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PRC overhaul bill derailed in Senate committee

The Roundhouse

SANTA FE — A bill to reorganize New Mexico’s oft-maligned Public Regulation Commission stalled in a Senate committee Tuesday, with critics saying it would shift too much power to the executive branch.

After a nearly three-hour hearing, the Senate Corporations and Transportation Commission voted 5-3 to table the legislation, all but ensuring its demise for this year’s 30-day session.

“This feels to me like it’s purely punitive,” said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington at one point during Tuesday’s debate.

He also suggested the bill might violate the constitutional separation of powers provision, as it would allow the governor to appoint two top executives who would oversee the PRC’s staff.

However, backers of the legislation, House Bill 11, said structural changes are needed to modernize the regulatory body and reduce political influence.

“The need to professionalize and better protect staff … is more apparent than ever,” one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, told the Journal after Tuesday’s vote. “That lack of consistent, clear leadership does not help move the state forward.”

In recent months, the PRC has clashed with top-ranking Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham over the five-member body’s handling of a landmark energy law passed by lawmakers last year.

The discord led to a state Supreme Court ruling last month that the PRC must apply the Energy Transition Act, which Lujan Grisham signed into law last year, in considering a plan to close a coal-fired power plant in San Juan County.

This year’s bill passed the House last week on a 36-34 vote. It has split the current PRC, as three commissioners have opposed it while the body’s two other members have spoken in support.

The three commissioners who oppose the measure all testified at Tuesday’s hearing, as did several top PRC staffers.

Currently, the five members of the PRC are elected by voters and represent districts around New Mexico.

However, that too could change under a proposed constitutional amendment that will go before statewide voters in November. If ratified, the measure, approved by the Legislature last year, would turn the PRC into an appointed body, with nominees screened for professional qualifications.

The PRC’s duties are focused on regulating public utilities, including transportation, water and electric companies.

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