New Mexicans do not want any more Jerome Blocks serving on the Public Regulation Commission. Almost 81% voted last November to increase the qualifications for PRC commissioners. Despite this mandate, the legislature has struggled to reach agreement on these qualifications.
In December State Sen. Timothy Keller, D-Bernalillo, and State Rep. Paul Bandy, R-San Juan, filed Senate Bill 8 to require at least a baccalaureate and seven years of relevant work experience. One reporter wrote “they have set a high bar.”
But then House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Cibola, and the current PRC commissioners endorsed House Bill 47, by State Rep. Tom Taylor, R-San Juan. It required the same amounts of education and experience, but candidates only needed one or the other.
Think New Mexico, a nonprofit that advocated for the PRC constitutional amendments in 2012, also sided with HB 47. But Fred Nathan, its executive director, told the Santa Fe Reporter he started out thinking a sliding scale would work best.
Last Wednesday, Keller and other Senate Rules Committee members approved a substitute to SB 8 that required either an associate’s degree or seven years of work experience. Keller called requiring more education “paternalistic” and “overly discriminatory,” the Albuquerque Journal reported.
At that same meeting, Nathan challenged Keller’s recently-lowered standards for PRC candidates. Without requiring a bachelor’s degree, as well as both education and work experience, Nathan charged that an associate’s in cosmetology would qualify someone to run for the PRC.
Today the House Judiciary Committee considered compromises. Taylor proposed a combination of education and/or experience, in relevant fields, that added up to 12 years. Keller said only 15% of New Mexicans would have met PRC qualifications under his original bill.
After Bandy, Keller, and Taylor unveiled their substitute bill, groups such as the League of Women Voters, the Attorney General’s office, and the New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance voiced support for the proposal. But then other legislators started asking questions.
State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, asked about someone who had no college degree, but managed a lemonade stand for 12 years. Taylor said managers who did bookkeeping, which the PRC considers a relevant field, would meet the experience criteria.
State Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Bernalillo, said if PRC candidates had to submit college transcripts to the Secretary of State, they could become political fodder for their opponents. The Secretary of State confirmed any document she receives becomes a public record.
State Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Bernalillo, asked about “professional students” who attend school for 20 years, get five degrees, at least one of which pertains to the PRC, but lack the work experience. Taylor said they could run for the PRC.
Soon enough Bandy and Taylor changed their 12-year proposal. They now want to rate degrees—two years for associates, four for baccalaureates, and so forth—while still allowing someone who only has relevant work experience to become a PRC candidate.
Nathan confirmed to SFR that they have come “full circle.” He worked with legislators when they wanted to explore “pathways” and appear “inclusive.” But legislators ultimately settled on a sliding scale of education and experience, just like he initially anticipated.
Some issues remain unaddressed. State Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Cibola, questioned how many credit hours would equal each year of education. State Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Valencia, wants a distinction between full-time and part-time experience, so people will not “game the system.”
State Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo, told the bill authors to find answers to today’s questions, address legislator’s concerns, and return to the committee with a new substitute bill. Keller told SFR the Senate will take up these issues on Friday.