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

During the past year meeting with constituents in Ashe and Watauga counties, it’s clear that we need more news from state government in Raleigh. What we do in Raleigh probably has greater impact on your daily life than the 24/7 coverage of events in Washington, DC. But there’s almost no news reaching northwest North Carolina from our state government.
To address this void of news coverage from Raleigh, I hope to provide a newsletter every couple of weeks to let you know what important issues are being discussed and to let you know what I am doing. You elected me to represent you. You deserve to know what’s happening! I hope you find them helpful and informative.
The 2019-20 session of the NC General Assembly started Jan. 30. Currently the session consists of bills being researched, written, introduced, and sent to committees. It’s challenging, covers an amazing wide range of topics, and is time-consuming. Being a researcher at heart, however, I’m loving every minute of this process.
I am typically in Ashe and Watauga counties from Friday to Monday morning, meeting with as many people as time allows. Monday afternoon through Thursday, I’m in Raleigh. The Audible App has become my best friend during the four-hour drives in between.
About a half-dozen folks from Ashe and Watauga have visited me in Raleigh. If you’re in Raleigh, please come by the office. You should call ahead because the days are packed with meetings and research. The office number is 919-733-7727. My legislative assistant Anna Meadows will be glad to help. I’m in 602 Legislative Office Building, 300 N. Salisbury St. and would love to hear what’s on your mind. You can also send me emails atray.russell@ncleg.net.
Please share this newsletter with friends and encourage them to sign up. In addition to the newsletter, I’ll have a number of Town Hall meetings–the first is being scheduled right now. Look for an announcement soon.
Reason, Reform and Redistricting
At a conference held earlier this session on the Duke University campus, I learned about efforts to stop partisan gerrymandering. I had meaningful discussions with both Democrats and Republicans at the conference, called “Reason, Reform and Redistricting.” The idea of non-partisan redistricting seems to have traction on both sides.
School Calendar Flexibility
I am meeting with representatives from both sides of the aisle, working on legislation to address school calendar issues for schools in northwest North Carolina. Ashe and Watauga County Schools are affected each year with closings and delays due to late summer heat, fall flooding, winter weather and spring flooding. Schools in northwest North Carolina usually miss more days than those in any other region of the state. As a result, students must take midterm exams after the Christmas break and face enrollment problems because the high school calendar is misaligned with the community college calendar.
Transparency in Government
The NC legislature is one of a few states that does not provide live and archived video of sessions of the General Assembly. We are working on this and a number of other proposals to increase transparency in the process of making laws for the state of North Carolina. This is what we owe our constituents.
Economic Development
As best as I can determine, the last major industry to move to Ashe or Watauga counties came in 2007. That’s a 12-year drought in new major businesses. The economic well-being of our state, our district, our communities and our families depends on good-paying jobs. I’m working with business leaders, education leaders and agencies in Raleigh to find the right formula to bring business to our region.
Transportation Needs
I met last week with David Graham, transportation planner for the High Country Council of Governments, to learn more about transportation needs in Ashe and Watauga counties. As a newly appointed member of the House Transportation Committee, I intend to take what I learn back to Raleigh to advocate for our district.
Broadband Expansion in Rural Communities
If rural communities are to compete for good-paying jobs for their citizens, then broadband is not just a luxury, it’s a necessity. Students, the medical community, small businesses, farmers, etc. need access to high-speed internet.

