The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a substitute version of a bill that would dramatically overhaul the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, moving many of the agency’s key positions to the governor’s oversight.

Despite protest from PRC staff members, the chief of staff and commissioners, the panel voted 7-3 to advance the measure to the House floor for consideration.

The bill’s sponsors, Reps. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, and Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, argued House Bill 11 is necessary to “modernize” and “professionalize” the utilities regulator, which has struggled in recent years to attract and retain staff.

Small and Trujillo’s legislation would restructure the commission and strip much of its authority, replacing most of its staff with positions in the state Regulation and Licensing Department, where they would work under the governor’s authority. HB 11 also would make the commission’s chief of staff a position appointed by the governor.

Although the PRC is a state government entity, commissioners are elected to their seats, and the agency is not subject to the governor’s oversight.

Small said PRC staff members are doing “an exemplary job in a difficult position,” but he added that the changes would help attract more qualified staff.

Interim PRC chief of staff Jason Montoya briefly testified against the bill Wednesday, arguing the restructuring planned by Small and Trujillo would not actually help the commission retain more qualified staff.

Montoya said in an interview after the hearing the proposed changes aren’t necessary to address the commission’s staffing problems and wouldn’t “magically create a workforce that is available in utility regulation.”

Several PRC division directors also testified Wednesday that they would lose their jobs as a result of the bill. Commissioners submitted to the committee a letter saying they oppose the measure, as well.

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, opposed the legislation and argued it would be the equivalent of allowing the Senate to pick the House speaker’s chief of staff.

Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said he had similar concerns.

“Nobody does that in the real world,” he said, comparing the proposed changes to corporate structure in the private sector. “That’s not legit. This is not a fix. This is more of a coup.”

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Dr. Michael Johnson

Bad, bad mistake to put this under the unaccountable corrupt power in Santa Fe. The citizens will suffer.

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