws means that internet services could get dramatically more expensive, especially for rural customers who require greater network investment to get the lines to their houses. There’s also no way to predict the impact on new internet startup companies, which are created every year in RTP. If an existing company can afford to pay for an internet ‘fast lane’ to their customers, but the startup cannot afford the fast lane, how will their customers reach them? 

We need our representatives in Washington to stop the FCC from repealing Net Neutrality. 

‘Tax Reform’: They are working night and day to put together a tax cut package that is guaranteed to blow at least a $1 trillion hole in our budget over the next 10 years, and that’s using the economic growth assumptions the GOP are constantly bragging about. One of the worst ideas they’ve come up with is repealing the individual mandate to buy health insurance, which has the double advantage of knocking 13 million people off insurance and more than doubling health insurance premiums over the next decade. Others are a 300% tax increase for grad students, no more estate tax on the .01%, and a nearly 30% corporate tax cut in a year of record profits.

The only thing that makes me more angry than seeing this blatant looting of the U.S. Treasury by special interests is knowing they will inevitably tell us they need to cut Medicaid and Social Security to cover costs. If we don’t stop this game now, the next part is going to get very painful for a lot of people.

You can find contact information for your member of Congress HERE.


Senator Thom Tillis
185 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Email Link
Phone: (202) 224-6342
Fax: (202) 228-2563

Senator Richard Burr
217 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Email Link
Phone: (202) 224-3154
Fax: (202) 228-2981
The Charlotte Chamber's holiday party was full of old friends and new faces this year!

Your City, Our Community

The holidays are upon us! One of our favorite family Christmas traditions was delivering Christmas Lunch from St. Patrick’s to shut-ins on Christmas Day with all four of our kids. Since the six of us were a big crew, we were assigned to one of the large high rise public housing buildings uptown every year. I remember my kids were a little reluctant to be dragged away from their presents the first year, but they were eager to return after they saw how much people appreciated the meals and presents we delivered. 

If you’re looking for a way to give back this holiday season, here is a listing of local programs and missions that are active in our area over the holidays:

http://www.needhelppayingbills.com/html/mecklenburg_county_christmas_a.html
 
Open Enrollment ends December 15th! Visit HealthCare.gov to update your financial information and choose your plan. If you are signing up for the first time, or need help making your decision, visit www.getcoveredamerica.org/connector to find local organizations who offer one-on-one appointments to help people get covered.

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.

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
Visit GetAmericaCovered.org to help spread the word about ACA Open Enrollemnt.

In the News

Residential customers face 12.5% rate hike under latest Duke Energy Progress proposal
Charlotte Business Journal

Parents Organize Across State Against Class Size Mandate
WUNC

Washington’s Tax Scheme Looks Eerily Familiar
Medium post by Governor Roy Cooper

How the House and Senate Tax Bills Stack Up
Bloomberg
 
How The GOP Tax Plan Actually Affects Your Wallet
Fivethirtyeight.com
 
Winners and Losers in Republican Tax Plan
Insurance Journal
 
The Republican Tax Bill's Winners and Losers
Time Magazine
 
7 stats that explain what the Senate Republican tax bill would do
Vox.com
 
4 popular deductions the GOP tax plan would end
CBS News
 
7 Ways the Republican Tax Plan Is Horrible for Young People
Cosmopolitan
 
Analysis Shows Negative Effects of Tax Reform Bills for the Work of North Carolina’s Nonprofits
North Carolina Center for Non Profits
 
The Republican Tax Plan Contains More Middle-Class Pain Than Even Its Critics Are Saying
The New Yorker
 
GOP tax plan rattles higher education
Politico
 
Trump wrongly says he won’t benefit from GOP tax plan
NBC News
 
An 11th-Hour Raid by the Wealthiest Baby Boomers
The Atlantic

Duke Energy rate increase focused on coal ash cleanup cost
Winston-Salem Journal
 
No Mercy for Judges Who Show Mercy
The Marshall Project
 
Ousted Cardinal leaders tried to keep control of taxpayer money, state attorney says
Charlotte Observer
 
Editorial: It's time for legislative leaders cooperate not obfuscate on redistricting
Capital Broadcasting Company
 
Editorial:  An independent judiciary is under siege in Washington and NC
The News & Observer
 
North Carolina’s Attacks on the Courts Lead to Fewer Judges of Color
Center for American Progress
 
Push to limit waivers of court fees will require at least 615 mailed notices monthly
WRAL

‘We do not have constituents. We cannot take a side,’ NC judges tell lawmakers.
The News & Observer
 
CDC Ramping Up Data Surveillance of Opioid Overdoses
NC Health News
 
These new state hires could help cut down North Carolina’s rape kit backlog
The News & Observer
 
Mental Health Providers Get Ready to Add Physical Care to Services
NC Health News
 
North Carolina lottery looking at online scratch-off sales
Winston-Salem Journal
 
Editorial:  Online lottery questionable
Wilkes Journal-Patriot
 
Mission, Blue Cross deal brings relief - and resentment - for consumers
Asheville Citizen-Times
 
Faith Leaders Revive MLK's 'Poor People's Campaign' 50 Years Later
Color Lines
 
Should NC lawmakers be able to intervene in HB2 protesters’ criminal cases?
The News & Observer
 
District 88 Map
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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