SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers are at odds over how to carry out a voter mandate for increasing the qualifications for future members of the state's utility regulatory agency.
The Senate approved a proposal Wednesday on a 32-8 vote that differs significantly from a House-passed measure setting new standards for Public Regulation Commission members.
Lawmakers have slightly more than more than three weeks to resolve their differences before the 60-day legislative session ends. If no agreement can be reached, the Legislature will need to come back to work later in a special session to hammer out a compromise.
A constitutional amendment adopted by voters in November requires increased qualifications for PRC members elected in 2014 or appointed to fill a vacancy starting in July.
The commission regulates electric and natural gas utilities, some telecommunications services and motor carriers such as taxis, moving vans and ambulances.
Under the Senate bill, candidates could qualify for the PRC several ways: Having at least three years of experience running a government agency or office responsible for utilities, transportation or construction; five years of management experience in a private organization or company regulated by the PRC or an advocacy group involved in regulatory issues; or being a licensed engineer, certified public accountant or lawyer.
A House-passed measure requires PRC candidates to have a combined 12 years of professional experience or higher education in a field related to the regulatory agency, such as economics, accounting, engineering, law and government administration.
The standards won't apply to the current five PRC members, who need only to be 18 years old and state residents. Commissioners are paid $90,000 a year.
Sen. Tim Keller, an Albuquerque Democrat, said the Senate proposal tried to "strike the right balance" of professional experience for regulators.
"For better or worse, the voters spoke loudly in our last constitutional ballot and they said that they want the Legislature to provide qualifications. So it's up to us to figure out what those qualifications should be," Keller said.
But Sen. Linda Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat, opposed the proposed standards, saying they were too restrictive and could exclude women, minorities and others with extensive work experience from seeking the elective office.
"Who are we eliminating from having an opportunity to run for this august body of the PRC," Lopez asked.
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