Under the Dome

Report hints college loan program is needed

From staff reportsMay 1, 2011 

A new report says North Carolina's community college students are the nation's least likely to have access to federal loan programs.

The report from the Washington-based Project on Student Debt says North Carolina ranks last in the percentage of community college students with access to federal loans. Such loans are widely considered to be the safest and most affordable, because they have fixed interest rates, flexible repayment plans and consumer protections.

In North Carolina, 57 percent of students do not have access to loans because their colleges do not offer them. Some college leaders have argued that they fear students will default on the loans, jeopardizing colleges' other federal funds.

The issue has been back and forth in the General Assembly.

Last year, the legislature required all 58 community colleges to participate in the federal loan program starting in July.

But earlier this year, another bill would have undone that requirement, allowing colleges to continue to opt out of the loan program.

In mid-April, Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the opt-out bill. So, as it stands now, the colleges will have to offer the loan programs as last year's legislation required.

Deputy AG is moving on

Mary D. Winstead, a state deputy attorney general in the Special Prosecutions Section, is retiring after 30 years of state service. But she won't stop working.

Winstead has taken a job as deputy counsel of the N.C. State Bar, which regulates and disciplines lawyers.

Her best-known case: In 2007, Winstead was assigned by Attorney General Roy Cooper to step into the Duke lacrosse case when Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong stepped aside. Winstead and Jim Coman's review led to the dismissal of charges against three Duke lacrosse players who had been falsely accused of rape.

Hagan on oil prices

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan was in Raleigh last week to ask the Obama Administration to speed up efforts to crack down on price gouging and illegal speculation on the oil market.

At a news conference at the Farmer's Market, the Democrat from Greensboro said the rising gas prices were hurting businesses and consumers and said she had written a letter to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.

"From the restaurant owner facing rising food prices to the local trucking company and farmer who are struggling to keep up with increasing fuel costs, small businesses are feeling the pinch," Hagan wrote. "For North Carolina families and seniors living on a fixed income, as well as our substantial military and veteran communities, this increase hits at a terrible time and threatens to disrupt our continued economic recovery."

Last week, President Barack Obama created an Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group to report recommendations before the July 4th holiday. Hagan called on the White House to provide the recommendations before the holiday.

Earlier this year, Hagan introduced a bill to provide grants for research and development of next-generation lithium products. Lithium is used in the rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles and smart grid technologies.

Beason appeals fine

Former lobbyist Don Beason has appealed Secretary of State Elaine Marshall's imposition of a $30,000 fine against his firm for violations of state lobbying laws.

Marshall had rejected an administrative law judge's ruling that Beason should be fined $6,000 rather than the $100,000 fine originally imposed. On Tuesday, Wake Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens denied Beason's request to dismiss the case, and set a series of deadlines over the summer for briefs to be filed.

By staff writers Jane Stancill, Steve Riley, Rob Christensen and Craig Jarvis

jane.stancill@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4559

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