From the Roundhouse: Quantity vs. QualityJanuary 30th, 2013 at 7:24 pm by Alex Goldsmith under N.M. Politics, News
Perhaps the one state agency with the biggest discrepancy between its profile and its power is the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.
The PRC’s five elected commissioners are responsible for regulating several major state businesses including utilities, insurance and transportation companies.
Decisions made at the PRC can only be appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The job is a highly technical one and commissioners are effectively judges.
It’s also an elected position where the only requirement to serve as a commissioner is being 18 years old.
That combination between finding the best, most qualified candidate and voters getting to democratically choose who serves on the PRC are sometimes complementary goals but often times in conflict.
Even more after last year’s election. More than 80 percent of state voters approved a constitutional amendment asking the legislature to set increased requirements for PRC commissioners.
Today at the Senate Rules Committee, Keller amended his proposal to an associate’s degree or seven years work experience.
A competing bill introduced in the House by Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, and House Minority Leader Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, would set requirements at a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field or seven years relevant work experience.
The debate this has stirred up is an interesting one because it isn’t clearly an argument between Republicans and Democrats.
Proponents of significantly increased requirements say they’re necessary to ensure that there’s a base level of competency on the PRC, critical given the commission’s complex and highly technical work.
Opponents of less significantly increased requirements say they’re elitist with too much of a focus on education instead of true ability. The fear is raising the bar too high could disenfranchise a significant portion of New Mexico’s population.
Like many debates in Santa Fe, it’s too early to gauge which direction lawmakers will go. But unlike many issues, the end result may come down to where state lawmakers stand on a principle that doesn’t cleanly fall into the spectrum of right or left.
Spaceport liability has been a hotly debated issue in past years at the Roundhouse, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the journey Senate Bill 240 has been on so far.
SB 240 is Las Cruces Democrat and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen’s replacement for a previous spaceport liability bill that had previously struggled to make it through the Senate. It’s a compromise bill that provides some protection for space industry companies from lawsuits but adds an insurance requirement and is less protective than previous legislation.
It’s also an illustration that when both sides come to a true compromise and want to get something done, it can get done in a hurry.
Papen introduced the compromise bill last Wednesday. It cleared Senate Judiciary on Monday. Today it was approved with almost no floor debate and through “unanimous consent.” That meant a vote of 34-0 to send SB 240 over to the House just a week after it was introduced.
In years past, the Senate had been a big roadblock in the way of spaceport liability reform. But when a deal was done, the bill is getting to move at what is, in Santa Fe, light speed.