Twists and turnabout in whistleblower complaint in office of Insurance Commissioner Kreidler
Twists and turnabout in whistleblower complaint in office of Insurance Commissioner Kreidler
Who investigates state agencies in cases of wrongdoing and impropriety? Right now it looks like… the state agency. You may have seen some of the stories (here, here, here and here) that broke last week regarding the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. Judge Patricia Petersen, the OIC’s chief hearing officer for the past 19 years, blew the whistle last week on the agency’s second in command, accusing him of trying to improperly influence the outcome of her legal rulings to favor the Commissioner. Among many questions is who investigates and who really has independent oversight of the process? The state auditor declined to investigate. Now, the Commissioner has appointed its own AG as a potential witness and decided to hire his own investigator to determine whether OIC violated the law. This story raises concerns about regulatory checks and balances as well as the purpose and integrity of the administrative hearing process, which is supposed to be impartial and unbiased. Last Friday, The Seattle Times weighed in with this editorial. Today, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, announced the Senate Law & Justice Committee will discuss the OIC whistleblower complaint at its June 16 meeting.
We raised these very issues when Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, ran Engrossed Senate Bill 6458, which would have required Kreidler to notify the Legislature, the Health Exchange board and the governor of any proposed rule changes coming out of his office. The bill also would have established a formal review process if any of the parties objected to a proposed change. The bill passed but Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed it, replacing it with a weak substitute: a memorandum of understanding that gives state agencies an avenue for complaint when they object to how the federal Affordable Care Act is being implemented in Washington state. Clearly, a more unbiased, objective process needs to be put in place. Stay tuned as this story unfolds in the days ahead.Newspaper highlights health care options for small employers
As reported by the Seattle Times over the weekend, many small businesses are struggling to make sense of the changes imposed by the new federal health care law. The piece features AWB member FROST Doughnuts of Mill Creek, which recently enrolled in AWB HealthChoice, one of many vibrant association health plans that exist amid the turmoil created by Obamacare. Association health plans like AWB’s HealthChoice have provided high quality, more affordable coverage for nearly two decades. In addition, HealthChoice uses the broadest network of providers and does not suffer from network adequacy issues like some plans in the Exchange. Association health plans in Washington have never been permitted to reject coverage. In the 1990s, the Legislature passed consumer protections such as guaranteed issue and renewal, well ahead of Obamacare. The Times article underscores the value and importance of association plans so that small firms like Frost Doughnuts can continue to have more options and access to quality health care. Obamacare does not prohibit or outlaw association plans. In fact, Washington state insurance code, which is not preempted, repealed or extinguished by Obamacare, expressly allows these plans. Interested in learning more about HealthChoice? Contact Sue Ellen Knieper at 360.943.1600.AWB President Kris Johnson makes TVW debut
Kris Johnson sat down last week with Austin Jenkins, the longtime host of TVW’s public affairs program, “Inside Olympia,” for a half-hour conversation on how to improve the state’s business climate. Their wide-ranging interview covered how AWB is engaging with some of the most pressing political issues of the day, including workforce development, education funding and excellence, minimum wage, paid sick leave, transportation funding and climate change. The bottom line, Johnson repeated, is that Washington needs a competitive economic and regulatory environment to bring prosperity to all corners of the state. The full TVW interview is available online.Debate rages over costs of new fish consumption and water quality standards
Businesses and municipalities might be able to apply for variances, or temporary waivers, from strict new standards for treated wastewater, the Associated Press reported over the weekend. That comes as the Department of Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office are looking at boosting the official level of fish its citizens consume, an adjustment that will require costly changes to how businesses and cities treat their effluent. AWB joined many other stakeholders in pressing for a reasonable balance in water treatment standards, saying strict new rules would be unattainable with current technology. The AP quoted a letter signed by AWB and dozens of other prominent state organizations explaining how boosting the fish consumption rate would result in “unmeasurable incremental health benefits, and predictable economic turmoil.”Appeals court fixes misapplication of 2011 reform law for workers’ compensation settlements
AWB joined employers and lawmakers hailing a common-sense ruling by the Washington Court of Appeals that will finally allow landmark 2011 workers’ compensation reforms to take full effect. The court’s decision fixed a misapplication by the Board of Industrial Appeals of the state’s law on structured settlements, saying the board could not substitute its own judgment for that of the injured worker and his or her attorney. The News Tribune, Washington Research Council and the Washington Self-Insurers Association have more on the ruling, which has the potential to cut workers’ compensation system costs while helping injured workers move on with their lives. “We can and must do more to help injured workers resume their daily lives, and the court’s decision in Zimmerman reflects another positive step toward that goal. But additional progress will take additional reforms,” said Bob Battles, AWB’s general counsel and government affairs director for workers’ compensation issues. The Seattle Times agrees, calling for the Legislature to fix other “weak-kneed” compromises made in the 2011 workers’ compensation reforms.Inslee hints of pay increases for state workers
