PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon legislators and officials with the state's troubled health exchange are considering whether to open the meetings of a legislative oversight committee to the public after journalists were told they could not attend.
Reporters discovered the committee was meeting in private after a Cover Oregon spokeswoman on Tuesday banned two members of the media from the meeting room at the agency's Durham headquarters.
An attorney who specializes in public records matters says state law requires that the meetings be open to the public.
"I cannot think of a reason why meetings of this group are deemed to be private," Jack Orchard of the Portland law firm Ball Janik LLP told the Statesman Journal.
But Cover Oregon's chief communications officer Amy Fauver contends the committee meetings didn't meet the public meeting standards, because they consisted of informational briefings only.
Fauver said the agency's attorneys had approved keeping the meetings private - and legislators agreed with their conclusion. Hence, no notices, agendas or minutes were ever created.
The bill that created the exchange also established the committee, which began meeting more than two years ago. Cover Oregon staff ran and organized the meetings. Until Tuesday, the meetings were held by conference call - though that fact does not make them exempt from public meeting rules.
Cover Oregon officials now say they're willing to open the meetings - if legislators agree.
"If committee members want it to be a public meeting, we're happy to operate it as such," Fauver told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The private meetings were first reported by the Statesman Journal. They have brought to light a committee that has exercised no real oversight over the exchange fiasco.
Nearly six months after its exchange was due to go live, Oregon is the only state where the public still cannot sign up for health insurance online in one sitting. The state has spent more than $134 million in federal funds to build the exchange.
Committee members - Sen. Laurie Monnes-Anderson, Sen. Brian Boquist, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, and Rep. Jim Thompson - say the legislation gave them little power to do oversight.
Senate Bill 99 specified the committee could recommend individuals for nomination to the Cover Oregon board, but the committee didn't start meeting until after the governor had appointed all the board members.
It also specified the committee could advise Cover Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority - the agency originally in charge of building the exchange - on "any other matters concerning the implementation of the health insurance exchange."
But the committee did no such advising, gave no Cover Oregon direction, and made no decisions or formal recommendations, members and Cover Oregon officials said.
Instead, former Cover Oregon Executive Director Rocky King briefed the committee on a monthly basis, said Rep. Jim Thompson. Though King did mention missed deadlines and glitches in the exchange building process, Thompson said, he reassured them the project was on track to go live in October. Committee members, in turn, briefed legislative leadership on what they heard.
"These were painful, boring meetings. ... We were getting mundane information that was not of any particular value," Thompson told the AP. "In retrospect, we realized a lot of things were going on, but we never heard of them."
Thompson and other committee members blame Cover Oregon for keeping them in the dark and not providing monthly quality-assurance reports. The committee was unaware of the reports' existence until mid-February, when members read about them in the press, Thompson said.
Cover Oregon's Fauver said the committee never asked for the reports.
"Somebody should have been ringing bells on that project," Thompson said.
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Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website:
- State granted one-month extensioin for Cover Oregon enrollment
- First Data report: Cover Oregon didn't have federally required backup plan
- Watch: Your Voice Your Future Town Hall: Cover Oregon
- Cover Oregon confessions: Are they playing games with your health?
- New report answers many Cover Oregon questions - often for second time
- Cover Oregon directory Goldberg resigns; Governor releases investigation findings
- Cover Oregon: Still pushing for deadline extension
- Oregon tied for last in nation for young-adult health-insurance sign-ups
- Cover Oregon: Apply now if you want health insurance this year
- Federal government announces Cover Oregon investigation
- Former Cover Oregon director says 'all of us' share blame for failures
- Top Cover Oregon official refuses to discuss Lawson resignation
- Official: Oracle not allowing Cover Oregon probe access to 6 employees
- Trouble with Cover Oregon? You may still get federal tax credits
- Cover Oregon website developer pulls 100 worker off project
- Ex-Cover Oregon website chief: 'I stuck to the talking points ... they were not accurate'
- High-level IT consultant on Cover Oregon: 'They didn't know what they were doing'
- New Cover Oregon allegations: 'If it's true, someone's going to prison.'
- Paging Dr. Kitzhaber: What did the governor know about Cover Oregon collapse?
- State rep., U.S. Senate candidate calls for the end of Cover Oregon
- Cover Oregon head: State might scrap all or part of failing website
- State lawmakers to grill Cover Oregon chief
- Family struggles to sign up for insurance through Cover Oregon
- First legal complaint filed over health enrollment mistakes
- Democratic state lawmaker believes Cover Oregon can be saved
- Contractor plans to examine why Cover Oregon failed
- 'We look like fools:' A history of Cover Oregon's failure
- State rep: Ditch Cover Oregon in favor of federal exchange
- Video: Exclusive Interview: Gov. John Kitzhaber - Cover Oregon 1/9/2014
- Gov. denies prior knowledge of Cover Oregon failure, exits exclusive KATU interview
- Kitzhaber outlines Cover Oregon's next steps: 'I can't give you a date'
- Kitzhaber: Firm will review Cover Oregon failures
- Cover Oregon applications left in limbo?
- Man with cancer waiting on Cover Oregon, gets insured
- Man with cancer still waiting on Cover Oregon
- New calls for Cover Oregon to take responsibility for project failures
- Rocky King, director of troubled Cover Oregon, resigns
- Salem man says Cover Oregon error left him in health care limbo
- Some question if they'll be covered by Cover Oregon in the new year
- What doomed Cover Oregon? 'Mismanagement,' say former employees
- After resigning, Lawson not talking about Cover Oregon website failures
- Ore. health official in charge of building Cover Oregon website resigns
- Fewer enrollments challenge Oregon exchange budget
- Executive director of Cover Oregon taking medical leave
- Cover Oregon considers new solutions
- Kitzhaber calls for independent review of Cover Oregon
- New emails show Cover Oregon unraveling in days before launch
- Emails: Cover Oregon executive knew about website problems in May
- Cover Oregon complicated by state's grand vision