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Statehouse Beat: Lottery director wasn't joking

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some updates: When Lottery Commission Director John Musgrave said he was going to take a hard look at so-called fake fraternal organizations (i.e., bars that get affiliations with obscure fraternal organizations to operate 10 limited video lottery machines, instead of the usual maximum of five for bars and clubs), apparently it wasn't just lip service.

Musgrave sent out a memo to all fraternal and veterans organizations with LVL licenses last week, notifying them the Lottery Licensing Division is updating information for all tax-exempt organizations.

Those organizations have a Friday deadline to submit the following information to the Lottery: a recent letter of approval from the IRS for tax-exempt status as a nonprofit fraternal group; letters of good standing from the national and state governing bodies for the fraternal organization; a notarized copy of the local charter; a copy of bylaws; a list of chapter officers with contact numbers; a list of current dues-paying regular members; a copy of the most recent IRS 990 tax form; and a copy of any management agreements.

"Failure to comply with this request may cause further action by the Lottery to suspend or revoke your limited video lottery license," Musgrave's letter states. "Also, please note beginning with the 2014-15 renewal package, a copy of your filed 990 tax form will be required."

(Recall that in the Oct. 27 column, a spot-check of 990 forms found that the fake fraternals were giving little or none of their proceeds to charitable causes, as required by the IRS to maintain tax-exempt status.)

In addition to the 990 forms, requiring lists of dues-paying members should be a good way to snare the fake fraternals. However, I've heard there has also been grousing from legitimate fraternal organizations over having to compile and submit all this information in such a relatively short time frame.

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When Regional Jail Authority Executive Director Joe DeLong took steps to cut overtime for correctional officers by ramping up hiring and having a West Virginia University professor develop sophisticated scheduling software to minimize staff overlap, some observers suggested there would be backlash, since many officers relied on the overtime to make a living wage.

Sure enough, I received a copy of an anonymous letter to DeLong from a correctional officer complaining about the elimination of overtime.

"We all understand that you are trying to save Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer money as well as make yourself look good," the letter states. "What you, Mr. DeLong, do not understand is this is the way we feed our families, as well as pay our bills and keep a roof over their head, and keep the lights on. We have a dangerous job that is both physically and mentally demanding ...

"I would like to know how it makes you feel to know that your employees fall under the poverty level with the amount of money we make. Now, you are trying to eliminate the overtime that most of us need to get by," the officer adds.

(Regional jail correctional officer salaries start at $22,584, and go up to $23,724 after one year, but I don't believe any additional raises are guaranteed after that.)

The officer notes that if the base salary were upped to $30,000 a year, it would solve a lot of problems, including high turnover rates:

"I will tell you that it is a lot harder to give up a $30,000-a-year job than a $21,000-a-year job," he states. "You will get a whole lot better employee than what you will otherwise. Your retention would also be a lot more than it is right now, so that the turnover rate is not through the roof."

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Regarding the failure of the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways to look at transportation alternatives, House Finance Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said he would like to see a legislative interim study on the feasibility of commuter rail service between Charleston and Huntington.

He noted that the Intelligent Transit bus service between the cities has proved to be popular, and said his son, Justin, uses it to commute from Huntington to Charleston when his schedule permits.

The difference being that, where a bus can carry 40-some passengers, a commuter train can carry several hundred, potentially putting a dent into traffic congestion (and the need to add additional lanes) to Interstate 64.

(One of the long-term project recommendations in the draft of the State Rail Plan is, in fact, a feasibility study for commuter rail service between the two cities.)

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Finally, regarding the U.S. Supreme Court case on the appropriateness of opening governmental meetings with a prayer: I personally don't mind invocations to open legislative floor sessions, but I do object when preachers use it as an opportunity to give mini-sermons ...

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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