SC Gov. Signs Public Records Law Update; NC House Proposes Teacher Raises; Elections Worker Indicted

May 31, 2017

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has signed a new law that closes loopholes in the state's Freedom of Information Act. Meanwhile, the North Carolina House of Representatives remains on track toward getting its state budget bill approved by the end of the week. And, a North Carolina elections worker has been indicted on charges she altered the voter registrations of roughly 250 convicted felons. Here are some of WFAE's afternoon headlines.

McMaster: Public Records Law 'Step Forward' In Transparency

Gov. Henry McMaster says a new law closing loopholes in South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act represents "a big step forward" in government transparency.

McMaster ceremoniously signed a law Wednesday that requires state and local governments, school districts, and other public entities to respond more quickly to public records requests and prevents them from charging excessive fees. The law took effect with McMaster's signature May 19, which capped a seven-year effort to strengthen public access to government records.

McMaster says he would have liked the law to go further. But to get past one senator's opposition, the Senate stripped out a section creating a state hearing officer to quickly and cheaply settle disputes. McMaster says it's "cumbersome" for people to have to sue obstinate government agencies in Circuit Court.

NC Election Worker Indicted By Grand Jury

A former North Carolina election worker has been indicted on charges of altering voter registrations. 41-year-old Joy Wilkerson of Henderson was indicted by a Granville County grand jury Tuesday.

The State Board of Elections says Wilkerson unlawfully changed the status of roughly 250 convicted felons to give them the ability to vote. The elections board says the changes were discovered during a review of voter registration records in 2016. Both the Granville and the state board of elections say the changes were corrected before the general election.

NC House Teacher Pay Plan Rewards Most Experienced

North Carolina House Republicans would offer average raises to public school teachers next fall in its budget bill that are slightly lower than what the Senate's proposal offers. But the most veteran teachers would get permanent pay raises and the opportunity for $5,000 bonuses.

Legislative staff say the House budget measure debated Wednesday in committee would provide an average 3.3 percent increase for teacher pay. The Senate budget's average pay raise is 3.7 percent. But the House GOP plan would give a $300 bump for those teachers with at least 25 years of experience. The Senate would provide no such raise for these veteran teachers.

Teachers with at least 27 years of experience also would get bonuses in the House plan if they commit to teaching through the 2019 or 2020 school year.

Gaston County Teacher Avoids Jail After Sex With Student

A former teacher at a North Carolina high school has avoided jail time for having sex with a student. Media outlets report Summer Sparrow, 41, has reached an agreement with Gaston County prosecutors on the charges she had sex with a 17-year-old male student last fall.

The former English teacher at Cherryville High School has given up her teaching license and will not be allowed on school property. She also cannot attend any function where students gather. If she complies with the agreement, the charges could be dismissed and she could clear her arrest record.

Caterpillar Laying Off 85 Workers In North Carolina

Manufacturing company Caterpillar says it will close a plant in Morganton, leaving 85 workers without jobs. The company has notified North Carolina officials that it will close the plant this summer as part of a previously announced cost cutting measure.

Media outlets report the engine parts plant will begin laying off workers in late July. Caterpillar said last year the Morganton closure is part of a company-wide effort to reduce costs during "tough market conditions." Morganton is one of five plants being closed as part of that effort.