But the fight over who can serve is far from over
The struggle to
decide who is qualified to serve on the New Mexico Public Regulation
Commission continued Wednesday, even as state senators approved a plan.
They voted 32-8 for a bill by Sen. Timothy Keller, right, that would allow candidates to qualify for the PRC in any of three ways.
One is at least three years’ experience leading a government department in sectors relevant to the PRC, such as engineering, telecommunications or transportation. A second is at least five years’ relevant management experience. The third is licensure in professions related to sectors regulated by the PRC.
Keller, D-Albuquerque, said the bill struck the right balance in setting standards for the highly technical work of a public regulation commissioner without preventing overwhelming numbers of people from running for the office.
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said she did not like the idea of shutting out potential candidates. She said setting a high bar on qualifications for the PRC was “a slippery slope” because legislators have no similar standard for themselves.
Lopez, right, brought an amendment to Keller’s bill that would have required a baccalaureate degree from an accredited school to serve in the Legislature.
The Senate defeated her proposal, though some said they appreciated the point she tried to make.
But Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque, said Lopez’s argument was off the point. The bill at hand dealt with the PRC. Plus, legislators’ qualifications are addressed in the state Constitution, he said.
Payne said legislators have until July 1 to increase qualifications for PRC members. If they fail to act before the legislative session ends on March 16, the governor will have to call a special session and that means more expense to taxpayers, Payne said.
Members of the House of Representatives have approved a rival PRC bill that may have a higher standard than the Senate version.
Sponsored by Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, the House bill would require at least 12 years of higher education, professional experience or a combination of the two. House members last week approved Taylor’s measure 55-0. It almost certainly will have a harder time getting through the Senate.
Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, used the Senate debate to criticize the policy organization Think New Mexico that lobbied for increased PRC qualifications. Eighty-one percent of the voters approved that idea in the November election.
Sanchez said most voters were alarmed by the conduct of one former PRC member. He did not name names but it was clear he was talking about Jerome Block Jr., who was convicted of fraud and identity theft in 2011 while serving on the PRC.
Block had a high school diploma but no expertise in complex utility or telecommunications cases. He carries the same name as his father, a former PRC member. Name recognition helped Block Jr. win a six-way Democratic primary for the PRC in 2008.
But Sanchez’s sharpest criticism was for Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico. Sanchez said some people in small think tanks believe they are smarter and know better than everyone else what is good for the state.
Nathan’s position is that PRC members have jobs as difficult and demanding as state appeals court judges. Not anyone gets to be on the appeals court, only attorneys or judges with requisite experience, Nathan said.