February 13, 2020

PRC reform bill heads to House floor

Las Cruces Democratic Rep. Nathan Small’s proposal to restructure the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) passed its second committee late Wednesday with a 7-3 vote.

Small and bill co-sponsor Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, introduced a substitute version of HB 11 to the House Judiciary Committee. The legislation would restructure the PRC with the aim of streamlining operations and improving efficiencies.

Small pointed to staffing issues, structural ambiguity and lack of stability as some of the chief issues at the PRC, and described the bill as a “modernization effort.”

“I think we can all agree that in this rapidly changing and technological world, we do well when we support the professionalization and addition of staff, we better protect staff, and we ensure a highly professionalized body that is able to carry out these very important technical regulatory functions,” Small said. “That’s exactly what our legislation does.”

Trujillo and Small said the substitute bill included some technical changes to the proposal in response to concerns brought up during the bill’s last committee hearing in the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

RELATED: PRC reform bill advances with big concerns

HB 11 would create a new standalone agency, entitled the Office of Public Regulation Commission Regulatory Affairs, and move five divisions under the PRC to the new agency, including the the legal division, the utility division, the transportation division, the administrative services division, and the consumer relations division.

The bill would also create the Commission Resources Division within the PRC, which would consist of staff necessary for carrying out the duties and responsibilities of the commission. The substitute bill proposes PRC commissioners select the division chief of staff from a list of candidates approved by the Governor. The chosen candidate would then be subject to Senate approval.

“I voted for the bill in the [House Energy, Environmental and Natural Resources Committee],” said Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe. “In its current form, I don’t think I can support it.”

McQueen said there are aspects of the bill that he agrees with, but brought up concerns voiced in the last committee meeting about the chief of staff issue.

“The part that I think is a recipe for disaster is the potential of having a body of elected officials, and having a different elected official picking their staff,” McQueen said, acknowledging that the sponsors had made changes in the substitute bill in hopes of alleviating those concerns.

“I’m not persuaded by that,” McQueen said. “Why not let them pick their own chief of staff?”

Republican Rep. James Townsend of Broadview, who also sits on the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said he still doesn’t support the bill.

“I kind of agree with Rep. McQueen, which I don’t normally do but I will today. This is a big reach, it’s too quick and it’s in short order,” Townsend said. “I don’t buy the comment that in a thirty-day session we don’t have time to make good decisions. I think this is a big decision and it requires a heck of a lot more insight and collaboration.”

“We have been working on this for many, many months. We’ve had great conversations with advocates on either side,” Trujillo responded.

The substitute bill passed the committee on a vote of 7-3, and heads to the House floor next.