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House proposal would restructure PRC

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Two Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday that would reshape the administrative structure of New Mexico’s chief regulatory board – a move they say would help insulate the staff from political considerations and reduce turnover.

House Bill 11, co-sponsored by Reps. Nathan Small of Las Cruces and Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe, calls for the governor to appoint two top executives who would oversee the staff of the Public Regulation Commission.

The proposal comes as the PRC faces intense scrutiny on a variety of fronts – including staff turnover and its handling of a landmark energy law passed by lawmakers last year.

But Small and Trujillo said their proposal is aimed at long-standing challenges – such as staff turnover and hiring difficulties – not any particular action or case before the PRC.

Trujillo called it a “good government” bill aimed at providing stability in staffing and helping insulate employees from political considerations, such as the electoral outcomes of commission races.

New Mexico, Small said, must also be ready to modernize its electrical grid and prepare for other changes in the energy landscape.

“We’re falling behind because of structural challenges,” he said.

The proposal calls for reorganizing the staff chart of the PRC.

A chief of staff appointed by the governor would oversee the staff and administrators who directly support the commission. There would be four new positions to help carry out the work: two economists, an engineer and a compliance officer.

A separate director of regulatory affairs – also appointed by the governor – would oversee staffers administratively attached to the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department. This office would cover consumer relations, utilities, transportation and other regulatory affairs.

The chief of staff and director of regulatory affairs would serve six-year, staggered terms. They could be removed only “for cause.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made the legislation a priority for the session.

Jason Montoya, chief of staff for the PRC, said the commission hadn’t seen the proposal but would review it. A decision on whether to support the proposal is expected to be on the commission’s agenda next week.

The Public Regulation Commission is now a five-member board elected by voters in districts throughout New Mexico. But that could change, too, under separate legislation approved last year.

Voters this fall will consider a constitutional amendment that would turn the PRC into an appointed body, with nominees screened for professional qualifications.

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