GAMBLING CZAR - West Virginia is considering creating a one-stop agency to regulate everything related to gambling from races to raffles.

Governor Wise has asked the Legislature to consolidate the Lottery Commission, Racing Commission and Commission on Charitable Games to have oversight on the state's multi-billion-dollar gambling industry.

Racing Commission Chairman George Sidiropolis says the proposal would create a gambling czar in West Virginia.

With bordering states talking about expanding into the slot machine business, one agency dealing with all gambling issues would help West Virginia compete, said Sidiropolis .

Braxton truck stop cited for EPA violations FLAtWOODS TRUCK STOP PROBLEM - A Braxton County truck stop has been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly failing to take appropriate measures to detect potential petroleum releases from its underground storage tanks.

The John Skidmore Truck Stop in Sutton has also been cited for alleged inadequate corrosion prevention in three of its five tanks. The truck stop has two 8,000-gallon gasoline tanks and three 10,000-gallon diesel fuel tanks, according to the EPA, although no leaks have been detected.

FEWER STATE COLLEGES = West Virginia will have fewer public colleges under a bill approved by the House Education Committee this week.

The legislation calls on the state Higher Education Policy Commission to close, privatize or merge two institutions of higher education by 2007.

The bill also orders the policy commission to reduce staff and make other cuts that will save the state $20-million dollars. which will be used to paying down the unfunded liability in the troubled workers compensation program. House.

Education Committee Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta says the state college system has "more institutions than we can afford, more staff than we can afford..."

REGIONAL JAIL COSTS UPSET OFFICIALS - Once promoted as a cost-saving measure, the state's regional jail system has become a financial burden that is costing Mercer County nearly one million dollars a year in jail fees. Ohio County has complained about the bill, along with dozens of others.

Corrections officials maintain the system is the most cost effective in the country.

Jail costs have also become a financial burden on small rural counties.

Mercer county had 339 felony indictments last year, 756 felonies processed in magistrate court, 4,473 misdemeanor cases and 893 domestic violence cases. The county is considering a day-report center as a sentencing alternative for those convicted of nonviolent crimes.

They say at least 40 percent of those incarcerated are nonviolent, including drug offenders.

NEW TROOPERS START CLASS - The first class for State Troopers in three years starts this week with 35 cadets beginning the 26 weeks of training.

The class is one of two State Police plan to start this month, the second will begin on January 27th.

State Police say the graduates of both classes are needed to fill the ranks. The agency is authorized to have 679 troopers, but only 565 troopers are now on the payroll.

CARD CARRYING ACLU'S - In the 1988 presidential campaign, Republican candidate George Bush labeled Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis a "card-carrying member" of the American Civil Liberties Union.

It was helpful to Bush, who easily won election.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, rising concern about abuses of civil liberties has been credited for an unprecedented surge in ACLU membership.

The nation's best-known civil liberties group links the passage in 2001 of the USA Patriot Act, which greatly expanded government surveillance powers and other governmental actions to a 20 -percent increase in its membership.

"We have seen a tremendous swell in ACLU membership since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11," said Anthony Romero, the ACLU's executive director.

Created in 1920 by a small group of activists in response to violations of civil liberties such as the jailing of opponents to World War I, the ACLU has seen other spikes in its membership over the decades. The ACLU's ranks grew during the civil rights and Vietnam War eras, the Watergate scandal, and the Reagan White House years.

WEST VIRGINIA MEDICAID CUTS - Medicaid recipients in West Virginia and across the nation are likely to feel the weight of their state's financial burdens.

West Virginia and others will cut back on coverage while upping co-payments.

The report by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured says 45 states plan tighter control on prescription payments. Thirty-seven plan to freeze payments to doctors and hospitals and others plan to restrict eligibility.

Medicaid spending is expected to increase by nine percent this year.

West Virginia Administration Secretary Greg Burton has told state lawmakers that failure to pass a 38-cent cigarette tax hike will force 300 million dollars in Medicaid cuts.

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