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Morning Wire: Three key housing issues, Q&A w/ Sen. Mark Mullet on insurance rates, Budget requests

It’s a common saying around our office that we’re in the business of writing slow news, not fast news. Much like slow food that takes time to prepare is better for the body, taking time to mull over the fine details and build out a quality story is better for both our coverage and our readers. Take for instance this week’s deep dive into housing policy. It’s the product of conversations dating back more than a month, and 26,000 words-worth of interview notes and transcription. 

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1. Three agency budget requests we’re following

The deadline for Washington’s state agencies to submit their budget requests was this month, and there’s no shortage of interesting asks. Politics aside, the hard numbers in these documents give you a glimpse into what’s happening inside Olympia. We focused on three requests in a story this week.

On COVID, the Department of Health requested an additional $212 million through 2023 to adequately fund testing, contract tracing, and outbreak response, among other activities. They’re also expecting to direct millions in funding to vaccination efforts through 2024, at least, so don’t expect a quick end to this pandemic. The Department of Commerce asked for an additional $4.1 million to put toward dispute resolution centers, which are expected to see an increase in demand as the eviction moratorium ends. Finally, the Department of Corrections is asking for $27.6 million over the next two years to implement patient-centered health care for prisoners. 

2. Three key housing issues to watch in 2022

There’s no shortage of lawmakers thinking about housing policy in the state Legislature, so we dug into some policy issues we’re likely to see brought up in the 2022 session. Our story on what we found is worth the read, and more than we can get into here. In short, don’t be surprised to see challenges or proposed changes to tenant protections that passed last session, zoning regulations and the GMA, and an interest in increasing “missing middle” housing. 

One key issue that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will have to deal with is how to get hundreds of millions of dollars in rental assistance out to tenants. A staggeringly low percentage of the funding has been distributed. One suggestion from Rep. Michelle Caldier is to let the state Department of Commerce handle distributing the funding, instead of relying on the counties to do so. 

3. Q&A w/ Sen. Mark Mullet on credit scoring

Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) has been vocal in opposing an emergency rule from Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler that prohibits insurance companies from factoring credit scores into their premiums. Mullet, who chairs the Senate Business, Financial Services and Trade Committee, said as many as 2 million Washingtonians could see significant increases in their insurance rates because of the rule. The Committee will discuss credit scoring at its 10 a.m. meeting this morning. 

Mullet said the emergency rule frustrates him because he worked on SB 5010, a bill dealing with credit scoring that Kreidler requested last session, which ultimately didn’t clear committee. It would have likely included protections for people with good credit. Mullet wants the Legislature to take on credit scoring in the upcoming session, and for Kreidler to rescind the emergency rule. “We were focused on how do you let people who currently benefit from the discounts keep their discounts? And then what do we do to make sure that people whose credit gets impacted from COVID don’t go backwards and have to pay more?”

4. Senate Republicans release prison recommendations

Last week, Senate Republicans released a report on changes they would like to see in the state’s prison system. It included a number of recommendations, but at the top of the list is a request to designate public safety as the Department of Corrections’ highest priority, over rehabilitation and other services. 

In some ways, the report reads like a wish list, with recommendations to reinstate drug possession felonies that were reduced to misdemeanors following the Blake Decision, or putting a halt on efforts to reduce prison capacity. It seems unlikely that many of these recommendations will be taken up by a Democratic-majority Legislature. As always though with redistricting looming, it’s good to remember that while Republicans are out of power in all three branches now, that may not be the case come 2022. 

5. Tax structure work group town halls start Sept. 22

The bipartisan Tax Structure Work Group is preparing to make the rounds again this fall to solicit input on how to adjust the tax code. There’s seven town hall meetings, each with an afternoon and evening session, that run from September through November. The sessions are designed to give folks a chance to weigh in on six potential tax scenarios that will be released on Wednesday.

Six potential tax scenarios were originally released during a May work group meeting, but Rep. Noel Frame (D-36th) who co-chairs the group along with Sen. Keith Wagoner (R-39th LD), said the scenarios that will be presented during the upcoming town halls are finalized versions. Five of the scenarios are tax-neutral, Frame said, and they range from adjusting property taxes, to B&O and income taxes.

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