The North Dakota Attorney General ruled today that North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman has not violated state open meeting laws by participating in closed meetings conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
The ruling was in response to a May 4 request to North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem by North Dakota Reps. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, and Frank Wald, R-Dickinson, to determine whether Poolman and his staff had violated state open records law by participating in executive sessions of the NAIC, Kansas City, Mo.; whether North Dakota can pay dues to the NAIC to participate in policy and regulatory discussions and decisions if they occur in nonpublic meetings; and whether it is acceptable to pay dues to the organization if state representatives participate only in NAIC sessions that are open to the public.
In his response, Stenehjem writes that Poolman and his staff are not in violation of the open meetings law if they participate in public and nonpublic NAIC sessions. Stenehjem also writes that a state agency may pay membership dues to a national association such as the NAIC. North Dakota pays $7,725 in dues to the NAIC, according to the Keiser/Wald letter.
Stenehjem offered the following analysis:
- Although the insurance department is a public entity, the commissioner is a single elected official, not a governing body. Thus the commissioner’s participation in the session does not make the session a meeting under North Dakota law.
- There is nothing in North Dakota law that makes an elected official’s participation in a national association’s executive session a violation of the state’s law.
- The definition of “meeting” in North Dakota law “does not include the attendance of members of a governing body at meetings of any national, regional or state association to which the public entity, the governing body, or individual members belong.”
- “Since the commissioner or his staff participate in executive sessions, they may also participate in the public portions of NAIC meetings.”
Stenehjem also determined that a state agency may pay membership dues to an organization as long as expenditures comply with state law and in this case there were no violations.
“Now that the sideshow is over” the focus can return “to protecting consumers, creating a better insurance market, and turning the attention to things that should be focused on like saving state based regulation and working with state legislators,” Poolman says.
NAIC government affairs committee meetings are open meetings and “there is no grand conspiracy” in closing some meetings or portions of meetings, Poolman says.