PRC reform may hit snag in Senate
‘I think we have to look at this more carefully than in a 30-day session,’ Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez says.
Measures aimed at reforming the Public Regulation Commission passed unanimously in the state House last week, but they might not have such a smooth passage through the Senate.
“We’re delighted that momentum continues to gather behind this legislation, with groups from the Association of Commerce and Industry to the Young Democrats supporting it, but now we have to navigate the more turbulent waters of the Senate,” said the primary advocate for the proposals, Fred Nathan of the nonpartisan think tank Think New Mexico.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, told NMPolitics.net he has concerns about the proposals, which would ask voters whether to amend the N.M. Constitution to require increased qualifications for commissioners (HJR 11), move corporation responsibilities to the Secretary of State’s Office (HJR 16) and create an independent superintendent of insurance (HJR 17). The three joint resolutions need only Senate approval to be put on the ballot this November.
But Sanchez alone controls the Senate floor calendar.
“I think we have to look at this more carefully than in a 30-day session,” Sanchez said. “We need to take a very careful look.”
Sanchez gave the issue a pretty close look in 2002, when he co-chaired a committee that examined PRC reform and made two particular recommendations: creating an independent department of insurance and moving corporation functions to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Asked about the 10-year-old report, Sanchez said he didn’t recall it.
But the House sponsor of one of the proposals is insistant that the time is ripe for reform.
“We need to do this now,” Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said Tuesday. “The PRC has been a continuing source of a lack of public confidence. The public looks at the PRC and it reflects, sometimes, what is worst about our state government.” (See more in the video.)
Rules Committee will hear Senate bills first
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has agreed to present the proposals in the Senate, but first they need to make it through the powerful Rules Committee, which she chairs.
“…With all the difficulties that we’ve had with the PRC over the last several years… it is time for us to look at it and see what we can do. … I do believe something can come out of the Senate this time,” Lopez said (See more in the video).
Lopez said she’ll schedule the proposals as soon as her committee has finished looking at Senate bills, which will probably be this weekend.
The session ends at noon on Feb. 16.
Sanchez skeptical that increased qualifications will help
The majority leader, an attorney by trade, said he isn’t sure that increasing qualifications for commissioners would guarantee better candidates.
“Do you honestly believe that if you have a degree you can’t mess up?” Sanchez asked.
Messing up has been too common for elected PRC members, whose only required qualifications are being at least 18 years old, residents of New Mexico for at least a year and not having any felony convictions.
In the past five years, two commissioners have been convicted of felony crimes and forced to leave office. Another had a civil jury rule against him in a sexual harassment lawsuit, and the state was forced to pay $840,000 to the woman.
The job requires oversight of utilities, telecommunications, insurance, transportation and oil and gas pipelines, among other things. But according to Think New Mexico, 44 percent of commissioners have lacked college degrees — compared to an average of 11 percent of those who hold similar positions in other states.
Cervantes, who sponsored the House proposal to increase commissioners’ qualifications, said now is the time to move on reform.
“There’s really no reason for us to delay any further in trying to establish some minimum requirements for PRC commissioners,” Cervantes said.
PRC has too much control over insurance, Leavell says
The PRC has too much control over the Insurance Division, said Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, who ran his own insurance agency for nearly 40 years and is a member of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators.
“Moving it, in my opinion, will free the superintendent of insurance up to manage that department the way it should be,” Leavell said. “There have been too many problems over the past 16 years that I’ve watched that department…”
Leavell also noted support from within the organization; three of the five current PRC members — Republican Pat Lyons and Democrats Jason Marks and Doug Howe — have all said they’re in favor of the reform proposals.
But moving insurance regulation to the executive branch, and hypothetically giving the governor more control over it, is a concern, said Sanchez, who is famously protective of the Senate’s powers.
A prior version of this posting identified Howe as an independent, which was his status when he was appointed to the PRC. But he recently switched to Democrat. This article has been updated to reflect that.
4 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.
Leave a response
You must be logged in to post a comment.