Cutoff day: Mullet's committee guts credit-scoring bill
Bill to rescue dairy industry from overtime claims turns into overtime for all farm workers; House committee chair dumps bills, citing pandemic restrictions
Monday was policy committee cutoff day at the Legislature, but even if procedural minutia isn’t your jam, don’t wander off just yet. The pressure to get bills passed out of their first committees lends itself to all manner of influence, gamesmanship, even drama. The events of cutoff days remind us frequently why elections matter and of the enduring allegiances of many of our elected officials.
Here’s how that process works: Bills that don’t move out of their initial committees by 5 p.m. on Monday are considered dead.1 It’s the first of a series of procedural deadlines that separate the stuff that might actually happen from the not-quite-ready, the too-controversial, the too-freaking-expensive, and the why-the-heck-would-we-do-that.2
On the elections-have-consequences front, let’s take what happened to Senate Bill 5010 in Sen. Mark Mullet’s Business, Financial Services and Trade Committee.
The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Mona Das and 20 other Democrats on behalf of the governor and the state insurance commissioner, would have banned the practice of using credit ratings to set rates for personal insurance, including car insurance, homeowner’s insurance and rental insurance.
Critics of the practice argue that it punishes people — especially low-income people and people of color — for suffering economic hardship beyond their control. For example, should a falling credit score caused by missing a mortgage payment because you’ve been laid off in a pandemic make your car insurance more expensive? For a deeper dive, you can check out Melissa Santos’ takeout over at Crosscut in December.
Insurance companies, as you might imagine, disagree. The American Property Casualty Insurance Association argues that credit scores are an input into an objective and accurate system for predicting how risky a given customer will be to insure.
They’ve lobbied aggressively on the bill, including a $137,000 ”grassroots lobbying” campaign bankrolled by the association and some of its largest members, arguing that it will eventually make insurance more expensive generally.
Mullet, you’ll remember, is the business-friendly Democrat who barely survived an insanely expensive challenge from his left last year, thanks in large part to the $1 million spent on his behalf by the Committee for Proven Leadership, a lobbyist-driven PAC best thought of as the Committee to Save Mark Mullet’s Bacon. Among that $1 million is some $60,000 from the insurance industry. Insurance companies also gave Mullet’s campaign many thousands of dollars directly.
On Monday, Mullet’s committee passed a significant rewrite of the bill that prevents insurance companies from raising rates because of credit scores, but only for the next three years. That’s a win for the insurance industry even if it passes, and might sap support for the bill, preventing it from advancing at all.
The bill now moves on to the Senate Rules Committee.
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Labor, Commerce and Tribal Relations completely flips bill protecting dairies against overtime claims
The Senate committee currently known as Labor, Commerce and Tribal Relations has long been a battleground for fights between advocates for workers and champions of business.
Sen. Karen Keiser, who back in the day was communications director for the Washington State Labor Council, holds the gavel in that committee these days, and she’s not shy about using it.
In perhaps the boldest move of cutoff day, Keiser took Republican Sen. Curtis King’s bill to protect the dairy industry from a flood of claims for back overtime pay, and completely flipped its intent, instead making it easier for workers to bring those claims.
The original Senate Bill 5172 was prompted by a Washington Supreme Court ruling that the provision in state’s minimum wage law that exempts most agricultural workers doesn’t apply to dairy workers. The court didn’t address the issue of whether the workers could seek overtime retroactively to 2017.
Keiser’s version not only makes it clear that the overtime would be paid, but eliminates the overtime exemption for agriculture entirely.
“What the proposed sub does is the exact opposite of what my bill did. First time I’ve seen that happen,” a bemused King, R-Yakima, said after a smiling Keiser invited him to comment on “his” bill.
Kind argued that the dairy farmers shouldn’t be made to pay overtime that wasn’t required by law at the time.
Both Keiser and King pledged to work on some kind of compromise.
That sports betting bill? Still not going anywhere
One of the many bills that didn’t make it out of Sen. Keiser’s committee by the deadline was the proposal to expand legal sports betting, coming to a tribal casino near you later this year, to non-tribal card rooms.3
As we reported a couple of weeks ago, that bill, pushed by Maverick Gaming, isn’t going anywhere, and all the posturing and hype about it is likely long game in preparation for a ballot initiative this fall or later.
The bill met the same fate it did last year, getting irrevocably snagged in the blackberry bramble of influence and money the state’s Native American tribes have grown to protect their near-monopoly on gambling in Washington.
For more on that prickly thicket, check out Geoff Baker’s deep dive in The Seattle Times into the lobbying efforts for and against the bill.
House committee chair kills bills on his deadline list, acknowledging they weren’t ready
One of the broadly predicted consequences of the Legislature’s mostly remote session was a lack of bandwidth to get through the actual work of considering, amending and voting on legislation.
We saw that play out in Rep. Steve Kirby’s Consumer Protection and Business Committee, where Kirby, D-Tacoma, openly conceded that most of the bills on Monday’s list for consideration weren’t ready for prime time, including a package of reforms to the state’s professional licensing systems. The committee was scheduled to vote on nine bills, but considered just two.
Kirby was unusually candid about his marching orders from House Democratic leaders, who want to severely limit the number of bills moving through the system, thus limiting minority Republicans ability to play defense via various delay tactics.
“Chairs have been discouraged from moving ahead to Rules bills that are a work in progress,” Kirby said, noting that the Legislature’s session is technically two years long. “All these bills are still alive — next session — hopefully.”
There’s a giant loophole in this rule called “necessary to implement the budget,” which theoretically includes anything with a big price tag for the state, and definitely includes anything imposing new taxes. So if you’re here to watch any of that stuff crash and burn, you’re out of luck.
Watch your inbox later this week for some of the fun stuff that didn’t make it.
In theory, the sports gambling bill would fit through the loophole in Footnote 1, but a loophole won’t help when you don’t have the votes.
C’mon man, I brought your hat; let’s take a walk
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