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Council sends competing sick leave item to mayor

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

When Albuquerque voters go to the polls on Oct. 3 they will likely be asked to decide on not one but two sick leave measures.

A judge has already ruled that the city must include the Healthy Workforce Ordinance, a citizen initiative, on the ballot.

During a special meeting on Monday, the City Council voted to include a second sick leave question on the ballot, essentially asking voters whether the city’s governing body should get to work drafting an alternative “wise and workable sick leave policy” that would be adopted and effective no later than Jan. 1, 2019.

“What we’re trying to do for our constituents is give them another option,” said City Councilor Brad Winter, who sponsored the amendment to get the second sick leave question on the ballot.

That amendment was approved on a 7-1 vote, with Councilor Diane Gibson voting against. Councilor Pat Davis was absent. The amended election resolution, which was subsequently approved on an 8-0 vote, now goes to Mayor Richard Berry for consideration.

Under the city charter, if voters approve the Healthy Workforce Ordinance, it will become law. By contrast, Winter’s sick leave ballot measure is an advisory question that, if approved, would merely signal councilors that their constituents want them to come up with a sick leave ordinance.

The Healthy Workforce Ordinance has become a lightning rod, attracting staunch opposition from many business groups who argue that it would hurt businesses because of higher costs and onerous record-keeping requirements. The measure would require any business with a physical presence in Albuquerque to provide paid sick time off for full-time, part-time and temporary workers.

At Monday night’s council meeting alone, about three dozen people showed up to speak out against it, many of them arguing that it would hurt their businesses and Albuquerque’s economy.

“This is going to be a job killer. It just will,” said James Doyle, president of Doyle Roof Masters and a past president and chairman of a roofing contractors group.

But the Healthy Workforce Ordinance also has its share of supporters who argue that it would ensure that workers don’t have to choose between their paychecks and caring for themselves or a loved one.

Ken Carson, owner of Nexus Brewery, was one of about five people who spoke in favor of the ordinance.

“I feel it’s good for our customers and our hardworking employees,” he said, later adding, “Let’s stop all the misinformation.”

Winter’s amendment drew criticism from OLÉ, one of the groups backing the citizen initiative.

“This wasn’t a process that was open to the public,” the organization said in a written statement. “It was a surprise advisory question. We think this confuses the ballot and makes the print smaller and will disenfranchise the voters.”

Proponents of the citizen initiative suffered another blow Monday.

City councilors reversed their previous decision that would have required the city clerk to place a summary of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance on the ballot in regular size type even if the full ordinance is printed in smaller type. The council was forced to revisit the decision after Berry vetoed the election resolution it approved last month. The summary was prepared by proponents of the sick leave measure, and Berry called it incomplete and misleading to voters.

A judge has ordered the city to print the entire seven-page ordinance on the ballot, but backers of the measure are arguing that in order to do that, the clerk will likely have to print the ordinance in small type. Seeking to reach a compromise, Councilor Klarissa Peña proposed that the clerk be required to include a summary of the sick leave ordinance in the same font size as the bond questions, even if the full text of the proposed ordinance appears in a smaller font size. Her amendment, which was adopted by the council in June, would have also required the city clerk to provide voters with a copy of the proposed ordinance in normal-sized type.

Peña introduced that same amendment during Monday’s special meeting, but it failed on a 5-3 vote with Peña, Ken Sanchez and Council President Isaac Benton voting for it and Winter, Dan Lewis, Gibson, Trudy Jones and Don Harris voting against it.

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