Submitted by Trent House, Trent M House Government Relations
In 1816, Thomas Jefferson said “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.” Legislative bodies across the globe are grappling with these questions now more than ever as communities struggle to understand the implications of fast-paced technological innovation. The Washington State Legislature will spend a great deal of energy this session and beyond debating data privacy, facial recognition, and artificial intelligence as these topics impact nearly every industry and constituency group across the state.
“Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.” Thomas Jefferson
The Senate Environment, Energy & Technology passed two bills addressing data privacy and facial recognition this week. SB 6281 (Carlyle, D-36), known as the Washington Privacy Act is modeled after the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CCPA, which provide consumers new rights to access, delete, correct, and move their data, or opt-out of data collection. The bill applies to any business located in Washington or targeting Washington consumers that controls or processes personal data of 100,000 consumers or more, as well as businesses that control data of more than 25,000 consumers or derive more than 50 percent of their revenue from the sale of personal data. A similar measure passed the Senate last year before dying in the House. SB 6280 (Nguyen, D-34) seeks to provide regulation of facial recognition technology through judicial oversight, transparency measures, and community engagement. While both bills are supported by Microsoft, the ACLU and legal communities brought concerns and opposition to the hearings for both bills.
As downtown Seattle businesses demanded action following several shootings this week, the legislature advanced gun violence policies already in the works. Thursday, the House of Representatives passed 1010 (Senn, D-41) in a 56-42 vote. This bill allows the Washington State Patrol to destroy guns forfeited in crimes. All other law enforcement agencies in the state already possess the authority to destroy as an alternative to keeping, trading, or auctioning these weapons. In a year-long investigation by the Associated Press, more than a dozen weapons sold by state law enforcement agencies were used in new criminal cases. The Senate Law & Justice Committee also passed 6077 (Kuderer, D-48) limiting high capacity magazines and 6294 (Salomon, D-32) requiring gun safety training for concealed pistol license holders.
On Monday, the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee heard 6097 (Rolfes, D-23), which would require the Office of the Insurance Commissioner review the surpluses of a nonprofit health carrier in the individual or small group market during the annual rate-setting process. Washington’s three nonprofit health carriers, Premera Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente, and Regence Blueshield, are together estimated to hold a surplus of $4 Billion. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners sets minimum standards for surpluses, but not maximums. Senator Rolfes, King County, and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner urge support for the bill as a tool to address patient out-of-pocket costs. Carriers argue for-profit companies can access capital in the markets, but non-profits are only able to tap into surplus accounts for infrastructure upgrades, entering new markets, and responding to political changes such as the Affordable Care Act. The carriers also contend this could invite politically motivated efforts to artificially reduce rates in what they say is otherwise an actuarial negotiation. Another bill will be heard in Senate Ways & Means January 30th that creates a state account to collect funds from these surplus accounts. SB 6451 (Frockt, D-46) would authorize the Office of the Insurance Commissioner to rule a carrier’s surplus excessive at 400% of the carrier’s risk-based capital requirements, and require the carrier pay 3% of the surplus to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner to be deposited into a fund for foundational public health and subsidies for individuals ineligible for federal subsidies in the individual market.
On Friday, the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee heard 6455 (Liias, D-21), a bill that would require the default beverage in a restaurant children’s meal be water, sparkling water, unflavored milk, or nondairy milk. While parents may still order juice or soft drinks for their children, these items would no longer be default options listed on menus or options verbally delivered by servers. Advocates for child health claim the policy is disease prevention and will reinforce healthy choices. The Washington Beverage Association and Washington Hospitality Association testified as neutral, seeking changes to allow 100% juice, flavored milk, and a 2021 implementation date. The companion, 2383 (Stonier, D-49) will be heard in the House committee next week.
Last fall, Governor Inslee asked the State Board of Health to approve a 120-day emergency ban on flavored vape products. Several bills to enact a permanent ban are coursing their way through the process, but it is possible the Board of Health may once again take emergency action to prevent the sale of the currently banned products should the bills not pass in time.