Closed-door negotiations have kicked off in Olympia as the governor’s office and state employee unions begin work on a series of agreements on pay and workplace issues for a new two-year contract. Inslee earned a standing ovation from union members during a recent speech in SeaTac when he said it was “unacceptable” that state employees have gone without a cost-of-living allowance adjustment since a 3.2 percent raise in 2007 and a 2 percent increase in 2008. Although it has been six years since a COLA, about a third of state employees typically receive “step raises” based on length of employment. The Washington Research Council notes the long-term costs of short-term political decisions about public employee pay and benefits.KEY HEARINGS/MEETINGS
AWB Land Use Committee will meet June 3 in Seattle
The AWB Land Use Committee will discuss legislative objectives, including land use and construction, during a June 3 meeting to be held at noon in the Seattle office of Foster Pepper PLLC. A conference call option is also available. Contact Connie Grande for call-in details, or Government Affairs Director Brandon Houskeeper for information on the committee.Joint meeting set for Education & Workforce Training, Tax & Fiscal Policy committees
Legislators will address a joint meeting of the AWB Education & Workforce Training and Tax & Fiscal Policy committees on June 17 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on the Microsoft campus. Lawmakers from Education, Finance, Appropriations and the Joint Title IX Task Force will discuss the levy swap and other issues relating to the school funding McCleary decision. Contact AWB’s Sheri Nelson for more information.OTHER NEWS
AWB files friend of the court brief in SeaTac $15 minimum wage case
While Seattle fights over a big increase to the minimum wage, the legality of last year’s razor-thin vote to create a $15 minimum wage in the city of SeaTac is still very much up for debate. AWB filed a friend of the court brief recently in the hotly contested SeaTac Prop 1 case. The brief was co-authored by noted labor lawyer and AWB Legal Affairs Committee Chair Tim O’Connell of Stoel Rives, and AWB’s former general counsel, Kris Tefft. The brief argues that Prop 1 is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act because it interferes with and duplicates prohibitions already found in federal law and interferes with collective bargaining between targeted employers and employees. Oral argument is scheduled for June 26.McCleary plaintiffs urge Supreme Court to hold Legislature in contempt
The Legislature should be held in contempt of court for its slow pace in meeting the Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling, according to the lead attorney arguing for a big boost in school funding. The Legislature added $1 billion in education spending last year and $58 million in this short legislative session. They still have to bridge a gap of at least $3.5 billion. A legislative report three weeks ago did little to please the McCleary plaintiffs, who urged the Supreme Court to force the Legislative back into special session, The News Tribune reports.Glitches plague almost one in six health exchange customers
Fifteen percent of people who bought health insurance through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange are having trouble getting care and medication because of technical glitches in the state-run system, according to figures compiled by the Association of Washington Healthcare Plans. The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that some customers who have paid their insurance premiums are mistakenly listed as delinquent. Pharmacies and doctors, worried they won’t receive payment, have turned down these patients. Health exchange staff disputed these numbers, but could not provide their own records of how many customers have been affected by technical problems.Supreme Court allows employees to sue for lunches that violate religious beliefs
The state’s high court narrowly ruled Thursday that employees who were fed pork and other foods that didn’t conform to their religious beliefs can sue their employer. The workers could not bring their own lunch onto the jobsite at the company that makes meals for airline passengers at Sea-Tac, so the business provided its own meals for them. Employees said the dishes included pork and supposedly vegetarian options with animal products. Five supreme court justices court ruled that the state’s anti-discrimination laws required “reasonable accommodations” of employee religious beliefs, while four dissenters said there is no evidence the law has such intent, KPLU reports.Businesses, consumers urged to check for fraudulent companies at state website
As the summer work season approaches, the state is urging consumers and businesses to ensure that contractors or other companies they hire are not operating fraudulently. The departments of Labor & Industries, Employment Security, Revenue and others jointly operate suspectfraud.com, which will verify that businesses are properly licensed, are not behind on taxes, and are not subject to state enforcement action. The site is helpful for businesses as well as consumers to guard against hiring fraudulent contracts, officials say.Vigor Industrial sees growth ahead after announcing merger with Oregon Iron Works
