November 17, 2014
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Insurance Commission Kreidler's office to pay former judge $450,000


Patricia Petersen, the administrative hearings judge who revealed last summer that Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s top deputy was pressuring her to decide cases in the department’s favor, agreed to accept a $450,000 settlement and leave the agency.

The Olympian reports that Petersen and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner came to the agreement after mediation. Of the settlement, $100,000 will go to Petersen’s lawyers. Petersen’s job paid $80,000 per year.

Last spring, Kreidler’s office put Petersen on leave, hired an outside investigator and issued her a gag order. Petersen had gone public with whistleblower complaints about receiving improper pressure from her boss over cases involving health insurance plans offered to the public through the state’s health benefit exchange.

She testified before the Senate Law & Justice Committee in June, saying her position needs independence, not pressure from her agency’s second-in-command, James Odiorne.

She also admitted to mistakenly sending a fax about her complaints to a law firm that was connected with the Seattle Children’s Hospital case about health exchange plans, saying she was looking for a lawyer and didn’t realize this firm had been involved with the case.

Washington Auditor Troy Kelley declined to investigate Petersen’s whistleblower complaint. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he would look at introducing legislation this year addressing underlying issue: having a hearings officer employed and supervised by the agency on which she or he is ruling.

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MOVING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION

Long term, transportation funding is school funding

By The News Tribune editorial board

"Children before concrete" is one of the catchphrases of people who've been fighting transportation funding in the Legislature.

It's a false choice. Smart investments in highway and transit infrastructure don't steal money from schools and social welfare programs. They create jobs and expand the economy, helping pay for public services that benefit children and everyone else.

The 2015 Legislature will rightly focus on increasing public school funding, as mandated by the state Supreme Court's 2012 McCleary decision. But this shouldn't mean stiffing the state's infrastructure needs. It's not an either-or dilemma: Further investment in transportation is needed to fully fund public education over the long haul.

Click here for the full column in The News Tribune
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