News & Updates From Senator Edwards
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From My Senate Desk
The NC General Assembly has now adjourned until November 27. The last week of this legislative session was concentratedon veto overrides, confirmations of governor appointees, local bills, and constitutional amendments that our citizens will consider on November 6th. Following are some of the more notable activities of the week.

S813 Asheville City Council Districts 

Many constituents I represent in South Asheville came to me soon after my election, regarding how they felt disenfranchised by their city council. Then citizens from other parts of the city began to voice the same concerns. The city council had historically primarily lived in the downtown area, leaving south Asheville with little to no representation. Until this past election, there had not been a city councilperson from South Asheville in 10 years. 

Asheville continues to grow and expand with the majority of this expansion done through annexations, but their election process was fundamentally the same as when Asheville was chartered in 1797. Asheville is steadily growing at an average of 3,000 people per census and is on track to reach over 100,000 citizens in just a few short years. Even cities in our state with a population as low as 549 citizens recognize the importance of having some form of districted elections. The Voting Rights Act recommends districted elections as the fairest way to ensure members of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds are fairly represented.

Last year the General Assembly agreed with me. Therefore, S285 became state law. This law gave the Asheville city council the opportunity to draw their districts. They did not draw those maps, so according to the provisions in the law I sponsored last year, I was tasked this year to do so. I took public input, allowed citizens to propose district lines, and worked to ensure that the new districts were fair and representative of the geographical areas of Asheville. In spite of this open process, many are still crying foul for various reasons. Reasons I have thus far found to be baseless in fact, and mostly political rhetoric.

District elections are far cheaper to campaign, giving the citizens of Asheville more choices and more citizens the opportunity to run for office. They give the citizens of the district a specific person that they can hold accountable if they do not feel represented. All but two of our state's 16 largest cities had some form of district elections, Asheville being one. District elections give minorities, and areas that tend to lack the ability to elect someone to represent them, a larger voice in their community. 

Through the creation of these districts, my constituents know that they have someone who represents their interests, that they have a say in their government and that the city council will represent every citizen of Asheville. 

S813 passed the Senate unanimously then moved to the House where after an amendment moving the elections from March to November with the intentions to increase voter turnout. It passed, then was sent back to the Senate for concurrence where it again received unanimous support. 

Asheville's city council districts are now established,and those districts will go into effect with municipal elections that we also changed to take place in even years. All council members terms were extendedby one year to get them into the even year election cycles. The Senate concurred with unanimous support. 

S808 Domestic Violence Taskforce

S808 was a bipartisan effort to add Buncombe County to the list of counties in NC to establish a Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team. After having several issues brought to me with this legislation that I introduced last year, I was able this year to leverage my position in the majority party to aid in this request by the Buncombe County Family Justice Center, and the majority of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. 

Buncombe County consistently ranks among the top counties in our state for the amount of domestic violence-related deaths. Buncombe County has had the same amount of domestic violence-related deaths as Wake County, which has four times the population. It has had the 3rd highest domestic violence deaths in our state with six murders. In 2013 there were 7,230 9-1-1 calls related to domestic violence in Buncombe County. Additionally, there were 400 Child Protective Services investigations that involved domestic violence. 

Mecklenburg County was the first to establish a Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team in 2009. Since then, the team has had major accomplishments. They implemented Lethality Screenings which saw a 25% increase in people in high-risk situations seeking help. In 2013 62% of these screenings found a high-risk situation. Additionally, they created a supervised visit and safe drop-off center for child visitations for those involved in domestic violence situations. They also increased law enforcement training, domestic violence screening during health care visits, and employed the eNOugh campaign, which helped see an increase in calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline by 26% in Charlotte and Statesville.

Through the passage of S808, Buncombe County will have these same resources and options they would not have otherwise to help battle the domestic violence crisis in our backyard.

