SANTA FE — College graduates without any particular expertise no longer would qualify to run for the state Public Regulation Commission under a compromise bill that emerged Wednesday evening.
Three legislators, following the voters’ wishes to beef up standards to run for the $90,000-a-year PRC jobs, have a new plan.
It would require a college degree or degrees in fields relevant to regulatory work, professional experience, or a combination of both totaling at least 12 years.
Reps. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, and Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, originally had competing bills on qualifications for the five elected PRC members. Now they are combining on a bill that would limit the field of PRC candidates to those meeting prescribed standards.
Sen. Timothy Keller, D-Albuquerque, also is working with them on the bill. He originally was teamed with Bandy only.
Keller drew criticism for his original bill because it would have allowed people with only a two-year associate’s degree to run for the PRC. Critics said someone who studied cosmetology could have qualified for the PRC, which handles complex utility rate cases.
Keller, who has a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard, initially said he did not want to disqualify large numbers of state residents from being able to run for the regulatory commission. But, he said, he was persuaded that college education, relevant work experience or a combination of the two were the way to structure standards.
Eighty-one percent of the state’s voters in November approved a constitutional amendment to increase qualifications to serve on the PRC.
Before that, anyone who was at least 18 years old, a resident of a PRC district and free of felony convictions could seek the office.
The PRC has had a history of scandals involving its commissioners, including two who were convicted of felonies while in office and another whose misconduct led to an $840,000 court judgment in a sexual harassment case.
“The people want stringent qualifications,” Taylor said after the House Judiciary Committee spent three hours reviewing a bill to raise the standards.
Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, argued that an original draft of the compromise did not satisfy her because it permitted college attendance, not necessarily college degrees, to count toward PRC qualifications.
She won the day.
Taylor and Bandy said Stewart was right, and that only degrees should count.
Bandy said his idea is that someone with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering would receive four years’ credit toward the qualification standard. If that person had worked for another eight years in his field, he would be eligible to run for the office.
Or Bill Gates, who attended Harvard but never received a college degree, could qualify on the basis of decades of experience in the computer industry.
The new proposal, a combination of House Bills 47 and 89, will be fine-tuned to reflect language changes. It could back before the committee as soon as Friday.
The policy organization Think New Mexico led the charge for qualifications to run for the PRC. Its director, Fred Nathan, said public regulation commissioners have demanding and highly technical jobs.
Nathan likened serving on the PRC to being a member of the state Court of Appeals. Judges on the court have law degrees and significant experience as attorneys.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com