Blogger's Note: Everyone's been asking about the constitutional amendments and how to vote. I'm voting for all of them, myself, but feel particularly strongly about the three relating to the Public Regulation Commission. Here's a comment by outgoing PRC Commissioner Jason Marks on the three PRC amenmdments.
It’s no secret that the PRC has had more than its fair share of scandals in its short history, and that many want to see things changed and improved. I share this view, and after two terms on PRC, I have a pretty good idea about what works well about the agency and what doesn’t. I’ve opposed proposals to “start over from scratch” because of the risk that industry could influence the rewrite in order to weaken the Commission’s powers to regulate. Instead, I collaborated throughout 2011 with the non-partisan civic group Think New Mexico on a small package of targeted reforms. The proposals were further refined and vetted through the 2012 Legislature and now go to the voter in this November’s General Election.
The proposed changes are:
Constitutional Amendment No. 2 : “Allowing the Legislature to establish increased qualifications and continuing education for commissioners on the Public Regulation Commission.”
If adopted by voters, Commissioners would continue to be elected, but would be subject to educational, professional, or other qualifications established in statute. Commissioners would also be required to obtain professional education after election, such as training in rate cases or in judicial and administrative legal procedures.
The Commission deals with extremely complex legal, financial, and engineering matters on a routine basis, and does so through a formalized, quasi-judicial process. This Constitutional Amendment seeks to preserve the elected commissioner model, while making it more likely that those elected have the skills and ability to successfully perform the job. Today, a candidate for PRC does not even need to have a high school diploma. Although professional qualifications are no guarantee of ethical conduct, minimum qualifications would likely have barred the recent commissioner who criminally misused state gasoline credit cards from ever being a candidate.
Concerns have been raised that C.A. 2 does not specify what the educational or professional qualifications for PRC commissioners will be. This is intentional (as they say in the computer world, “it’s a feature, not a bug”). Putting detailed language identifying the specific degrees, occupational qualifications, or combinations thereof into the Constitution would not only be awkward, it would lock-in whatever was done this year for a very long time. By providing the authority in the Constitution, but leaving the details for the Legislature, the door is open for errors and omissions to be fixed and, more importantly, for the minimum qualifications to increase over time or change as the jurisdiction of the PRC evolves.
Constitutional Amendment No. 3: Removing the duties to charter and regulate corporations from the Public Regulation Commission
The PRC’s Corporations Bureau issues registrations for new corporations and limited liability companies, but does not regulate their conduct. Secretaries of State perform this function in 41 other states and our Secretary of State already registers limited liability partnerships. This Constitutional Amendment transfers the PRC’s corporate functions to the Secretary of State, creating “one stop shopping” for business filings. Although Commissioners have no direct role in the corporations function (there are no votes or hearings), managing the operations of the bureau can consume time and attention. The transfer will enable Commissioners to devote more time and attention to core utility, telecom, motor carrier, and public safety issues.
Constitutional Amendment No. 4: Removing the duty to regulate insurance companies and others engaged in risk assumption from the Public Regulation Commission.
If passed by voters, the Division of Insurance would become an independent agency in July 2013. The Insurance Superintendent would be selected for a four-year term by members of an independent selection committee, with the make-up of this committee to be worked out in the 2013 legislative session. The use of the selection committee is expected to insulate the appointment of the Superintendent from the political influence of industry campaign contributions to governors and legislators.
Today, the PRC only indirectly regulates insurance through its power to appoint and discharge the Superintendent of Insurance; the Superintendent has the sole authority to issue rules and regulatory orders. The relationship between the PRC and the Insurance Division has been strained throughout the history of the agency, with the Insurance Division and its leadership continually seeking greater autonomy, and the Commissioners lacking sufficient time and focus to adequately manage the doings of the Division. Virtually no other state combines utility and insurance regulation into the same regulatory body. Making insurance regulation into an independent agency will enable Commissioners to devote more time and focus to their core utility, telecom, motor carrier, and public safety responsibilities.
For more information, and an independent analysis of these Constitutional Amendments, see the League of Women Voters’ website athttp://www.lwvnm.org/VGuide2012/amendments.html