November 4, 2020

Voters say yes to proposed constitutional amendment to reorganize the PRC

Voters appear to have approved a constitutional amendment proposal that would make sweeping changes to the state’s Public Regulation Commission.

Constitutional amendment ballot initiative #1 would reduce the number of commissioners on the state’s Public Regulation Commission from five to three and would make those positions appointed by the governor rather than elected by voters. 

The amendment received 436,760 votes at the end of the night, representing 55 percent of total votes counted, while 351,208 voters, representing 45 percent of the vote counted so far, opted against the amendment. These totals are likely to change in the coming days as more absentee and provisional ballots are counted.

Commissioners Jeff Byrd, Theresa Becenti-Aquilar, Valerie Espinoza and chairman Steve Fischmann opposed the amendment; while commissioner Cynthia Hall supported the amendment. 

The amendment was the result of a joint resolution that passed the state Legislature in 2019. In New Mexico, voters must approve any alteration to the state’s constitution. Any amendments must pass a majority threshold.  

The PRC drew the ire of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in late 2019, when the commission refused to apply the terms of the newly-passed Energy Transition Act to PNM’s filing for abandoning the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station. 

PNM announced its intentions to exit the facility in 2017, but did not file the paperwork with the PRC until after the ETA went into effect in 2019. The ETA allows PNM to recoup its lost investments in the coal plant by charging ratepayers more money.  

RELATED: State Supreme Court: PRC must apply ETA to San Juan case

Lujan Grisham was also critical of its decision in early 2020 to order Facebook to pay for half of an $85 million transmission line PNM plans to build to deliver renewable energy-generated electricity to a Facebook data center. The decision went against the business agreement made between Facebook and PNM, which promised the costs of the transmission line would be recouped by charging PNM customers more money. The PRC plans to make a final decision on that case in 2021.  

Lujan Grisham has voiced support for the constitutional amendment, which would give her and future governors the ability to appoint PRC commissioners, rather than let voters in New Mexico vote for commissioners representing their regional districts. 

The PRC has struggled to keep qualified individuals on staff, and has been plagued with a few scandals since its creation in 1996, which was achieved through a constitutional amendment. In 2011, one commissioner pled guilty to multiple felony charges related to misusing funds. A second commissioner resigned after being found guilty to a felony assault charge, and prior to that, the state was forced to pay a settlement for a sexual harassment case against a third commissioner. 

In 2012, three other constitutional amendments targeted the PRC and its duties. The first amendment increased the qualifications required for individuals running for commissioner positions, the second amendment transferred some of the PRC’s regulatory duties associated with corporations to the Secretary of State’s office, and the third amendment transferred regulatory duties over insurance companies to a Superintendent of Insurance.

During the 2020 legislative session, state Reps. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, introduced legislation that would reorganize the commission and remove nearly all of its regulatory duties. That bill, which was not supported by the PRC itself, met with bipartisan opposition and ultimately died in a Senate committee.