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Open government activists back legal challenge to worker’s comp rate increase

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A leading open-government advocate offered strong support Monday for a legal challenge to a proposed workers’ compensation insurance premium increase of nearly 20 percent.

“I think he’s got a cause of action,” First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Peterson said of Miami attorney James Fee, who is challenging the rate hike on open-government grounds.

Fee filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court last week alleging that the National Council on Compensation Insurance broke state open meetings and open-records laws when calculating its proposed 19.6 percent premium increase. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is scheduled to conduct a public hearing about the hike Tuesday morning.

The council insisted in a court brief Monday that those laws don’t apply because it isn’t an agent of the state. State law does impose openness obligations on any committee of a “licensed rating organization”— such as the council. However, the board said, it disbanded its rate-assessment committee in 1991.

“Doesn’t matter,” Peterson argued in a telephone interview. “If you’re acting on behalf of government, it doesn’t matter whether you get [government] money. It says right here, in the law, ‘a recognized rating organization’ is subject to the public-records law and open-meetings law. What they’re trying to do is subvert the law.”

Otherwise, “you’ve just completely obliterated the legislative intent. The intent is that the process is in the sunshine,” Petersen said. “It’s not an easy question, but I believe the Sunshine Law, regardless of their internal process, applies to that process.”

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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