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Rep. Ray Russell’s Raleigh Report: Newsletter Highlighting Info from NC General Assembly

Health care plans for small businesses, farmers

What is one of biggest challenges facing the personal well-being of self-employed people, farmers and their employees and families? Affordable health care!
The House is seeking to remedy that with House Bill 464: Small Business Health Care Act. The bill seeks to allow small businesses associations, Realtors, and groups like Farm Bureau to ban together to purchase group health care packages at more affordable prices. Under current law these folks face exorbitant prices to cover themselves and their small number of employees.
The bill would allow associations like Farm Bureau, real estate associations, and others to create larger pools of insured in their groups, thereby driving down the prices.
For me to sign onto this bill I had two requirements:
  • It would not disrupt the Affordable Care Act (ACA) market.
  • The bill would be strict enough not to allow what I call “junk” health care programs that take people’s money but do not provide adequate coverage that will protect their families.
The Senate has proposed Senate Bill 86, which they are also calling the Small Business Health Care Act. The bills are not the same, however, because SB 86 does not protect against those “junk” plans. We must assure that high-quality plans are available to everyone.
House Bill 464 is a better bill because it would:
  • Allow sole proprietors and working owners to jointly purchase Association Health Plans (AHPs) through associations rather than have to purchase individual market coverage.
  • Allow the sponsoring association to be treated as a large group for health insurance purposes under state and federal law, eliminating some of the expensive mandates and rating rules that have raised cost for small groups.
  • Expand the commonality of interest to allow employer members in the same trade, industry, line of business, or profession or employer members in a statewide association to offer AHPs.
On the federal level, the US District court for the District of Columbia recently set aside some aspects of regulation of AHPs, but the decision does not apply to AHPs as a whole.
This court decision is likely to be appealed, and it is yet to be seen how this will play out for the ACA or North Carolina employers and workers.

Gold Star wife, author has local ties

I met Wesley Bauguess, a Gold Star widow, at the NC Patriot Star Family Scholarship Bill Reception Wednesday night. She met her husband Larry Bauguess, a Wilkes County native, when they were students in ROTC at Appalachian State University. When their daughters were only 4 and 6, Larry was killed while stationed in Afghanistan when a rogue Pakistani officer Larry thought was on his side opened fire on US and Afghani troops on a peace mission at a border village.
Wesley was devastated, but turned her diary from the intervening years into a best seller. “God, Country, Golf: Reflections of an Army Widow” She was the keynote speaker at the reception held in Raleigh that celebrated the bill that would provide scholarships to the families of fallen or disabled soldiers.
Wesley attended ASU on a golf scholarship, and the lessons she learned from golf were discipline and tenacity. Country was obviously also important to her and to Major Bauguess. They both signed up for military service after college, although Wesley had resigned when they started a family, and they took pride in that commitment. The other thread in Wesley’s book, God, came through her devotion to her faith, something that she said provided her with strength and resilience through troubling times.
The NC Patriot Star Family Scholarship Act is House Bill 475, and I was proud to co-sponsor the it: https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H475v1.pdf

End Voter ID confusion

North Carolina has faced at least a half-dozen lawsuits over Voter ID. It’s been a confusing mess all the way around. Now university and college students and state employees are in limbo as to whether their IDs can be used in upcoming elections.
We need to end this confusion now. Rep. Zack Hawkins of Durham and I have proposed House Bill 397 which would outline procedures for colleges, universities and state employers to certify that their IDs are acceptable to be used when voting.
The bill requires the State Board of Elections to develop temporary rules for accepting IDs no later than July of this year and would gives schools and the state until 2021 to develop ID cards with expiration dates on them.

Rep. Russell on the go!

Ashe High School senior Jona Wemmitt, second from right, shows off her artwork, called Circus Sunflowers, which was chosen by the NC Arts Council to be displayed for a year in the NC General Assembly. Jona and Tanner Nichols of Warrensville were two among the 11 students chosen from submissions from across the state. Jona is pictured with her parents James and Tamela Wemmitt of West Jefferson and with Rep. Russell. Jona will be attending East Tennessee State University in the fall studying graphic art. She and her parents attended a reception at the General Assembly on Tuesday honoring the student artists.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at the NC General Assembly

