Insurance salary secrecy, Fair Board appointee debated by Legislature

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March 21, 2014 - 5:21pm

Removing insurance executives pay from public records, and whether a former political party chairman should be on the state fair board, dominated debate in the Nebraska  Legislature Friday.

For more than a century, Nebraska has required insurance companies doing business in the state to disclose the pay of their officers to the state insurance department. And because of the state’s public records law, that makes them public information.

 Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege wants to change that. Carlson originally proposed abolishing the requirement for companies to report the salaries. An amendment by the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee would still require companies to report the salaries, but would say the department should keep them confidential.

 Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus objected to the proposal. “This particular maneuver, to conceal the salaries of insurance companies serves no public interest. It only serves the self-serving interest of high-paid boards of directors and executives who are paid millions upon millions upon millions of dollars, and must evidently be ashamed of it,” he said.

Texas-based insurance company USAA, which caters to veterans and their families, is paying Nebraska’s Mueller-Robak lobbying firm $50,000 to lobby for the change. Using information from the Nebraska Department of Insurance, the San Antonio Express News reported last year that USAA President and CEO Joe Robles Jr. was paid more than five and a quarter million dollars in 2012.

Carlson told his colleagues no other private company salaries are made public in Nebraska, and insurance companies should not be treated differently. “When I go to the doctor I want to get fixed. I don’t want to demand how much  the doctor makes. If I go to the hospital I want to get well. I don’t want to demand how much the hospital makes to get me well,” Carlson said. “I think that’s the principal here. And obviously you have the power and you will vote, and I ask for your support.”

Lawmakers adjourned for the week before reaching a vote.

 Earlier Friday, lawmakers considered Gov. Dave Heineman’s nomination of former Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson to serve on the State Fair Board.

The Legislature’s Agriculture Committee recommended against confirming Fahleson. Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, a registered Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, said he didn’t blame Fahleson for the sometimes bare-knuckled attacks that went out under his watch. “But when he sends a memo to the Republicans and says ‘Call your state senator right now – your Republican state senator right now – and tell ‘em only to vote for Republican chairs,’ that’s when the line gets crossed. Most of you didn’t listen to it. But that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t meddled or isn’t meddling in the institution,” Lathrop said.
But Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, like Lathrop a Democrat elected to chair a committee despite the 30-18 Republican registration edge among senators, supported Fahleson’s nomination. “Like many in here, I probably have plenty of reason to be upset with Mr. Fahleson. I was on the receiving end of some pretty nasty negative mailings produced under his watch. But that is not sufficient reason to oppose his confirmation,” Avery said.

And O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson said Fahleson’s partisan record is irrelevant to the job for which he was nominated. “I don’t quite see what partisan decisions Mr. Fahleson’s going to be making on the State Fair Board: what time the beef show starts, what exhibits are in the exhibit hall, what entertainment’s going to come,” Larson said.

In the end, senators voted 31-4 to reject the Agriculture Committee’s recommendation, thereby confirming Fahleson as a member of the State Fair Board.

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