Vigor Industrial, a ship-builder with a major presence in Washington, is merging with Oregon Iron Works, the companies announced last week. The merged company will retain the Vigor name and will employ 2,300 in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Vigor plans to expand its products and services thanks to the merger. “You get a larger critical mass of employment, which offers the ability to effectively retain and maintain a skilled workforce and develop leaders,” said CEO and owner Frank Foti.California billionaire Tom Steyer pledges $100 million to elevate climate change as election issue
Hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer will spend about $100 million this year to “blast the issue of climate change to the front lines of American politics,” the New York Times reports. That spending comes with an eye to 2016, where he hopes to influence the nomination and election of the next president. Steyer played a major role in last year’s Senate campaign on the Kitsap Peninsula, unsuccessfully backing the campaign of Democrat Nathan Schlicher, who lost to Jan Angel.AWB EVENTS & RESOURCES
Membership has its privileges: your teen gets a big discount to Washington Business Week
AWB has long supported Washington Business Week, and this unique statewide program for high school students shows their appreciation for our members by giving a big discount to family members of AWB businesses. These week-long classes are a great way for teens to begin to understand the power and value of the free enterprise system. They also will earn two transferrable college credits. AWB members will receive a 33 percent discount, to just $580, for the sessions July 21-27 at Central Washington University and Aug. 4-10 at Pacific Lutheran University. To take advantage of the special pricing, use the code AWB580 on the online sign-up in the section that asks: “How did you hear about WBW?”Be part of the next generation of great leaders through Leadership Washington
With an eye on the silver tsunami of Baby Boomers leaving the workforce, AWB is helping prepare the next wave of business leadership. This is the inaugural year of Leadership Washington, the AWB Institute’s new statewide leadership development program. Over nine months, young leaders will travel the state for a series of training and networking events focusing on the different industry sectors and political landscapes of Washington. Graduates from the program will be strong, articulate, informed leaders who will help Washington move forward in a globally competitive economy. Contact Amy Johnson for information on this exciting and valuable new opportunity. Applications for the program are due June 15.Tell your manufacturing story at the AWB Institute’s statewide listening tour
The AWB Institute stopped in Vancouver last week for the first of seven manufacturing listening sessions to gather ideas on how to support the economic climate in Washington. We want to hear your ideas on how to address the economic, regulatory and workforce challenges Washington manufacturers face. The information will go into a follow-up to the 2012 report, Challenges & Opportunities for Manufacturers in Washington state. A full list of upcoming listening sessions is online. Contact the AWB Institute’s Amy Johnson to attend a listening session near you.Earn HR certification credits as you learn to avoid traps and pitfalls in legalese
We all know you should read the fine print, but how do you understand the hidden traps buried in the legalese? Can you navigate the world of non-compete agreements? We’ll guide you through the pitfalls of terms like “integration,” “severability,” “choice of law” and “indemnification” during our upcoming HR forum in Seattle on June 11. Davis Wright Tremaine partner and employment law attorney Greg Hendershott will lead two sessions, “Don’t Get Burned by Boilerplate Contracts” and “How to Manage Non-Compete Agreements.” The classes are approved for PHR, SPHR and GPHR recertification hours through the HR Certification Institute For more information or with questions, contact Karlee Keith at 800.521.9325, or register online today.Secure your competitive advantage through human resource excellence, July 10 in Seattle
With social media revolutionizing how employees are recruited, retained and managed companies must either adapt or fall behind. The forum, “Strategies for Securing Your Competitive Advantage,” will kick off with an interactive “LinkedIn” breakfast and Employment Law Update with Bob Battles, General Counsel and Government Affairs Director, Employment Law, AWB.
Participatory sessions include:
- “Go Social or Go Home” — LinkedIn’s Michelle Cowden, Enterprise Account Manager, Talent Solutions will explain how to keep up with HR trends and challenges using social media tools.
- “Your Survival Guide to Generational Communications in the Workplace” — With four distinct generations now actively participating in the workplace, it doesn't always go smoothly! Learn tested coping strategies from a seasoned HR professional Michael Lee, Seattle franchise owner, Express Professionals.
- Ryan, Swanson, & Cleveland’s Susan Fox, Gulliver Swenson and Kristin Meier will shine the light on opposing views in real-life legal cases. “How the simple act of hiring spawned two lawsuits and derailed a company’s strategy to secure a competitive advantage” in Employment Law Court.
The forum will run from 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall in Seattle. Learn more and register here. Send two or more staff and receive a discount. Sponsorships still available, contact AnneH@AWB.org.
THEY SAID IT
“Why does the insurance commissioner’s office oversee its own appeals in the first place?” ~ The Seattle Times in an editorial calling for fundamental reforms following allegations of gross mismanagement in the Office of Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.
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