On Tuesday (April 9, 2019), Rep. Russell was a primary sponsor of bills that ensure the voting rights of college and university students, provide funding to the AppalCART, and protect the environment.
House Bill 646 is bi-partisan with four primary sponsors: Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), Rep. Zack Hawkins (D-Durham) and Rep. Russell. The bill fixes problems with the Voter ID law passed last December regarding the approval of Student and Employee IDs for 2020 elections and allows local scheduling flexibility for early voting in 2019.
Rep. Russell sounded the alarm bell on problems with student IDs earlier in the session. In March 2019, only 5% of roughly 850 possible government and college IDs were approved by the NC State Election Board including only 5 of the 17 UNC System schools. House Bill 646 modifies the law so that more IDs can be acceptable and creates a new round of submissions for approval later this year.
Local election boards across NC are asking for local flexibility in scheduling early voting dates and hours. The “one size fits all” approach for early voting schedules in 2018 was exhausting for poll workers, some of whom have to work 12-hour shifts to meet the state-mandated schedule. House Bill 646 allows county election boards to create early voting schedules for 2019 that meet the needs of voters in each county.
Rep. Russell also was primary sponsor of two other bills: House Bill 666, which restores state funding for transit systems such as AppalCART, and House Bill 632, which would reinstate a ban on fracking in North Carolina.
Last year, North Carolina cut funding for AppalCART by $142,000. House Bill 666 seeks to restore that recurring funding. If last year’s cuts are continued into the next budget year, 2,500 hours and 100,000 trips of AppalCART service would be lost. Statewide, the bill would restore nearly $8.6 million in funding for NC transit systems.
“This system is vital for students and residents of Boone,” Rep. Russell said. “It provides safe and reliable transportation for them and helps lower traffic levels around town. For some, it’s their primary source of transportation.”
The bill to ban fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing,” was a response to a Regulatory Reform bill from several years ago that allowed the practice once state permits were obtained.
“Fracking is dangerous for our environment,” said Rep. Russell. “It can lead to ground water contamination, air pollution, and spills. While I support energy independence for the country, I don’t think we should gamble our children’s future on this practice.”