|By Peters, Joey|
On a Friday morning at the
The topic of the hearings isn't small-
Once the hearings end, an examiner will recommend an action to the five commissioners, who will make the final decision in one of their upcoming meetings. But Marks points out that commissioners can only collect evidence on a case during the hearings.
"Commissioners, they're going to have questions," Marks tells SFR, "and if their questions are not in the record, they really shouldn't be asking them come January or February when they're making a decision."
There are simply too many hearings like this for the five commissioners to attend them all. But the complexity and diversity of decisions commissioners must make also create problems: In the past, the PRC has made uninformed decisions that were later overturned by courts.
Marks is hoping that some of this will change as the PRC, which currently regulates the state's insurance and utility industries, goes through a significant overhaul next year.
Last week, voters approved three constitutional amendments, marking a turning point for the powerful but embattled state agency, which has suffered embarrassing scandals over the past decade.
The amendments require the state Legislature to write new qualifications for commissioners, as well as for a newly autonomous Superintendent of Insurance. They'll also dramatically scale back the PRC's mission by severing from it two key divisions: the insurance division, which regulates insurance compames, and the corporations bureau, which registers businesses across the state.
The streamlined PRC's main remaining task will be to regulate the utility industry.
"We're going to lose approximately half of our employees," PRC spokesman
Those employees won't lose their jobs, though. Around 20 from the corporations bureau will soon work for the
"Many past PRC commissioners had been stuffing their political friends and cronies, frankly, into positions where you need qualified professionals like lawyers, accountants and actuaries," Nathan tells SFR "Now the question becomes, how do you make that organization have the necessary oversight so it functions well?"
The key task for state lawmakers will be establishing the makeup of an independent board to oversee the stand-alone insurance division. Politicians, ironically, will be tasked with trying to make the board apolitical; Marks and Nathan anticipate heated debate.
"We want to make sure we get some geographic diversity," Nathan says. "That there's consumer groups as well as industry equally represented."
He anticipates that at least five PRC-related bills will come before the state Legislature in January. Lawmakers will also have to decide how, exactly, to beef up commissioner qualifications-another potentially controversial issue.
"Ifs well known nationally that we have one of the most powerful PRCs in the country, with some of the least-qualified people in there," state House Minority Leader
Taylor agrees with TNM that commissioner qualifications should go beyond education. Currently, commissioners are required to be at least 18 years old, state residents and not convicted felons. (Former commissioners
"The perception was we just wanted a college degree,"
For inspiration, legislators could look to other states.
Marks says he hopes
AT THE PRC. IT'S TIME TO RAISE THE BAR.
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