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at the NC General Assembly attending meetings, meeting with constituents and networking with organizations that I hope will be able to help District 93 grow and prosper. I want to thank everyone I met with for teaching me something about the district and letting me share with them my ideas for improving Ashe and Watauga counties.
I was recently appointed to the Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee which meets every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning. I’ve learned a lot about sources of funding for transportation needs in the state and how that money is spent.
Other meetings/appointments:
  • Attended panel discussion on ERA ratification.
  • NC Advocates for Justice legislative reception.
  • Legislative breakfast with representatives from the Methodist Home for Children.
  • Meeting with Dr. Mark Poarch and Trustees from Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute.
  • Meeting with representative of the NC League of Municipalities to discuss expansion of broadband in rural areas on North Carolina.
  • Meeting with Michael Pettyjohn, Division 11 Engineer with the NC Department of Transportation, about projects in District 93.
  • Meeting with John Ward, Boone town manager, to discuss areas of general interest.
  • Town Hall with residents and officials of Blowing Rock.
  • Local meeting with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.
  • Several meetings with the district NCDOT engineer about local transportation projects and constituent concerns.
  • Legislative breakfast sponsored by State Farm where I met with local agents.
  • House Transportation Committee meetings.
  • Legislative breakfast with the NC Rehabilitation Association.
  • House Elections and Ethics Law Committee meeting.
  • NC Legislative Family Code Night. Parents brought their children to learn about computer coding. The kids did just great; it was the parents who learned from their children!
  • NC Travel and Tourism breakfast where I learned a lot about the Visit NC ad campaign and the economic impact the industry has on the state.
  • Sat in on a presentation of the Status of Women Report on Employment and Earnings.
  • NC Criminal Justice Summit in Chapel Hill.
  • Met with Chris Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of NC, on prospects for District 93.
  • Down Syndrome Advocacy Day legislative breakfast, where I talked with an inspiring young man named Matthew Schwab. Matthew has Down Syndrome and works and is active in his community. He doesn’t let Down Syndrome define him.
  • Met with local representatives from the NC Association of Pharmacists.
  • Met with representatives from Blue Ridge Energy and attended the NC Electric Cooperatives legislative reception
  • Attended the American Association for Suicide Prevention legislative reception and award ceremony.
  • Met with presidents and board members of the Ashe and Watauga Farm Bureau and participated in the NC General Assembly Ag Day.
  • Attended the NC Technology Association legislative breakfast.
  • Met with High Country Home Builders Association.
  • Town Hall at Watauga Medical Center on Medicaid expansion.
  • Attended a legislative reception for NC Independent Colleges & Universities.
  • Met with Angie Chandler and Millie Barbee of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.
  • Met with volunteers from the Watauga Audubon Society.
  • Attended the NC Rural Day reception.
  • Met with Diana Cameron of the Blowing Rock Arts and History Museum.
  • Attended a reception hosted by the NC District Attorneys Association and chatted with our local DA Seth Banks.
  • Attended the NC Association of Regional Council of Governments reception and visited with our local officials from Region D (High Country Council of Governments).
  • Interacted with second graders at Mountain View Elementary School who were graduating from the Ashe County Cooperative Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

Bills recently co-sponsored

For a comprehensive list of bills I have sponsored or co-sponsored since session started (with links to the bills and other information), visit: https://www.ncleg.gov/Members/IntroducedBills/H/753
House Bill 269: Enact the NC Caregivers Act. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H269v1.pdf
House Bill 271: NC Adopt Equal Rights Amendment.https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H271v1.pdf
House Bill 295: Prohibit Corporal Punishment in Public Schools.
House Bill 318: Opioid Prescription & Treatment Opt Out Act. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H318v1.pdf
House Bill 329: Exempt EV Statewide Public Utilities Regulations. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H329v1.pdf
House Bill 359: $15/Hour Minimum Wage Pay for Non-Certified School Employees.https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H359v1.pdf
House Bill 379: Funds for Nurse-Family Partnerships. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H379v1.pdf
House Bill 387: Electric Co-op Rural Broadband Services. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H387v1.pdf
House Bill 393: Modernize Sexual Assault Laws. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H393v1.pdf
House Bill 395: Regulate Challenge Course. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H395v1.pdf
House Bill 397: Revise Approval Student/Employee ID/Voting. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H397v1.pdf
House Bill 399: Disaster Area Building Rehab Tax Credit Bonus. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H399v1.pdf
House Bill 408: Expand Teaching Fellows Program. https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H408v1.pdf
House Bill 428: K-3 Reading and Literacy Improvement Act.
House Bill 431: FIBER NC Act.
House Bill 449: Special Registration Plates.
House Bill 457: Restore Master’s Pay for Certain Teachers.