February 24, 2023

Bill attempting to address PRC quorum issues passes first committee

When the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission was restructured, it led to problems with Open Meetings Act compliance, according to Commissioner Gabriel Aguilera.

SB 434, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, aims to fix that. The bill passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on a 5-2 vote.

Aguilera told the committee that, when there were five commissioners, the law allowed for two of them to meet and discuss matters without violating the Open Meetings Act. 

“Under the previous structure, two commissioners could speak to each other about internal procedures and contested cases,” he said. “These amendments only bring us partially closer to the flexibility that existed before.”

Now there are only three commissioners, which means when two of them are present it constitutes a quorum.

PRC Chief of Staff Cholla Khoury said having discussions about who can attend legislative committee meetings on behalf of the PRC are difficult to have because of quorum issues. 

“Their communications with each other constitute a quorum,” she said.

Furthermore, she said that if two commissioners share an administrative assistant they could be in violation of the rolling quorum by discussing business with the administrative assistant.

The bill would allow PRC staff or administrative assistants to have discussions with individual commissioners concerning views of other commissioners. It also would allow two commissioners to be in the same place without it constituting a quorum as long as they do not discuss public business.

In the fiscal impact report, the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General expressed concerns that it may “contravene” the intent of the Open Meetings Act.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, opposed the bill. She expressed concerns about matters of public interest, such as rate cases, being discussed behind closed doors.

Sedillo Lopez said everyone knew when they were shrinking the commission that it would be a problem.

“A lot of these discussions, I think, should be public,” she said. “The public should be aware that they’re having them.”

The bill heads next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.