With Hurricanes Harvey and Irma dominating the news, I felt it was important to send a newsletter containing information on how to prepare for a natural disaster and how to help those in Texas, Louisiana, along with Florida and other parts of the east coast, in their long road to recovery.
Additionally, below is a legislative update on redistricting and GenX and environmental issues.
Gov. Cooper has declared September North Carolina Preparedness Month to encourage North Carolinians to be disaster-ready by putting together emergency kits and taking other key steps.
Emergency kits should include:
• Copies of important documents such as birth certificates, insurance policies, social security cards, and medical and bank information.
• Bottled water.
• Non-perishable food.
• Personal hygiene supplies.
• Changes of clothes.
• Cell phone chargers, flashlights, and portable radios with extra batteries.
• Supplies for pets.
Disasters can strike during any season. Last year alone, North Carolina had 17 tornadoes, 626 severe thunderstorms with high winds, 213 hailstorms, 245 flood events and winter storms that caused power outages and dangerous road conditions.
While Hurricane Matthew never made landfall in the state, the storm lingered off the coast dumping between eight and 12 inches of rain across much of Eastern North Carolina. Thirty-one people died as a result of the storm that closed more than 600 roads, sent more than 4,000 people to seek safety in shelters and left billions of dollars in damages. Fifty counties qualified for federal assistance and many communities are still recovering.
For more information on how to ensure your family is disaster ready, go to ReadyNC.org or download the free ReadyNC app, which features real time weather, traffic and shelter information.
HURRICANE HARVEY RELIEF
Here are Dos and Don’ts for Hurricane Harvey relief from state emergency officials:
• Donate money through a trusted organization. For information on finding a reputable place to give and avoid charity scams, visit ncdoj.gov.
• Register and Volunteer through a reputable charity. Those groups work with disaster response officials to ensure that the right help gets to the areas that need it most and are prepared to handle the surge of volunteers. A list of volunteer and charity organizations can be found at nvoad.org.
• Be Prepared Yourself. Have an emergency plan and kit. Stay informed.
• Don’t send stuff. Sending supplies or items — unless asked — creates problems. Staff has to focus on sorting and storing stuff instead of helping survivors.
• Don’t just show up to help. Unexpected volunteers who aren’t working through a reputable organization create an additional burden for emergency officials.
• Don’t forget about the survivors. Your help will be needed for years to come.
The N.C. General Assembly has approved new legislative districts for the 2018 elections.
Why are we re-drawing legislative districts? Redistricting usually happens after the Census is taken every 10 years. We are re-drawing lines now because the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9 to 0 decision held that our current lines are unconstitutional and must be re-drawn in time for the 2018 elections. The districts were unconstitutional because race was used as a factor in drawing 28 districts.
A three-judge panel will review the General Assembly’s maps. The judges have the authority to accept or reject the legislature’s maps. If they reject, they could appoint an independent expert (called a “special master”) to draw the maps or they could adopt maps submitted by the groups who successfully challenged in court the original maps.
The bottom line is that nothing is final with redistricting until the courts have their say.
Environmental/GenX (HB 56)
Last week the N.C. Housed passed HB 56 with all Democrats opposing joined by three Republicans. The bill contained a hodge-podge of environmental measures, some good and others bad.
The three most notable parts of HB 56 relate to the Outer Banks’ plastic bag ban, a landfill provision, and an attempt to address the GenX water contamination crisis in southeast North Carolina.
The Outer Banks plastic bag ban has existed for almost a decade, implemented to reduce plastic bag litter on beaches and to protect nesting turtles and other wildlife. It is supported by local government, tourism and business groups. HB 56 ends the ban.
The landfill provision restricts the authority of local governments to control which landfills trash companies take their trash collections.
HB 56 is an inadequate attempt to address North Carolina’s water contamination problems, most dramatically highlighted by GenX in the Cape Fear. The bill provides a fraction ($435,000) of the $2.6 million requested by Gov. Cooper. What money it does spend does not go to the Department of Environmental Quality. Instead, the funds go to local entities: Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and UNC-Wilmington.
We need a comprehensive approach to water quality issues, one addressed by a strong Water Quality Assurance team with statewide experts. Unregulated contaminants are a growing problem in all of North Carolina, not just the Cape Fear region.
Years of water quality cuts have left waterways unprotected and water permit reviews backlogged. North Carolina has 60 more water discharge facilities than South Carolina and yet South Carolina has twice as many permit writers. Since 2013, the Department of Environmental Quality has seen 70 positions eliminated from water quality and water resources, a 41 percent reduction in water quality and water resources staff.
The good news is that state officials and public pressure have made Chemours stop the discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River. Yet we need additional resources at DEQ and DHHS — after years of cuts — to monitor and protect drinking water and address emerging compounds across the state.
Protecting families’ drinking water must be a top priority.
Rural Job Creation Fund
Along with everything currently going on in the legislature, I have been working diligently to bring economic development to our district and other rural parts of North Carolina. Creating jobs and opportunities for the economically distressed parts of our state has always been one of the most important issues for me as a state representative.
I have supported this throughout my time as the representative for the 66th District of North Carolina through regulatory reform, tax incentives, and other similar initiatives. That’s why I introduced the Rural Job Creation Fund alongside Rep. Stephen Ross (District 63).
The economic disparity between the rural areas in our state and the metropolitan areas have been well documented, and these rural counties are only falling farther behind the metropolitan counties in North Carolina as time passes. We are working together to bring jobs to the rural parts of our state. Through the Rural Job Creation Fund, the state would use $50 million to match another $50 million in private equity funding, and that $100 million would then be invested in small businesses with fewer than 150 employees across the state located in communities with fewer than 50,000 residents.
There are other incentives similar to this in North Carolina, but often times, businesses in rural communities are unable to qualify for them, which is why this is so important. This gives an economic boost to rural communities by strengthening their small businesses and creating more job opportunities for those living in the communities.
On top of that, the fund will pay for itself in state and local tax revenue. A study done by Stonehenge Capital Company, LLC found that every new direct job created or retained would equate to $14,064 in state and local tax revenue. If the job creation goals are not met, the state grant will be repaid. The study projects that spending just that $50 million would lead to a return of more than three times that amount in just 10 years.
The bipartisan bill was introduced during the long session as House Bill 904 and was left in committee at the end of the long session and can still be brought to a vote in the short session. This is the best bill for small businesses in struggling parts of our state that I have seen in my tenure at the General Assembly. Over the interim, I have spent time meeting with stakeholders about the bill and working to make sure this gets done in the upcoming session. I am excited to see this through and continue to support economic growth.
In closing, I want to thank you for sharing your views, comments, and concerns through your e-mails, letters, phone calls, and office visits. I appreciate receiving input from you and I am honored to serve as your Representative for House District 66. I am glad to be home, and I look forward to seeing you in the district.
Please feel free to contact me when you have questions or concerns pertaining to legislative matters.
Room 542 – Legislative Office Building
300 N. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC 27601