Bridging the Insurance Coverage Gap

I will work to find solutions to this problem. Currently I am serving on a Broadband Work Group in the House and talking with leaders in the Department of Commerce, the NC Rural Center and others to determine what can be done.
A press conference was held in January to announce the filing of a Medicaid Expansion bill in the House and Senate. Pictured to the right: Sen. Gladys Robinson of Guilford County speaks on the merits of the bill. I attended the press conference in support of the bills which, if enacted, I believe would be of great benefit to the residents, businesses and hospitals in Ashe and Watauga Counties.
If enacted, the proposed Medicaid Expansion bill (House Bill 5), which I have co-sponsored, would provide much-needed health care coverage for 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians, including more than 3,300 Ashe and Watauga county residents. Additionally, it would provide a financial boost for rural hospitals. Watauga Medical Center and Ashe Memorial Hospital (and other local medical providers) would receive a boost of roughly $4.2 million per year in previously unreimbursed medical costs.
The bill targets mostly low-income workers and their families. For example, a family of three with household income between $29,435 and $39,148 would be eligible for coverage under the plan. The uninsured in this group often are self-employed or work for small business that do not provide health insurance benefits.
Rural counties have the most to gain from this bill because so many citizens in the current ‘Medicaid Gap’ live in rural areas. The bill has ripple effects through the local economy. Estimated economic impacts of this bill just in Ashe and Watauga counties include:
·        About 425 new jobs.
·        Over $45 million per year in new business activity.
·        Roughly $1.3 million in additional tax revenue.
Additionally, Medicaid Expansion is the single most effective thing North Carolina could do to fight the opioid epidemic and address behavioral health needs across the state. The plan would extend care for up to 150,000 people across North Carolina who currently need help.
Everyone asks, “What will it cost?” The answer is that the bill requires no new taxes on citizens of North Carolina. The benefit was offered in the Affordable Care Act in 2013. Thirty-seven state accepted it, most recently including Utah, Idaho and Nebraska.
Helping working families with affordable healthcare is one of the greatest needs in this region. I’m proud to make this the first co-sponsored bill of my legislative career. If enacted by the NC Legislature, it will be in effect by November 1, 2019.
Ku, L.,Bruen, B., Steinmetz, E. & Bysshe, T. (2014). “The Economic and Employment Costs of Not Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina: A County-Level Analysis.”https://www.conehealthfoundation.com/foundation/nc-medicaid-expansion/
“Medicaid Expansion: Closing the Health Insurance Gap.” https://www.ncruralcenter.org/2017/12/closing-the-health-insurance-gap-in-north-carolina/
“The success of Medicaid expansion, explained in 5 charts.”

Committee Assignments and Meetings

Speaker of the House Tim Moore last month appointed me to the following committees:
  • Elections and Ethics Law
  • Environment
  • Pensions and Retirement
  • Transportation
It is my honor not only to serve on these committees, but to also serve all of you in District 93 as your newly elected House representative. Every day is packed with meetings and productive conversations as I begin the job of working for you, for the district and for North Carolina.
Thanks go out to the following people and organizations that I have been privileged and happy to meet with since session began:
  • Walter Clark and staff of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and Natural Heritage Program.
  • NC Clean Energy Business Alliance.
  • Chris Mitchell with the NC League of Municipalities, speaking on broadband access.
  • Rebecca Planchard, senior early childhood policy advisor with DHHS, meeting with the House Early Childhood Work Group.
  • NC Electric Cooperatives held an informational breakfast for new legislators. Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president and COO of the organization, later stopped by my office for a productive chat.
  • Thomas Bolin, director of government affairs for the NC National Guard, and state emergency personnel at a briefing and tour of the Gold Star facility in Raleigh. The facility contains the NC Emergency Operation Center.
  • Dr. Susan Delaney and Dr. Lorraine Young of the NC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
  • Cassie Gavin, director of government relations for the NC Sierra Club.
  • David Graham, transportation planner for High Country Council of Governments, on transportation needs in our counties and the region.
  • Dr. Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. Dr. Poarch led me on a tour of the Watauga campus of CCC&TI.
  • Institute on Emerging Issues conference on the rural/urban divide in North Carolina. The conference addressed how this divide can be bridged, something that is so important for our district.

DEQ announces meetings for animal operations


RALEIGH – The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has announced two meetings and a thirty-day comment period on three general permits for animal operations. The three permits are the Swine General Permit, the Cattle General Permit, and the Wet Poultry General Permit.
The first meeting on the three permits will be held Tuesday, February 19 at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville at 6 p.m. The second will be held on February 26 atStatesville Civic Center in Statesville, NC at 6 p.m.
Nearly all North Carolina swine farms, as well as wet poultry and cattle, are subject to the requirements of their respective state general permits. Comments obtained through the comment period and meetings will inform the final permit language.
The comment period will last until March 4, 2019, and public comments may be submitted several ways:
  • By mail:       Animal Farm Operations,
           NC Division of Water Resources
           1636 Mail Service Center
                  Raleigh, NC 27699-1636
The draft permits, examples of annual reports, and related fact sheets and information are available for review on the DEQ website at: https://deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/water-resources/water-quality-regional-operations/afo.
Meeting dates, time and locations:
      WHEN:         February 19, 2019 at 6 p.m. (Registration begins at 5:30)
      WHERE:       James Sprunt Community College
                  133 James Sprunt Dr.
                  Kenansville, NC
      WHEN:         February 26, 2019 at 6 p.m. (Registration begins at 5:30)
      WHERE:       Statesville Civic Center
                  300 S. Center St.
                  Statesville, NC