State Senate passes telecomm deregulation, clamps down on committee recording

Feb 25, 2011

Santa Fe, NM – Deregulation can be a dirty word, depending on who you're talking to. On Thursday, Albuquerque Republican Senator John Ryan got a bill passed that will allow large telecommunications corporations like Qwest to set their own rates for businesses in rural areas. Las Cruces Democratic Senator Steve Fischmann opposed it.

"I am very afraid that we are exposing rural New Mexico to high prices," Fischmann said, "due to lack of competition and price swings that are gonna catch consumers by surprise."

Ryan said the bill merely allows companies to post contracts online rather than filing them with the Public Regulation Commission. He said there hadn't been a contested filing with the PRC for 25 years. But Democratic Crownpoint Senator Lynda Lovejoy argued the PRC exists in part to keep companies like Qwest from charging customers for every change they make to equipment or services.

"They are our cushion between a utility company and those of us who use services from telecommunications companies," Lovejoy argued. "So we care about the rates we pay."

After several unsuccessful attempts to put PRC oversight back into the bill, it passed 23 to 17 and heads now to the House. Earlier in the week, Senate Republicans tried to amend a bill on the floor to end the process of giving drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants in the state. Much of their argument revolved around reports of people taking financial advantage of the law, but some, like Aztec Senator Steven Neville, said New Mexico's drivers licenses have lost validity.

"The validity of the document itself has to be increased," Neville said, "or else it's not gonna be worthwhile, and we're gonna all have to go get a passport to do almost anything or get some other kind of valid form of ID, maybe your concealed carry permit will work."

Democrats were united against the attempt. Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino said the current law has reduced the unlicensed driver rate, and that repealing it would again make it harder for police to track drivers.

"It's not gonna reduce the number of people without immigration documents who are driving," Ortiz y Pino stressed. "It's simply gonna put em in the shadow world of forged licenses or faked licenses or driving with nothing at all, and just running as soon as they're in an accident."

Three Republican attempts failed to change the law. Meanwhile, there's been a lot of buzz around the capitol about Governor Susana Martinez sending her staff with video cameras into committee hearings and then posting the videos on her web site. The video postings were apparently designed to put pressure on those Democrats to change their minds on the immigrant license issue. That angered some of them, like Albuquerque Senator Cisco McSorley.

"Have there been any other video tapes done," McSorley said, "of anything other, paid for by the taxpayers of the state of New Mexico, except for these one or two?"

Apparently the answer is no. And on Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill requiring the permission of the chairman and ranking member to record video or audio in committees. Roswell Democrat Tim Jennings sponsored it.

"Some of the testimony that goes on before our committees involves very sensitive information," he argued, "and members of the public might not want to be videod."

But Albuquerque Republican Senator Mark Boitano argued that audio and video recording allows people to see what's going on in committee.

"The problem is that for the majority of New Mexicans," he said, "for the majority of the two million people that we represent in the 42 districts around the state, they don't have the wherewithal to come."

Still, the measure easily passed the Senate, and is now law, so Senate committee hearings may become even a bit more challenging for people who want to capture what's going on.