LOCAL NEWS

With insurance rates at stake, judge rolls back Washington’s executive power

Oct 13, 2021, 4:03 PM | Updated: 4:40 pm
insurance rates...
The Thurston County Superior Court ruled against the Washington State Insurance Commissioner’s emergency order to ban the use of credit histories when determining private insurance rates. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The extent to which Washington state’s executive branch has been able to invoke the COVID-19 pandemic in its use of emergency rulings met a crossroads in court last Friday afternoon.

In a summary judgment hearing Oct. 8, the Thurston County Superior Court ruled against Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s emergency order to ban the use of credit histories when determining private insurance rates.

The emergency order from March of this year was based on the expiration of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which, according to the commissioner, has artificially buoyed credit scores. Its expiration 120 days after the state of emergency is declared finished will end that protection, with rising insurance premiums likely to follow.

“Credit scoring models are no longer accurately reflected — or can no longer be accurate because of the change in the CARES Act reporting requirements, but also that … question[s] the future validity of credit insurance models that relied on information pre-pandemic where … circumstances have been vastly changed by the pandemic,” Kreidler’s representation said in Friday’s hearing.

“Consumers don’t seem to realize that they are in financial distress because of the artificial protections of the CARES Act at the time and temporary protections that limit the ability of accurate credit history information from being reported,” the defense continued. “This impacts … insurance consumers because, again, this demonstrates that some individuals are not having accurate credit histories reported to credit bureaus whose information is then used by credit insurers to determine how insurance premiums will be set.”

That was the basis by which the state insurance commissioner defended the emergency order on insurance rates. However, the extent to which the executive office can flex that muscle was called into question by the plaintiffs, American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA), in Friday’s decision, which is what ultimately undid the intended consumer protection.

“The issue there is the commissioner by regulatory fiat in emergency rule [can] overturn authorization by legislative statutes that have been in place for nearly 19 or 20 years,” a representative of APCIA declared.

State lawmaker takes aim at rising insurance rates, blames executive overreach

Ultimately, the judge ruled that, while there is precedent for executive law to be handed down in the event of a true state of emergency, and that the commissioner’s office had effectively persuaded that the expiration of the CARES Act was sufficient justification as such, the commissioner had simply failed to communicate that emergency to the public and to the state’s legislature on a well enough timeline, in a fashion which would allow for the normal processes of law making: public comment, advance notice, et cetera.

“The agency can dispense with many parts of regular or permanent rulemaking if it’s an emergency, and the agency has to find that good cause for immediate adoption, amendment, or repeal of a rule [which] is necessary for the preservation of public health, safety or general welfare, and that observing the time requirements for notice and opportunity to comment upon adoption of a permanent rule would be contrary to the public interest,” the judge said.

“I was persuaded … sufficiently in favor of the insurance commissioner … notice-and-comment rulemaking can be done quickly, [within] four to six months, and had the insurance commissioner initiated notice-and-comment rulemaking, and then learned that the CARES Act protections were going to go away in four months, that would have been a time to enact an emergency rule saying, ‘now we have an urgent need to act,'” the judge continued.

Much of the plaintiff’s case rested on the fact that Kreidler had been pursuing this policy for some time, even before the pandemic, and the fact that he did not communicate to the legislature that this was an emergency before his emergency ruling cast doubt on that justification.

“In January through March, the commissioner wasn’t telling the legislature, ‘we have this crisis impending,’” the judge added.

Thurston County ultimately ruled against Kreidler, without offering judgment on the plaintiff’s contention of the “arbitrary and capricious standard” from which the emergency order was handed down, potentially leaving the door open for future emergency orders, at least as far as Thurston County is concerned.

“I’m disappointed by today’s ruling,” the insurance commissioner wrote in a press release. “I have authority to take continuing action to protect consumers from the insurance industry’s unjust, secretive and unrealistic method to determine what consumers pay to insure their vehicles and homes.”

“I will continue the fight to permanently ban credit scoring and will be considering my options.”

Local News

Redistricting...
Nick Bowman

Lawsuit claims Washington’s new redistricting maps discriminate against Latino voters

A coalition of voting rights groups filed a lawsuit this week challenging a redistricting plan approved by the Washington Supreme Court.
14 hours ago
Amazon warehouses...
Nick Bowman

Amazon continues to run afoul of state regulators over safety conditions in warehouses

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries issued a citation to Amazon regarding conditions in one of its warehouses. 
14 hours ago
Gov Jay Inslee veto...
Hanna Scott

Democrat-backed bill would give Legislature more control of emergency powers

A new bill, sponsored by a Democrat, would give the state Legislature the authority to act on the governor's emergency powers after 90 days.
14 hours ago
Marijuana Washington...
Hanna Scott

State mulls changes to Washington marijuana industry amid claims of bias, abuses of power

Roughly 10 years after the passage of I-502, state lawmakers will consider modernizing Washington’s legal recreational marijuana industry.
14 hours ago
long term care tax...
Hanna Scott

State lawmakers fast-track long-term care tax delay, could be passed by next week

State lawmakers appear poised to push through an 18-month delay on the WA Cares long-term care tax by the end of next week.
14 hours ago
North Beach School District...
MyNorthwest Staff

‘Ravaged by COVID,’ North Beach district shuts down all schools for rest of week

School has been canceled for over 700 students in the North Beach School District this week with 40% of students absent on Tuesday.
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]
...

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
With insurance rates at stake, judge rolls back Washington’s executive power