Advisory Opinion No. 97-57

Re: Senator Leo R. Blais

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Petitioner, an elected member of the Rhode Island State Senate and Senate Minority Whip, a state elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may participate in discussions, deliberations and votes regarding proposed health care legislation relating to the purchasing of not-for-profit hospitals by "for profit" hospitals given that he is a member of the Board of Incorporators of the Kent County Memorial Hospital, essentially a fund-raising position, and, as a licensed pharmacist, owns and operates the Pawtuxet Valley Prescription and Surgical Center, Inc.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, an elected member of the Rhode Island State Senate and Senate Minority Whip, a state elected position, and who also is a member of the Board of Incorporators of the Kent County Memorial Hospital, essentially a fund-raising position, and, as a licensed pharmacist, owns and operates the Pawtuxet Valley Prescription and Surgical Center, Inc., may participate in discussions, deliberations and votes regarding proposed health care legislation relating to the purchasing of not-for-profit hospitals by "for profit" hospitals. The Commission reaches this conclusion because of the unique character of the health care industry and the breadth of this particular health care issue.

The legislation at issue is broad based and likely to affect hospitals, physicians, and all other individuals and entities involved in the health care industry. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(b) provides that a public official does not have a conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics if any benefit or detriment accruing to the official or a business associate of his would affect the official or business associate to no greater extent than any other similarly situated member of a significant and definable group. Here, legislation relating to the purchasing of not-for-profit hospitals by "for profit" hospitals likely will affect in one way or another every hospital in the state. The legislation also is likely to impact all corners of the health care industry in the state, as well as many related industries. In short, the definable group of persons and/or entities likely to be affected by such legislation is not only significant, it is enormous. In such instances, public interest and public policy considerations weigh heavily in favor of elected officials participating in the legislative process.

When participating or voting on matters relating to the health care industry, however, the Petitioner should file a notice under Section 6 of the Code advising the Senate of the nature of his relationship with, in this instance, a not-for-profit hospital, and a statement as to why, despite that relationship, he is able to vote and otherwise participate fairly, objectively and in the public interest. A copy of this notice should also be filed with the Ethics Commission.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-6

Related Advisory Opinions:

96-71

Keywords:

non-profit boards
recusal