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Mandatory Sick Leave Bill Gets Last-Minute Change

Amendments set up floor fight in final days of session


The state of New Mexico and local governments also would have to follow the provisions of a bill requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to workers under changes adopted Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

After a 2 1/2-hour discussion and debate, the committee voted 5-4 to pass an amended sick leave bill that would apply to the public sector, not just private businesses in New Mexico.
The measure now heads to back to the full Senate. It had been scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor but was sent to the Judiciary Committee for further vetting.

“It is, I think, really hypocritical that we not make it applicable to ourselves,” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said, referring to state and local governments.

The committee also struck a provision establishing supplemental sick leave of 80 hours, or two weeks, during a public health emergency.

“The government can shut down your business or make it go down to 25 percent, but you still have to give 80 hours of paid time off for that for your employees? I mean, this just needs to be written in a fairer way,” said Ernie C’de Baca, president and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

The committee chairman, Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who broke a tie vote, said his support of House Bill 20 is contingent on the amendments remaining in place.
“If the actions of this committee were undone, then I would feel compelled to spend the time necessary to fully examine all of those other sections of the bill that I’m forgoing today,” Cervantes told the sponsors.

Earlier in the meeting, Cervantes, who is an attorney, said questions he had about the 80 hours of supplemental leave during a public health emergency “would take us through the end of the session, very candidly.” Sponsors of the measure said they wouldn’t work to undo the changes but couldn’t speak for others.

“I can only account for my own behavior; I can’t account for an entire body,” said Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos. Ivey-Soto asked Chandler and other sponsors whether they would accept a rewrite of the bill to make it what he called “a state add-on” to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which they declined. Near the end of the hearing, he said he would’ve voted to advance the measure with “no recommendation.” While the measure has been improved from where it started, he said it’s still “amazingly problematic.”

“Wanting a headline and implementing details are two totally separate things,” he said. “We really need to think these things out much, much more before we bring them here to try to make them law.”

The proposed law, known as the Healthy Workplaces Act, would require all employers in the state, no matter the size of their workforce, to provide workers at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work, or 64 hours per year.

The bill has generated stiff opposition from business groups that have advocated for employers with fewer than 15 workers to be exempted from the proposed law. As an alternative, they have pushed for a tax credit to offset the leave costs.

“Please do the right thing and work with our business community as opposed to simply imposing a long-term, costly mandate on our state’s struggling job creators,” said Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

Chandler said exempting businesses with 15 or fewer employees didn’t make sense. Though she didn’t know exactly how many employers there are in New Mexico with 15 or fewer employers, she said businesses with 20 or fewer make up about 80 percent of businesses in the state, meaning an exemption on small businesses would affect a huge percentage of workers.

She said exempting small employers also defeats the purpose of the bill. “Let’s say you are an employee in a business where there are … 10 employees, you still need to take sick leave and you still pose the same risks to the public and your co-workers and others as you would if you were working for a business with 25 employees,” she said.

“We feel that kind of artificial delineation doesn’t recognize that this is intended to promote a healthy workplace, and by eliminating some fairly significant part of the working population, we’re undermining the basic purpose and underlying public policy that is embedded in this bill,” she said.

Senators used that argument to push for the inclusion of public sector employees, such as substitute teachers and staffers now working at the Roundhouse during the 60-day legislative session.

“It does send a message to small business in New Mexico that we’re going to mandate what have to do, but we’re not willing to take care of our own employees,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque.

If the Senate passes the new version of HB 20, it will return to the House for approval of the changes.

At the start of the meeting, Bill McCamley, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the initial version of the bill the committee considered, which includes a yearlong administrative delay.

“We believe that that will give not only businesses enough time to adjust to the new policy but allow our mechanisms within the department to be updated, and we can get more training and folks involved to enforce,” he said. “The governor would plan on signing this bill if it makes it through in its current form.”

In a brief telephone interview after the meeting, McCamley said he didn’t know whether the amended version of the bill would have the governor’s support. “I’m not sure,” he said, adding he hadn’t monitored the virtual meeting the whole time. “I need to check.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, wrote in an email, “The executive will evaluate the impact and propriety of the public sector amendment and will follow the Senate floor debate closely.”


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