Chief District Court Judge Athena Brook's is Appointed as Special Superior Court Judge

It was my honor and my pleasure in the last week of session to walk the nomination of the Honorable Judge Brooks through the legislative confirmation process. Judge Brooks is well known and highly respected in District 48 and her Judicial District 29B.  

I presented her nomination and her credentials to the Senate Judicial Committee for approval, then to the Senate Rules Committee. The Rules Committee agreed to present her nomination to the Senate body. I then had the pleasure to present her nomination on the Senate floor where it passed with unanimous support. Later her confirmation received support from the House, so she is now officially confirmed. 

Voter ID Constitutional Amendment

North Carolina can join 34 other states in our nation by adding a Voter ID Amendment to our Constitution. This amendment passed both chambers this week with the final vote in the Senate occurring this past Friday. 

Polls consistently show that the large majority of voters are in favor of voter ID. According to a February poll run by Civitas, 69% of NC voters support voter ID. A Gallup poll done in August of 2016 shows that 80% of registered voters in the US support voter ID.

If the voters choose to vote for this constitutional amendment, NC will join the majority of the states in requiring a voter ID to vote. Currently, NC is the only state in the Southeast not to require some form of ID to vote. 

Judicial Vacancies Sunset Amendment
The Senate voted to allow NC citizens to vote on how they would like to see judicial vacancies filled. This bill would allow voters the opportunity to support a constitutional amendment to create a non-partisan merit-based selection committee to make recommendations for the Governor to choose from for future vacancy appointments. 

Currently, the Governor has the sole discretion to appoint judges to fill vacancies. In some instances, citizens have voted these judges picked to fill vacancies out of office. Even though NC voters have shown their support elsewhere, one person can impose a selection that the voters have proven they do not want. 

The House also voted in favor of this measure, and it will be on the ballot for the voters to decide in November.

Constitutional Amendment Establishing a Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections 

Voters will be able to choose whether or not the state should establish a Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics as a constitutional amendment. This board will be composed of 8 members free from the influence of legislative, executive or judicial branches of government. According to polls, 80% of North Carolinians support a bipartisan approach.

Members of this board would serve four-year terms and be appointed by the House and Senate leaders based on recommendations from the majority and minority members. This amendment makes clear that no more than four members of the board could be from the same registered party. It is also clear that unaffiliated members and those registered as the third party are eligible to run. 

The balance of this board would not be affected if the control of the legislature shifted parties due to the language allowing for no more than four members belonging to a certain political party.

Constitutional Amendment Tax Cap

Voters will also be able to decide whether or not to permanently lower the state's income tax cap from 10% to 7% in November. Since taking control of the legislature in 2011, Republicans have overhauled the state's tax code by lowering rates and eliminating dozens of burdensome loopholes. These actions have resulted in the vast majority of citizens being able to keep more of their hard-earned money. 

Currently, the individual income tax rate is 5.499%. This amendment would ensure that no citizen would ever pay more than 7% individual income tax.

Thank You, Julie Thompson, for 40 Years of Service

Congratulations to Julie Thompson, Vice President of Blue Ridge Community College. We appreciate the 40 years she has dedicated to education in our state. Rep. Chuck McGrady and I were excited to have made the nomination, and secured her well-deserved Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award. I was in session, therefore unable to personally deliver the award. I am, however, happy that our Governor could be there to present her the highest possible honor for those who serve NC. Julie, we wish you much happiness in the next chapter of your life! 
Now That Session is Over
Throughout my term, I have been appointed to 14 committees, and I am a member of five caucus groups. Over the next few months, many of these members will meet informally for various seminars and planning exercises. For example, the Technology Caucus plans to meet in San Francisco for a conference next month, and I also plan to attend an education summit in Charleston that will include legislators from around the country.

Oversight committees will continue to meet through the interim. I sit on the oversight committees of Information Technology, Program Evaluation Division, and Economic Development and Global Engagement. These committees will remain engaged with state agencies, which we are charged to oversee. The activities of many of these interim committees result in proposed legislation for the following session.
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