The 2020 regular session of the Legislature is underway. The question most often asked is, “What’s going to happen?”
Well, predictions about what 134 politicians will do when brought together at the State Capitol are risky, but here goes:
The early consensus is that there are not any wildly controversial issues that will dominate. The budget for next fiscal year is expected to be essentially unchanged from this year, so there won’t be a lot of additional money to fight over and probably no pay raise for teachers and state workers to argue about.
Having said that, however, it’s safe to assume that something will happen that produces political drama. That “thing” is not foreseeable right now, but politics abhors a vacuum so be ready.
There will be a push to get rid of the property tax on machinery, equipment and inventory. However, that’s such a heavy lift that it may collapse under its own weight. County government and school boards divide up the estimated $100 million from that tax annually and they will pressure their legislators not to tamper with it.
Lawmakers will pass, or at least try to pass, an abortion bill and a gun bill. The Legislature is dominated by pro-life and pro-gun lawmakers and hardly a session passes without bills to further restrict abortion and provide additional 2nd Amendment protections.
Governor Jim Justice will be on his best behavior. Justice is a guy who likes to be in charge and he has had trouble adjusting to the idea that the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government. However, he is in a tough re-election fight this year and he cannot afford to run afoul of his fellow Republicans in the House and Senate.
Lawmakers will pass several bills aimed at improving the state’s adoption and foster care systems. The opioid crisis is straining the state’s programs for handling children who have been removed from at-risk homes and legislators recognize the state must do better, and that includes improved pay and working conditions for Child Protective Services workers.
There will not be a special session, at least not before the May Primary Election. All 100 seats in the House and half of the 34 Senate seats are up this year and lawmakers do not want to spend any more time in Charleston than they have to while their opponents are campaigning against them back home.
Once again, the most commonly heard phrase on the floor of each chamber will be, “I wasn’t going to speak to this, but…” Legislators are here because they care and are passionate about West Virginia. It’s hard for them to sit quietly during long debates over issues that are meaningful to them or their constituents.
Finally—and this might be my safest prediction of all—history tells us that a lawmaker will say something or do something during the session that will embarrass themselves and the state. We can only hope that it won’t make national news!
We’ll see you under the Capitol Dome!