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Judge rejects challenge to proposed sick leave ordinance

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State District Judge Shannon Bacon delivered a blow to opponents of the Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance on Friday, throwing out a challenge to the proposed sick leave law and potentially clearing the way for it to appear on the Oct. 3 ballot.

But Pat Rogers, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, is vowing to take the matter to the state Supreme Court.

The challenge to the proposed ordinance was filed on behalf of the Association of Commerce and Industry, the New Mexico Restaurant Association, NAIOP — which represents commercial real estate developers — and Kaufman Fire Protection Services.

The suit alleged that the proposed Healthy Workforce Ordinance is “a form of voter fraud” known as logrolling, because it lumps 14 different issues as one, and that it therefore violates the state constitution. The suit also alleged that home rule municipalities do not have the power to enact voter-initiated legislation.

But Bacon rejected those arguments in an 11-page order issued Friday morning. On the logrolling matter, she held that the constitutional provision Rogers cited does not apply to municipal ordinances. And she determined that the state constitution doesn’t bar a home-rule city like Albuquerque from allowing voter-initiated legislation.

“My clients will seek emergency review by the Supreme Court,” Rogers said in a statement. “The ordinance proposed by OLÉ and the intervenors is the most extreme and onerous in the nation. The proposed sick leave ordinance is a disaster for both employees and employers. With the respect that is due, no authority exists for these initiatives in the New Mexico Constitution or in the authority granted by the Legislature.”

Proponents of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance, meanwhile, praised the ruling.

“Albuquerque residents’ right to directly participate in the lawmaking process is a cornerstone of our local democracy,” said Tim Davis, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, who argued the case on behalf of several local organizations and a woman who weren’t named in the lawsuit but chose to intervene in the case. “Today’s ruling protects this right from attacks by well-connected business interests.”

Intervenors in the case are Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, El Centro de Igualdad Y Derechos, OLÉ Education Fund and Rebecca Glenn. The defendants in the case were the city of Albuquerque and City Clerk Natalie Howard.

If approved by voters, the Healthy Workforce Ordinance would require employers to allow workers to earn paid sick time off. It would apply to full-time, part-time and temporary workers at any business with a physical presence in Albuquerque.

Supporters say the ordinance would ensure that workers don’t have to choose between their paycheck and caring for themselves or a loved one.

Opponents argue that the ordinance would hurt businesses, because of higher costs and what they call onerous record-keeping requirements.

Bacon’s order comes one day after she rejected a challenge to Albuquerque’s Minimum Wage Ordinance.

The municipal ballot containing the Healthy Workforce Ordinance must be mailed to overseas Albuquerque voters by next Saturday.

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