California Insurance Commissioner Candidate Introduces Bills Addressing Alleged Ethical Lapse at Regulatory Office

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By Timothy Darragh, BESTWIRE

February 24, 2022

A California lawmaker running for insurance commissioner has proposed a pair of bills to address what he said is a lack of transparency and ethics in the office.

Rep. Marc Levine has introduced A.B. 2353 and A.B 2370, which he said would address “continuing failures by the Department of Insurance to maintain public access to government records and efforts to limit public disclosure of communications between insurance industry advocates and the department.”

A.B. 2323 would prohibit ex parte communications between the insurance commissioner, department staff and an interested party unless the commissioner and staff disclose those communications on the department’s website. The communications would be required to be published on a quarterly basis, it said.

Levine said the measure would protect consumers and hold insurance companies accountable if they tried to secretly influence decisions at the department.

Violators would be subject to a fine of $7,500, according to the bill.

Levine was responding to a declaration filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Rusty Areias, a lobbyist representing workers’ compensation insurer Applied Underwriters, stating he had “multiple” phone calls with a deputy commissioner and that another department staffer also was on the calls but did not participate. He also said he had a brief conversation with Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara in 2019 regarding his lobbying for Applied Underwriters (BestWire, Jan. 19, 2022).

The court filing is one element in a lawsuit filed by Consumer Watchdog over alleged failure to turn over public records by the department.

An attempt to obtain comment from Lara’s office was not immediately successful.

Levine’s A.B. 2370 would require state agencies to follow local government records retention regulations by mandating that records, including email, be kept for at least two years.

The department last year looked into instituting an email retention policy under which all emails would automatically delete after 180 days unless manually archived. The department did not move ahead with that plan.

At the time news of the potential policy change became public, a department spokesman said the agency was looking to update its policies in an attempt to manage “an ever-growing number of records” while serving the public interest.

A committee studying the proposal voted to withdraw the plan entirely because it was “not workable.”

Lara, Levine and Los Angeles physician Eugene Allen are running for the Democratic nomination for insurance commissioner in the June 7, 2022 primary (BestWire, Nov. 1, 2021).

(By Timothy Darragh, associate editor, BestWeek: [email protected])

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