Under the Dome

Dome: Hagan supports Burr-backed student loan bill

July 23, 2013 

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Tuesday said she’ll vote for a bill in the Senate that will make student interest rates float with the market.

The market-based plan would make all undergraduate loans 3.86 percent for the next school year, including those taken out since July 1.

Hagan’s stance is a change from her earlier position.

The Greensboro Democrat was an original co-sponsor, with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., of an alternative bill that would have extended the 3.4 percent rate on subsidized loans for another year. Unsubsidized loans are 6.8 percent under current law, and many students need to take out both types. The Reed-Hagan bill would have left rates on some undergraduate and all graduate rates at 6.8 percent.

But the Reed and Hagan bill went down to defeat in the Senate earlier this month.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem was one of the leading Republican senators who negotiated the market-based plan.

Hagan says she supports the bill because it will give students a chance to take advantage of low interest rates over the next few years. Hagan said the addition of a cap was a priority for her. The proposal caps undergraduate rates at 8.25 percent.

Hagan said the Congressional Research Service figured that the legislation would save the average student borrower $2,000 over the next four years.

A vote is expected in the Senate this week. If the measure becomes law, rates will be set once a year just before June based on the government's 10-year Treasury note plus a markup to cover the government's costs of the loan program. Rates would be capped on undergrad loans at 8.25 percent.

“I’m committed to working toward greater college affordability,” Hagan told reporters on a conference call Tuesday morning.

Hagan said she hoped Republicans and Democrats could come to agreement on ways to keep student loan rates low when the economy improves and “other ways to make college more affordable and accessible to more students.”

She said possibilities include a national drive toward copying North Carolina's Early College program and expansion of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, which also can help students get college credits in high school.

Troopers losing accreditation

The State Highway Patrol would no longer be nationally accredited, under budget the General Assembly is considering.

The five-person office that oversees the accreditation process would be eliminated in order to save about $400,000.

Losing the national recognition won’t affect the patrol’s daily operations, a spokeswoman says. But, privately, some troopers are reportedly upset the state will be dropping the designation.

“There will be no impact,” says Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Crystal Feldman.

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies evaluates agencies based on more than 400 measures. A few years ago, the SHP boasted that CALEA had given it special designation as a “flagship agency.” Most of the state’s largest police departments are accredited by the organization.

The SHP follows the state Division of Prisons opting not to renew its accreditation for its central office and 10 of its newest close-custody prisons after a three-year period that expired in 2011. Earning the 2008 accreditation required extensive rewriting of policies and procedures, which remain in effect, a DPS spokeswoman said this year.

It cost the state more than $900,000 to qualify for that last prisons accreditation, Feldman said. It would have cost about $118,000 to renew, and so officials decided against it.

The SHP unit that would be eliminated in the budget includes three sworn law enforcement officers and two civilian employees. The head of the unit made $104,417 a year.

Tillis’ strength questioned

National Republicans are trumpeting their chances of taking control of the U.S. Senate in a new political memo outlining the 2014 elections at the same time a political analyst questions whether House Speaker Thom Tillis is a strong enough candidate to beat North Carolina’s Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee says it needs to win just three of 16 contested races to take power in the U.S. Senate. North Carolina is one on the list.

But Pat Caddell, a Fox News political analyst, said in a Sunday political program that North Carolina is an example of the national Republican “candidate recruitment problem.” Caddell, a Democrat, argued that Hagan should be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent facing re-election this year, but Republicans have “a very weak candidate so far.”

In his remarks, Caddell didn’t even mention Tillis by name, adding that “no one wants to run in North Carolina.” Another panel member, John LeBoutillier, a Republican analyst, echoed the concern about candidate recruitment by the GOP.

The N.C. Democratic Party flagged the video to show Tillis’ difficulty gaining traction in a race he entered a month and a half ago. Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon has also announced he will compete to challenge Hagan.

Staff writers Renee Schoof, Craig Jarvis and John Frank

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