SANTA FE – Setting the bar for future members of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission through new minimum qualifications mandated by voters is proving to be no simple task for state legislators.
A Senate committee voted 7-3 Wednesday in favor of legislation that would require future PRC members to have, at the minimum, a two-year associate’s degree or seven years of work experience in a pertinent field.
Opponents of the measure said it would not ensure PRC members have the technical skills needed to grapple with utilities regulation and other technical subjects. The legislation also features lower thresholds than a previous version of the bill.
“I don’t think we should be lowering the bar,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. “I think we should be raising the bar.”
Two members of the five-member PRC have resigned due to criminal offenses in recent years, and New Mexico voters unanimously passed a constitutional amendment in November 2012 that calls on the Legislature to set new qualifications for PRC members. Voters also approved two other PRC-related amendments.
Several senators warned Wednesday that requiring a bachelor’s degree in order to serve on the PRC would bar a large segment of the state’s population from running for the $90,000-a-year job.
“Education doesn’t mean that you’re a good person or a bad person,” said Senate Democratic floor leader Michael Sanchez of Belen.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, agreed, saying it would be “paternalistic” and “overly discriminatory” to impose a stringent education requirement.
The measure approved Wednesday, a committee substitute for Senate Bill 8, is one of several bills dealing with PRC qualifications pending in the Legislature.
A House bill that has bipartisan support would require that PRC members have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field or seven years or more of professional experience in jobs such as accounting, engineering or finance. It would also require commissioners to receive ongoing training after taking office.
Fred Nathan, executive director of the Santa Fe-based Think New Mexico, which has advocated for overhauling the PRC, said he interprets last year’s election results as meaning voters want to “substantively” raise the bar to serve on the regulatory agency.
Saying standards in Keller’s proposal would be inadequate, Nathan told Senate Rules Committee members that degrees in cosmetology or fashion photography would suffice under the revised Senate bill.
The bill moves on to the Senate Judiciary Committee after being approved Wednesday.
To serve on the PRC, commissioners currently must only be at least 18 years old, have lived in the state for at least one year and not be felons.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal