Around 3pm Friday the House Judiciary Committee voted 14-0 in support of the latest compromise bill on PRC qualifications. By 6 pm, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee told the sponsors to take their bill “back to the kitchen.”
Before committee members in the Senate had a chance to ask questions, at least half a dozen organizations, from the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce to Conservation Voters New Mexico, voiced support for the latest Senate Bill 8 substitute.
State Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Valencia, targeted recent editorials that criticized the compromise passed by the Senate Rules committee. Those authors, Sanchez said, think they are the “only people who know what they’re doing and the rest of us are dummies.”
Sanchez introduced an amendment, in jest, which proposed only executive directors of non-profits could run for the PRC. Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico, who testified about PRC reforms at previous hearings, did not attend this committee meeting.
State Sen. Tim Keller, D-Bernalillo, told the senate committee members that if his original bill had become law, and set a high bar for PRC candidate qualifications, it would “eliminate whole swaths of New Mexico, except for an elite few."
State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo, who earned a BBA and MBA, addressed the “slippery slope of qualifications.” The State Treasurer and Auditor don’t have to meet educational qualifications. The November ballot question did not specify any particular qualifications for PRC.
The Secretary of State would become the “gatekeeper” of qualifications, under Keller’s latest proposal, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Doña Ana, said. She would have the power to decide who could run. This would only work if the “standards were objective.”
State Rep. Paul Bandy, R-San Juan, Keller’s co-sponsor, admitted to state Sen. William Payne, R-Bernalillo, that anyone who had driven a taxi in New Mexico for ten years would qualify under their latest proposal, simply because the PRC regulates taxis.
Payne and state Sen. John Ryan, R-Bernalillo, said they would prefer PRC appointments by the governor, with tough questions during senate confirmation. Brian Harris, assistant Attorney General, said, in the hall after the meeting, “that train has left the station.”
State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe—who graduated from Stanford, earned a law degree from UNM, and has practiced civil law for two decades—questioned whether he would meet the qualifications to run for the PRC, under Keller’s latest proposal.
Bandy said if Wirth had represented a corporate client, which fell under PRC jurisdiction, he would meet the qualifications to run for the PRC. When Bandy suggested the PRC regulates lawyers, Wirth asked, could criminal defense lawyers run for PRC?
State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Bernalillo, then leaned over to this reporter and said he has managed 3,000 employees for 13 years and works in telecommunications. But according to this bill, he does not have the qualifications to run for PRC.
Wirth said the current bill would invite citizens to file lawsuits that challenged determinations by the Secretary of State of candidate qualifications to run for PRC. State Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Bernalillo, suggested writing protections against frivolous lawsuits into the law.
State Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Doña Ana, questioned whether the legislature had to pass a PRC qualifications law this session. Bobbie Shearer, the New Mexico Bureau of Elections Director, leaned over to this reporter and asked, what if a vacancy occurs?
In his concluding comments, Keller urged his colleagues to “respect the voters” and “take action.” In the hall after the meeting, Keller said his original bill could have passed, but his current proposal lacked the votes in the Senate.