Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Local business leaders are concerned that a canceled Bernalillo County Commission meeting may cost them one of their final opportunities to weigh in on a controversial paid sick leave proposal.
On Monday, the commission canceled a public meeting scheduled for this evening.
In a text message to the Journal, Maggie Hart Stebbins, Bernalillo County Commission chairwoman, wrote that the cancellation was due to a shortage of agenda items and the absence of county manager Julie Morgas Baca.
Still, leaders of local chambers of commerce and other business associations were frustrated by the cancellation, saying they and their members planned to speak about the bill during the public comment period before it goes to a vote on June 25.
Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said canceling the meeting removed one of the last opportunities for the business community to provide input on the proposal.
“We would like to have our voice heard, and we would like to have ample opportunity to do it,” Cole said.
In mid-May, Commissioners Debbie O’Malley and Hart Stebbins introduced legislation that would require businesses in unincorporated parts of the county with two or more employees to provide workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours per year.
Under the proposed rule, employees may use sick leave for their own health needs or those of a family member. The ordinance also covers absences related to domestic violence.
The ordinance notes that Bernalillo County lags behind the national average in access to paid sick leave, and the rule may encourage employees to stay home when they feel sick, rather than spreading their illness.
But, Ernie C’de Baca, president and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, said the proposal stands to hurt employers, particularly small-business owners who may struggle to pay the extra costs. C’de Baca said 60% of Hispano Chamber of Commerce members have 10 employees or fewer.
C’de Baca added that he’s concerned about the low employee threshold in the ordinance, and the lack of flexibility for employers.
“Any time you take away flexibility, and put mandates on these small businesses, it’s really difficult,” he said.
Lynne Andersen, president of the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association, said the proposal resembles ordinances introduced by the Albuquerque City Council in recent years. City voters in 2017 narrowly defeated a proposal, and City Councilor Pat Davis proposed another one earlier this year that is still pending.
Andersen said she was concerned that the county commission is pushing the ordinance through quickly, without consulting the county’s business community.
The night the bill was introduced many speakers, including some business associations, weighed in during public comments. There was another commission meeting later in May where public comment was also available.
Still, Andersen said it’s taken time to reach out to businesses and make them aware of the ordinance. She said people from a number of businesses had planned to talk during today’s meeting before it was canceled.
“It seems like it’s a rush to push this through without a lot of discussion with a wide-ranging business community,” Andersen said.
Hart Stebbins wrote that the commission still intends to vote on the ordinance on June 25.
She noted that anyone who wants to comment on the proposal will be able to do so over the next two weeks, including during a public comment period at the June 25 meeting.
Journal reporter Jessica Dyer contributed to this story.