Gun policy could alter Clark County's insurance rate

County proposal about concealed firearms at work has 'multiple sides'

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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A proposed Clark County policy that would allow public employees to bring concealed firearms to work could affect the amount the county pays in insurance premiums.

That discussion comes at a time when the county's future within the Washington Counties Risk Pool remains a question mark.

The county's risk management division is investigating how such a policy would impact the county's liability and workers' compensation programs, said Risk Manager Mark Wilsdon. The work follows a directive Tuesday from commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke calling for the county to look into changing its workplace violence policy so it would allow public employees with concealed weapons permits to bring their guns to work.

"We will be looking at our liability and the legal side, workers' compensation," Wilsdon said. "That's a lot of information."

Upfront insurance costs could go either way — up or down — if the county implements a looser weapons policy for employees, an insurance professional said.

At the end of each year, the county is required to submit a financial report to the state auditor's office. The report covers all county funds and liabilities, including insurance. But the costs associated with implementing a policy permitting employees to carry concealed weapons may pose a challenge.

"It would be a hard issue to value, from the standpoint you could make the argument they are at a greater risk by not allowing permitted weapons for employees for defensive purposes," said Vyrle Hill, executive director of the Washington Counties Risk Pool. "There are multiple sides to this."

The risk pool is composed of 27 Washington counties, including Clark County, that receive better rates by purchasing insurance policies as a group. While the risk is pooled, spread out over multiple counties, the counties themselves choose what type of insurance to purchase.

Clark County, Hill said, picked the insurance plan with the highest deductible. That means upfront costs, in the form of insurance premiums, are relatively low. The county pays about $632,000 a year for its premium. The county's deductible is $500,000.

But, there's an added wrinkle to the county's insurance coverage. There are also questions as to whether the county will be dismissed from the insurance pool later in the year.

That stems, in part, from a $10.5 million settlement the county agreed to pay two men who spent 17 years in prison after being unjustly convicted of rape.

The county took out a loan to pay the settlement because at the time the men, Allen Northrop and Larry Davis, were convicted, the county didn't belong to the risk pool. The pool declined to cover the county's legal fees.

But the settlement also authorized the men to sue the risk pool for an additional $24 million, something the risk pool believes to be an obvious violation of an interlocal agreement.

Clark County's future within the risk pool will be addressed next week by its executive committee, which could offer a recommendation of what to do at the risk pool board's March meeting.

If the county is kicked out of the pool, its insurance rates will increase, Wilsdon said.

He and other county staff members on Wednesday will present commissioners with information about the possible effects of a policy allowing employees to carry concealed firearms.