“Qualified” PRC Members Take Politics Out Of The Process Of Selecting Commissioners
Santa Fe, N.M.— On Saturday, the State Senate passed a proposed Constitutional amendment to better ensure the PRC Commissioners are more professional and more qualified to handle the technical and judicial issues before the commission. If passed by the House, the proposed Constitutional amendment goes to voters in the next general election.
Under the Senate Joint Resolution co-sponsored by Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne, Senate Republican Caucus Chair Steve Neville and the Senate Democrat Leader Peter Wirth, the commissioners would no longer be elected. Instead, they would be appointed by the governor to serve their six-year, staggered terms with the advice and consent of the State Senate. The governor’s appointees would come from a list of professionally qualified candidates screened and vetted by an independent nominating committee. The PRC would also be reduced to three commissioners from the current five, making it more efficient. The sponsors stressed the main change of the bill requires “qualified” PRC members and that qualifications would be specified in statute, not detailed in the State Constitution.
“With so much at stake in the utility industry, an industry that affects each and every household and business in the state, the people of New Mexico deserve to have qualified commissioners making decisions. The PRC needs more than politicians who know how to win elections, it needs members with expertise in the complex arena of utilities. We need to take the politics out and ensure the commissioners are qualified to work with vast array of technical issues that the PRC handles,” Senator Payne said.
Senator Neville said ever since the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) was formed it has been problematic and politics has played into it. He said commissioners need technical expertise because the PRC works on complex issues and works to allow utilities to have a reasonable profit while ensuring users have the lowest rates.
“Since the commission was formed there have been problems of commissioners not being qualified to serve, not being able to handle the technical issues before it, commissioners with criminal problems. We need more professionalism and less politics involved in selecting qualified people to serve,” Senator Neville said.
“Trying to hire the best professionals we can get is what we are wanting and that is why a six year term is important, these professionals are leaving their professions to go into public service in this quasi-judicial authority,” Senator Payne said. “The staggered six year terms vs. four year terms means two commissioners will never leave at the same time.”
The Joint Resolution proposes to amend Article II of the New Mexico State Constitution to provide for the transition to a three-member, full-time PRC that is appointed from the state at-large by the governor. Not more than two commissioners are to be from the same political party. A current, elected member would be replaced with an appointment member when the term expires. If passed also by the House, the constitutional amendment would go to voters at the next statewide general or special election to become law and to change the state’s constitution.
“It is important to remember, this nominating commission would be formed by statute, while keeping the purity of the state’s constitution,” Senator Neville said. “We will have three tiers of process to review the candidates. First the nominating commission, then the governor choice would be ratified by the Senate. Again, I stress a qualified PRC is what we are after.”
The bill was amended on the Senate floor on how to remove a commissioner.
The PRC has the responsibility for regulating public utilities as provided by law.