Members of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators should look at state open meeting laws to make sure that state representatives do not attend closed meetings, says Rhode Island state Rep. Brian Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, R.I.

Kennedy was responding to a June 15 opinion from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. In the opinion, Stenehjem holds that there is no violation of North Dakota open meeting laws if North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman and members of his staff attend closed meetings organized by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo.

Stenehjem has presented state North Dakota Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, N.D., with “the framework to close any loopholes,” Kennedy says.

Keiser had teamed with state Rep. Frank Wald, R-Dickinson, N.D., to file a request for review.

Kennedy, who is also vice president of NCOIL, Troy, N.Y., has been vocal in his opposition to closed NAIC meetings that leave out input from legislators and others in policy discussions.

In certain cases, however, including discussions of specific individuals or companies, pending litigation or trade secrets, closed meetings are warranted, Kennedy says.

Kennedy recently sent a letter asking legislators in all states to keep their insurance regulators from attending NAIC meetings that are closed without good cause.

Kennedy says he has asked one key Rhode Island lawmaker why Rhode Island is giving state data to the NAIC for free even though the NAIC is not complying with Rhode Island laws.

Rhode Island has a budget deficit of $300 million, and it would be reasonable for cash-strapped states to ask for a share of the revenue generated by the data they supply, Kennedy says.

The data sellers “are making money off of the information,” Kennedy says.

One step the NAIC could take would be to establish legislator committees that would be similar to the existing industry and consumer liaison committees, Kennedy says.

The panel could include legislator groups such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, Denver, as well as NCOIL, Kennedy says.

“We should be working in tandem,” Kennedy says. “We shouldn’t be viewed as the enemy,” he adds.

The lack of communication with the NAIC “is quite baffling,” Kennedy says.

Kennedy says he has been treated with courtesy by NAIC President-elect and Kansas Commissioner Sandy Praeger and other NAIC officials, but he says he has had no contact with NAIC President and Alabama Insurance Commissioner Walter Bell since an exchange of letters before the summer meeting in San Francisco.

Bell “didn’t even acknowledge the fact that I was in the same room as him” in San Francisco, “but I guess he had a meeting to run,” Kennedy says.

Kentucky state Rep. Robert Damron, D- Jessamine, Ky., says he does not agree with the North Dakota decision that allows state representatives to attend closed meetings noting work such as the accreditation process that is being done at NAIC.

However, he also says he has received an apology letter from the NAIC stating that the inclusion of his name on a do-not-admit list at an NAIC Commissioners Roundtable in San Francisco was an error. “These are honest people, and you have to take them at their word,” Damron says.

It is important that both NCOIL and the NAIC work together and continue dialogue because the “main goal of the NAIC and NCOIL is to maintain state oversight of the industry,” Damron says

“Legislators are the ultimate in consumer representation,” Damron says. “So, we need to be working together and not pulling apart.”