R.I. High Court Declines to Rule On Beacon Mutual Appointments

November 27, 2006

Rhode Island’s highest court has declined to rule on whether state lawmakers have any remaining role in appointing members, or approving gubernatorial appointments, to two high-profile boards.

The requests for advisory opinions came after voters passed a separation of powers amendment that removed lawmakers and their designees from a host of state boards and commissions.

Senate Democratic leaders asked the high court whether the Senate had still final approval over Republican Gov. Don Carcieri’s appointments to the Beacon Mutual Insurance Co. board.

In a separate request for an advisory opinion, House leaders argued that the state Constitution gives them jurisdiction over environmental issues and may allow them to serve on the Coastal Resources Management Council, despite the separation of powers amendment, passed in 2004.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court said in separate decisions issued Friday that it was required to issue advisory opinions only on matters pending before the General Assembly.

But the General Assembly is in recess and when it reconvenes in January, its membership will have changed as a result of the November elections. The court said it is not required “to give an opinion to a succeeding legislative body in reply to a request propounded by a preceding legislative body.”

Lawmakers can refile their requests for an advisory opinion during the next legislative session.

The coastal resources council handles more than 1,100 applications for proposals to install docks, restore lighthouses or do almost anything on or near the state’s shoreline. After the separation of powers amendment passed, lawmakers on the board stopped attending meetings and there have been no new legislative appointments since.

The board of Beacon, the state’s dominant workers compensation insurer, has recently been beset by controversy. Earlier this month, former Beacon executive David Clark pleaded not guilty to five felony counts of conspiracy, insurance fraud and computer crime.

Clark was fired from his position as the company’s vice president of loss prevention and underwriting in April, along with the insurer’s president, Joseph Solomon, after an external audit of the company found evidence that Beacon gave breaks to some large companies with policies of more than $10,000 and maintained “inappropriate relationships” with certain insurance agents.

Gov. Don Carcieri recently fought unsuccessfully to remove AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer George Nee, and former state Rep. Henry Boeniger, a teachers union lobbyist, from the Beacon board.

The request for an advisory opinion on the Senate’s power over future appointments was sponsored by Senate President Joseph Montalbano and several allies — all of whom who work for arms of the Laborers International Union of North America or the AFL-CIO.

In interviews Friday, Carcieri spokesman Mike Maynard said the governor does not believe he needs the Senate’s approval for his four appointees to the board.

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