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

SAVE THE DATE:Medicaid Expansion Town Hall


What: Medicaid Expansion Town Hall
When: 6-7:30 pm on Thursday, March 21
Where: Watauga Medical Center Auditorium, 336 Deerfield Rd., Boone
Let your voice be heard. North Carolina has nearly 500,000 low-income residents who are either uninsured or under-insured. We need solutions now!
Rep. Russell and Sen. Deanna Ballard, along with hospital administrators and healthcare professionals and many others affected by the struggles of rural healthcare will participate in this town hall.
We want input from across the region, especially those affected by the healthcare coverage gap.
Watch for additional notifications and media announcements about the town hall.
Please share this notice with family and friends who might be interested in attending

Fexible School Calendar Bill Introduced

Last week House Bill 207 was introduced on the House floor. The bill will give certain mountain counties, including Ashe and Watauga, more flexibility in their public school calendars due to severe weather.
Students in counties affected by severe weather have their school calendars disrupted to the point of losing a half-year of classes over the course of their 12 years in school.
House Bill 207, which was also sponsored by Rep. Josh Dobson of McDowell County, allows more flexibility for local boards of education in determining opening days for certain mountain counties (Watauga, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell). Waivers can be granted to those four counties when they experience excessive lost days “due to severe weather conditions, energy shortages, power failures, or other emergency situations.”
If the bill passes, those counties could open as early as the Monday closest to Aug. 7, 12 or 19, depending on the number of days missed by students in previous years. The criteria for changing opening dates is:
  • If schools have been closed 8 days per year during any four of the last 10 years, the opening date shall be no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 19.
  • If schools have been closed 13 days per year during any four of the last 10 years, the opening date shall be no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 12.
  • If schools have been closed 17 days per year during any four of the last 10 years, the opening date shall be no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 7.
The closing date of schools in the counties affected will remain the Friday closest to June 11.
The boards of education and county commissioners of Ashe and Watauga counties adopted resolutions in support of the flexible calendar prior to my introduction of the bill.
The calendar flexibility plan does not apply to year-round schools.
Leadership in the Education K-12 have indicated their support for the bill, so I am optimistic it will make it to the House floor for a vote.

Two Shots At Non-partisan Redistricting

In the past several weeks, two bills have been introduced that offer solutions to the chaos of lawsuits over gerrymandering and partisan redistricting. Both bills have bi-partisan support.
The aim of House Bill 69 is to set up a non-partisan commission to draw new districts from US Census data each decade. The Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission would consist of four members each from the Democratic and Republican parties, along with three members registered as unaffiliated.
House Bill 140 would set up criteria in the Constitution outlining how fair redistricting would take place in North Carolina. Among other things, the bill bans the use of the following in determining new districts: political affiliation of registered voters, previous election results, the residential address of an incumbent or declared candidate, demographic information other than population head counts, and any other data identifying voting tendencies of any group of citizens.
Both of these bills have strengths and weaknesses, but any progress toward a fairer redistricting process is good for North Carolina. We need for voters to choose their representatives, not representatives choose their voters. I don’t know which of these will get traction in the House, but I expect I will offer amendments to that bill to strengthen it.

Student IDs As Voter IDs

Last week I and some of my colleagues held a press conference to announce the filing of House Bill 167, a measure that would give colleges and universities more time to certify their students’ identification cards can be used as valid IDs in state and local elections.
Sponsored also by Rep. Zack Hawkins of Durham, the bill would extend the deadline for colleges and universities to certify, from March 13 to Sept. 15.
University and college officials and student leaders have indicated their strong support for this bill.
Read the bill in its entirety:

Investing in Young Children

Under a new bill I co-sponsored last month, an additional $20 million investment would be distributed to Smart Start agencies across the state, including Ashe and Watauga counties.
Smart Start is North Carolina’s nationally-recognized initiative for children from birth to five years old which works to ensure that all children reach their potential and are prepared to succeed in their communities. Smart Start is a public/private partnership. Independent, private organizations work in all 100 North Carolina counties through The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. Local partnerships including the Children’s Council of Watauga and the Ashe County Partnership for Children.
House Bill 113, which has bipartisan support, is an attempt to remedy declining state appropriations for the program (currently 33% less than 2001).
Kim Barnes, executive director the Ashe County Partnership for Children, says children at all ages in Ashe County, including 68 infants and toddlers, are not receiving services because of lack of funding.
Mary Scott, interim director of the Children’s Council of Watauga, says restoring lost funding for Smart Start “will (make an) impact on young children and families.”
The first 2,000 days of a child’s life are critical to their success in academics and in life. That’s why Smart Start is so important for children and their families. This program assures more children will begin kindergarten ready to learn and grow.
Investing in our children is not just the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense. Studies show positive effects of early childhood intervention on high school graduation rates, future employment opportunities, and income levels for both the parents of young children and the children themselves once they become adults.

Bills I have Sponsored or Co-Sponsored

5: Close the Medicaid Coverage Gap
29: Standing Up for Rape Victims Act
64: Blue/Gold Star Mothers Appreciation Day
69: Non-partisan Redistricting Commission
71: School Safety Grants Program
75: School Mental Health Screening Study
113: MCAC and TAC Funds
124: Smart Start Funds
144: Hands Free NC
162 Continuing Education for General Contractors
167: Extend Deadline/Certain ID Approval/Voting
185: SAVE Act (modernize nursing regulations)
207: School Calendar Flex/Weather/Certain Counties