Bar should be raised on PRC qualifications

Last November, 542,928 New Mexicans voted to have the Legislature increase the qualifications to serve on the Public Regulation Commission.

In no uncertain terms, 80 percent of the voting public decided being 18 years old and felony-free wasn't enough to justify a $92K-a-year salary and determine how much New Mexicans pay for electricity or natural gas or phone services, or what constitutes a fair rate of return for those industries.

Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives, HB 47, honors that intent.

It requires a bachelor's degree in a relevant field or seven years of decision-making work experience in a relevant field and setting up a system for the Secretary of State's Office to verify that education/work experience.

HB 47 also requires continuing education, helping to ensure commissioners gain a depth of knowledge and stay abreast of developments in the complex industries they oversee.

Unfortunately, there is also the Senate Rules substitute for SB 8, which constitutes a hoax on the public by setting qualifications so low, someone who merely says they have an associate's degree in cosmetology or graduated high school with enough dual credits could move on to a taxpayer-funded career of regulating utilities.

The Senate sponsor of this awful legislation — surprisingly — is Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque. Others who supported it include Democrat Michael Sanchez of Belen and Republican Stuart Ingle of Portales.

In contrast, Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, pointed out "I don't think we should be lowering the bar (to serve on the PRC). I think we should be raising the bar."

He's right. Republican Sens. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell and Mark Moores of Albuquerque joined him to vote against the Senate substitute.

Sanchez defends the hijacked version, saying "education doesn't mean that you're a good person or a bad person." And Keller claims it would be "paternalistic" and "overly discriminatory" to set a higher education requirement.

To the first point, this isn't about good or bad people. It's about qualified people charged with regulating complex industries.

To both points, under the House version candidates can have either a degree in one of 14 fields such as accounting, engineering or environmental sciences or seven years of work experience with decision-making responsibility in 13 fields, including economics, energy or telecommunications.

And, what's paternalistic is thinking you know better than 80 percent of the voting public.

The duly-elected members of the Legislature are entrusted with making decisions in the best interests of New Mexicans. Ignoring the will of the voters and allowing under-educated/under-qualified candidates to continue to preside over the complex quasi-judicial proceedings of the PRC regarding utility regulation's important safety and fiscal issues abrogates that trust.

— Albuquerque Journal

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