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Supreme Court wading into sick leave ballot dispute

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The legal battle to keep the Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance off of the Oct. 3 ballot isn’t over yet.

Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers filed an emergency petition on Monday asking the state Supreme Court to remove the proposed sick leave ordinance from the ballot.

And the state’s high court signaled on Tuesday that it is taking up the matter, ordering attorneys in the case to file a response to Rogers’ petition by Aug. 28.

“The process used by OLÉ/Acorn proponents to push this extreme and onerous job killer onto the city ballot is not authorized by the New Mexico Constitution or the New Mexico Legislature,” Rogers said in a statement. “The proposed ordinance drafted in secret by New York City lawyers is the most expensive and extreme version of sick leave laws in the United states. It will discourage new jobs and it will cost present jobs in Albuquerque and New Mexico.”

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.

A coalition calling itself Healthy Workforce ABQ gathered enough signatures in favor of the sick leave initiative to trigger a provision in the City Charter that allows people to get legislation on the ballot directly, bypassing the city council.

“Over 24,000 people signed a petition to get the earned sick days ordinance on the ballot,” Tim Davis, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said in a statement this morning. “If passed, it would mean that hard working New Mexicans no longer have to choose between caring for a sick child and receiving a paycheck.”

Rogers filed a lawsuit 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 like Albuquerque do not have the power to enact voter-initiated legislation.

But state District Judge Shannon Bacon rejected those arguments in an 11-page order issued Friday. 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 Albuquerque from allowing voter-initiated legislation.

Rogers’ petition challenges the portion of the ruling dealing with whether state statute and the state Constitution allow initiatives. He argues that there is no constitutional basis nor any statutory authority for initiatives and that, as a result, the proposed ordinance should be removed from the ballot.

Proponents of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance have argued that Albuquerque is a home-rule municipality, and, as such, it has the power to exercise all powers not expressly denied.

“A speedy resolution prior to the election is essential,” Rogers wrote in his petition. “At stake is an issue of great importance to the public, and it needs to be resolved before the election.”

The city has said that it is required to mail ballots to overseas Albuquerque voters by Saturday. Early voting begins Sept. 13.

“The outcome of the ordinance is now in the hands of the voters,” Davis said. “Just last week, Judge Bacon ruled that Albuquerque residents have a clear right to vote on the proposed law and to directly participate in the city’s lawmaking process. We expect that the New Mexico Supreme Court will throw out the corporate interests’ flimsy legal claims, which Judge Bacon has already rejected.”

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