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2020 in Fast Forward

Wednesday is the start of a brand-new year, and if you thought 2019 went fast, expect the first half of 2020 to go even faster. There is a lot going on in a short amount of time, so I’m here to give you the important dates.

Jan. 8: The start of the second session of the 84th Legislature. Except for years when a governor takes office or starts a second term, legislative sessions usually start the second week of January and last 60 days. The session ends at midnight on Saturday, March 7.

There were 1,863 bills introduced at the beginning of 2019’s regular session. Only 14 percent of the bills introduced made it all the way to the governor’s desk and were signed into law.

I always take heart in this, because a lot of ridiculous things get introduced in the House of Delegates and state Senate. The process of introducing bills, sending them to specific committees, those committees approving the bills, the bills being passed by one body and sending them to the next body to go through the process all over again – all of this helps weed out many (not all) of the bad bills.

I don’t expect a dramatic legislative session in 2020, but I said that last year and was wrong. It never occurred to me that Republican lawmakers would poke the bear, the teachers’ unions, again. The first time they were operating in good faith in 2018, offering a meager pay increase. The teachers and schools service personnel wanted more. In 2019, Republican legislative leaders feigned support for another round of pay raises for educators, but tied it to major education overhaul that saw a nearly six-month special session.

Based on comments from Republican leaders in November, it sounds like they’re done poking the K-12 education bear, though that’s not to say some lawmaker won’t try to tweak the second education omnibus law. Some lawmakers, pushed by right-leaning think tanks, are content to let the perfect get in the way of the good and try to beef up the charter school provisions. In the short-term that would be a mistake, causing unneeded drama as we head into the 2020 elections.

The education omnibus law is already having a positive affect on school systems, with the hiring of 115 new student support staff statewide, contracting with third parties to offer wraparound services and increased training. The two major teachers’ unions in the state have rattled their sabers in threatening to sue to prevent the charter school part of the law from being enacted, yet they haven’t filed.

Part of that, I believe, is due to the complexity of the law. The charter provision is too intertwined with the rest of the law and unions don’t want to hurt the rest of the law. The other reason is the 2020 elections.

Speaking of which, here is the second important set of dates for 2020.

Jan. 13-25: The candidate filing period for the 2020 May primary. As we’ve discussed here before, anyone can file precandidacy papers, which allow candidates to test the fundraising waters and see if there is support for a full run. But it’s the 13-day candidate filing period that separates who is serious about running and who isn’t.

I, like most reporters in the state, have focused coverage on candidates who can either fundraise or self fund their campaigns. It doesn’t matter how known or unknown you are, elections are expensive, and you’ve got to spend money to make money (or in this case, to become known to voters). No candidate is going to win based on news coverage of their campaign. If you’re not working the state, putting up ads, meeting with editorial boards, it’s going to be an uphill climb.

Speaking of precandidacy paperwork, the next series of campaign finance reports are due between Jan. 1 and Jan. 7. We’ll see how much cash the candidates, particularly the candidates for governor, have. We’ll see how much the two new Democratic candidates have – Boone County state Sen. Ron Stollings and Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango. Will community organizer Stephen Smith pull in another haul of small donors? Will former economic development director Jody Murphy finally have a positive amount in his campaign account?

On the Republican side, we’ll see how much Gov. Jim Justice actually raised from his second Donald Trump Jr. rally at the Greenbrier Resort a few month ago. We’ll see how much more of his own money that former Commerce Department secretary Woody Thrasher has put into his race. And we’ll see if former Berkeley County delegate Mike Folk, a self-described fiscal conservative, loans his campaign more money?

We’ll find out toward the end of this week.

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