IWIF seeks to keep its meetings private

March 16, 2000|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Pleading that sometimes "you have to shut the door," officials of the state Injured Workers Insurance Fund asked a legislative committee yesterday to exempt the state agency from public records and open meetings laws.

The request for blanket exemptions, in the form of an amendment to a pending bill, were offered to the Senate Finance Committee by Paul M. Rose, the departing head of IWIF, and the agency lawyer, David Funk.

"In a competitive business environment, you have to shut the door sometimes," Funk told the committee. "It is very hard to conduct business out in the open. It constantly creates a problem."

Funk and Rose said IWIF had been peppered by public records requests from The Sun.

"They even asked how much we paid to doctors and a health center," Rose said of the newspaper's requests.

"I really don't see where the hindrance is," said Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, who questioned Rose and Funk about the problems the public records and open meeting laws cause.

The pleas for privacy came as the Senate panel deliberated on a bill that would make IWIF subject, for the first time, to financial reviews by the Maryland Insurance Administration. The bill, based partly on the recommendations of a governor's task force, also would place IWIF in the same state guaranty fund as private insurance companies. The fund protects policyholders if an insurance company becomes insolvent.

Rose also said IWIF did not want to be in the guaranty fund.

IWIF, created by the legislature in 1914, sells workers' compensation insurance to about one-fifth of the state's businesses. Governed by a seven-member board appointed by the governor, IWIF competes for business with private insurance carriers.

Among those testifying was Kathleen Loughran of the state insurance department, who said the agency supports the measure even though it does not include some of the recommendations of the task force appointed by the governor.

Under the Senate bill, which was filed by the Finance Committee chairman, Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, the insurance department would review IWIF's records and report the findings to IWIF's board and the legislature. The task force bill would make IWIF subject to the same insurance department review and regulation as other insurance companies.

"We fully support the bill," Loughran said.

James Doyle of the American Insurance Association said his group does not want IWIF in the state guaranty fund unless it is reviewed and certified as financially fit by the insurance department.

He said that if IWIF is to have the backing of the guaranty fund, it should be subject to the same review standards as private insurance carriers.

The bill, which is expected to be approved by Bromwell's committee, sets up a potential conflict with the House of Delegates, which has been moving forward on a more stringent IWIF bill that is nearly identical to the task force recommendations.

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