Panel OKs former insurance industry lobbyist as regulation chief

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Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — Rejecting a consumer group’s concerns, a Senate committee Wednesday unanimously approved Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s appointment of a former insurance industry lobbyist as head of the agency that rules on the validity of state regulations.

The Rules Committee voted 5-0 to recommend that the full Senate confirm William Gausewitz as director of the Office of Administrative Law, despite a consumer group’s concern that Gausewitz’s years as an advocate for insurance companies would color his decisions.

Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said Gausewitz should agree to recuse himself from OAL evaluations of insurance regulations.

Heller said there is quite a bit of “gray area” in OAL considerations. “If you have a bias going in, you may interpret the gray area in a way that may not fit with the goals of the legislation,” he said. “With insurance, there is just too much experience” on Gausewitz’s part.

But the committee refused to make that demand, and Gausewitz said he could rule fairly on insurance issues.

“If insurance regulations come to me that I personally believe are unwise but comply with the act, I will approve those regulations,” he said.

Both the committee’s chairman, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, and its vice chairman, Sen. Ross Johnson, R-Irvine, said they believed Gausewitz would be impartial.

“I would not ask Mr. Gausewitz to meet a standard I would not require myself to meet,” said Johnson, adding that he expected Gausewitz to “conduct himself with complete integrity. I don’t believe that because of a past position he will have a biased position.”

Burton said he had philosophical differences with Gausewitz and joked that he would like the OAL director to “recuse himself from everything but animal husbandry.” But he said Gausewitz has “always shot straight, always shot fair. I believe him when he says he will do this right.”

The OAL rules on whether agencies promulgating regulations have followed the required procedures and whether the regulations are required by law. OAL rulings can be appealed to the governor and then to the courts.
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