Curtis Tate Published

Mining Mutual Insurance Company Board Would Shut Public Out

Stephen Baldwin Jan 28 2022.jpg

A bill to create a Mining Mutual Insurance Company raises questions about government transparency.

Senate Bill 1 would exempt the mutual’s five-member board from the state open meetings law and the Freedom of Information Act.

Members of the public and news organizations would not be able to attend or view the board’s activities, nor would they be able to request documents about them.

The company’s board would consist of five political appointees and would oversee at least $50 million in taxpayer funds.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin of Greenbrier County, says the company would be private and that the legislature and the Insurance Commissioner would hold it accountable.

The Open Meetings Law, or Sunshine Act, intended for the proceedings of all public agencies to be conducted in the open. The law provides for such agencies to go into executive session, which is not open to the public, when necessary.

Pat McGinley, who teaches law at West Virginia University, says the board’s proceedings should be transparent.

“Under the Freedom of Information Act, those communications would clearly be, most of them would be, open to the public,” McGinley said. “And clearly, the sponsors of this bill and anyone who votes for it wants to keep the public in the dark.”

The bill passed the Senate unanimously in January, and is now in the House of Delegates.