An Attempt to Regulate Surveying

When in 1917 a progressive New Mexico State Legislature passed an act to regulate the practice of surveying under which surveyors had to be qualified and become licensed it succeeded were at least one previous attempt had failed. Ten years earlier the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of New Mexico tried to pass just such a law.

On February 14, 1907 Esteban H. Biernbaum of Mora County introduced House Bill No. 88 with the lenghty title of: An Act to Regulate the Practice of Land Locating and Surveying and for the appointment of the Board of Examiners in the matter of said regulation. The Bill was taken up by the Committee on Territorial Affairs, sent to the House were it was duly passed in early March and sent to the Council (the territorial Senate). There it died in the Committee on Mines and Public Lands. What were the objections to the proposal?

If passed the law would have resulted in the following;

1. Created a Board of Examiners appointed by the Surveyor General. The Board was to consist of the Surveyor General and two elected County Surveyors. The Governor of the Territory would have had the power of appointing members to the Board only in the event of a death or resignation of a member, and then only for the remainder of the three-year term.

2. Empowered the Board of Examiners to give examinations and grant certificates. An application fee of $10 was required. Upon passing the exam the surveyor would have had to pay a certification fee of $5 and post a $500 bond. 

3. Certificates of Registration would have had to be recorded in the county of residence and would have been valid only in that county. Surveying in another county would have required a new certificate.

4. Surveying without registration would have been a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $25 to $100 or, by non-payment of the fine, imprisonment in the county jail at the rate of one day for every two dollars of the fine imposed.

5. Justices of the peace and municipal courts would have been given jurisdiction and district attorneys power to prosecute all violations of the act.  

6. A provision to revoke certification for conviction of a crime, habitual drunkenness and gross incompetency was striken out in an amendment to the bill, as was a provision to exempt elected county surveyors and their deputies.

I have found no records of any discussion of the bill in committee but the weaknesses are obvious. First there was the politically unwise attempt to place licensing entirely into the hands of the federal government. The federally appointed Surveyor General (in New Mexico the office was abolished by Act of March 1, 1925, 43 Stat. 1141) was not responsible to anybody on the state and local level. On the other hand there were no provisions in federal law that would have allowed the Surveyor General to exercise control over the survey of lands that were no longer in federal ownership.

From a practical point of view, requiring a new certificate for each county was cumbersome and restrictive in the extreme. Also, if a license could not be revoked for gross incompetence licensing would have been rendered meaningless.

If there is any significance in this early attempt to regulate the practice of surveying it lies in the recognition by the legislature that the establishment of boundaries by anybody who called himself a surveyor created a lot of problems. House Bill 88 would not have been a good law, but it was a forerunner of a good law, the Registration Act of 1917.