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Morning Wire: Amazon, Medicaid, Bill cutoff

We have a number of topics for your review today related to the politics, policies and political economy of Washington State.  Our goal is to touch on each of those three areas in each newsletter, curating content for you that will help elevate our collective civic discussion, regardless of how that dialog plays out.  In the next few weeks, we’ll launch a daily email as well. It will bring you a summary of each of the stories posted at the Wire from the day before so you can scan them briefly at the start of your day.

So, to the about 16,000 of you on this email list, thanks for reading our stuff.

1. Speaker Chopp engaging in Medicaid procurement

As speaker, Frank Chopp largely stays out of health policy. That may have been part of an unwritten agreement he made with Eileen Cody 20 years ago when she stepped aside and allowed him to become the House Democrats’ leader.  This session, he’s trying to change Medicaid procurement rules during the Health Care Authority’s extended Medicaid procurement process.

With five Medicaid plans in Washington State, and a regional procurement model from which the HCA would like to pick two or three plans per region, some plans are going to lose out. CHPW argues that has already caused patient disruption. That’s led to Chopp promoting a ‘fix’ that would allow any Managed Care Organization already in a region to remain, offering protection for health plans and patients. This would turn the HCA procurement approach that’s been in place since 2015 on its head, which has otherwise selected plans from among a competitive process.

This language may be a last minute addition to the budget that will come out in the next two weeks. Then, it’ll be a question of whether Gov. Inslee vetoes the provision (which may have more to do with whether the House passes a carbon bill than Inslee’s interest in Medicaid procurement).

2. Shape of media employment in Washington State

During a Senate Labor and Commerce Committee Work Session last week, the Employment Security Department offered stark numbers about the decline in newspaper employment. “From January 2007 to December 2016, the newspaper publishers industry in Washington state lost over half of its employment, from 7,218 to 3,609.”

However, currently in Washington State, “there are four times as many jobs in internet publishing as there are in newspaper publishing.”  Mike Rosenberg, a Seattle Times reporter and board member at the Society of Professional Journalists, said the amount of wages in internet publishing is 15 times the amount of wages in newspaper publishing. Those numbers were equal 10 years ago.

3.  Amazon round table with policy makers

On Feb. 9th, Amazon hosted a range of policy makers to a round table discussion on a range of public policy topics, including “Providing Affordability and Opportunity in Seattle,” “Transportation and Mobility Session,” “Seattle Business Environment,” and “Education and the Future of Work.” This builds off of the rapprochement that was launched between Amazon and policy makers following the HQ2 announcement.

Notably, only one legislator was announced as on the invitation list:  Sen. Guy Palumbo.

4. Changing Washington’s presidential primary date

One interesting bill for campaign folks is a bill that would move Washington’s presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March, up from the fourth Tuesday in May. As the dates are set now, by the time it is Washington’s turn to vote, the field of candidates has typically narrowed down and the two nominations have largely been decided. Changing the presidential primary date would likely give Washington more influence in primary races and may engage more voters.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman also says changing the primary date would give Washington the opportunity to align its primaries with other Western states like California and Oregon to create a “West Coast Super Tuesday.” Having passed out of the House State Government, Elections, and Information Technology committee on January 23, the bill now sits in the Rules Committee where it looks to be stalled.

5. A quick run down of notable bills

With tomorrow’s 5 pm deadline for bills to pass in their house of origin, legislators have been working overtime to move bills out of the House and Senate. Of particular interest, bills related to affordable housing, the opioid crisis, and elections all took steps forward on Friday and over the weekend.

As a tool to help solve the homelessness crisis, Sen. Frockt’s HB 5407 would prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based off their source of income. Along with a more comprehensive bill to address the opioid epidemic, HB 2390 would ensure that opioid overdose reverse drugs are available in public schools and college dorms. Also of interest, the Senate passed its automatic voter registration bill on Saturday.

And, an interesting bill to watch is HB 2408. It requires any carrier that offers plans for educators via the newly established School Employees’ Benefit Board must also offer plans on the individual market. WSHA and WSMA both testified in support. The health plan association and Kaiser both opposed it. The bill is on the House floor and needs to move by tomorrow or may be done for the session.

6. Wire Insider: Jonathan Johnson, Overstock.com

Jonathan Johnson is the Chairman of the Board of Overstock.com. He is also President of Medici Ventures, Inc, a subsidiary of Overstock.com focused on advancing blockchain technology and Crypto-Industries.  He joins us as a “Wire Insider” to talk about the use of blockchain technology in business.

“I think the implications of blockchain are that you and I are going to be able to do commerce together, without intermediary middle men in between. We’ve gotten to a place in society where most people don’t know who they’re dealing with and so we rely on trust institutions, whether it’s the government, or banks, or brokers, to allow us to trust doing business with each other. Blockchain technology allows trust through technology so that you and I can have a digital handshake that allows us to deal with one another and rehumanize commerce.”

7. 282 school levies on ballot today across state

Ballots are due today for February’s special election where 282 separate school levies are on ballots across the state. These are the first school levies to be voted on since the legislature passed its McCleary fix in June. The state’s plan to fund basic education brings with it increases in property taxes across the state, which may very well impact the success or failure of these levies.

In King County alone, 16 school districts are running 26 different levy measures. Combined, these levies would generate more than $1 billion in revenue over four years. At the same time, to help pay for basic education, property taxes throughout King County will rise between 9 and 31 percent. This rise in taxes may very well make voters less inclined to spend additional money on schools. You can follow the results here.

8. Seattle worst city in US for gender pay disparity

Seattle has the widest gender gap in median salary of any major US city, according to a post at Estately.  Put in terms of the ability to purchase housing, the study said that only 3.7% of women can afford a home in Seattle based on their income.

“Seattle has the biggest wage-based housing gap. Men can afford nearly 150% more homes than women. The smallest gap is in Detroit.”