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Editorial: Let’s take the time to get BernCo sick leave plan right

Bernalillo County commissioners are scheduled to vote on a sick leave law this evening. What’s the hurry?

In an ideal world, they would leave that voting to their bosses, the taxpayers who reside in their five districts.

They would deliver them an ordinance that addresses the concerns of businesses as well as their employees. And they would have collaborated with the city of Albuquerque and surrounding metro-area communities to avoid a patchwork system that penalizes business for being on the wrong side of a city/town/village limit line.

All that takes time – more than the five weeks or so between this bill’s introduction and this commission vote. Instead, the item remains up for a vote today, with the meeting slated for an early 4 p.m. start because of the anticipated outpouring of public comment. That outpouring is to be expected as the commission canceled a public meeting on the topic with little notice. That makes the rush all the more suspect.

Ernie C’de Baca, who heads the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, made a strong case in an op-ed he wrote in Monday’s Journal that “every day, (Hispanic business owners) work hard, long hours to achieve the American dream of owning a successful business that can provide for their families and the families of their employees,” and “this ordinance will create hardships not only for small businesses, but also for the communities they serve. The financial hardships of administrative costs for tracking leave, paying for sick leave, and potential for meritless lawsuits will force these owners to close their doors.”

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce has also come out against the plan, and both chambers sent out calls to action to get members to attend today’s vote. Their concerns have merit. Running small companies out of business won’t do anything to help their erstwhile employees.

So while it’s promising Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins – one of the sponsors – says discussions with multiple business owners and groups will likely lead to amendments, the best course would be to give everyone time to study those amendments before rushing to a vote.

As written, the proposed ordinance is nearly identical to one narrowly struck down by Albuquerque voters two years ago. It goes too far and would require businesses with two or more employees in the unincorporated county:

• To track and provide sick leave pay, even if they are truly a mom-and-pop (and nobody else) shop.

• To include temporary and seasonal employees, from summer interns to holiday gift-wrappers.

• To provide leave not just for workers to claim for themselves or immediate family, but non-family as well.

• To create a specific benefit for operations in the unincorporated portions of the county, irrespective of their business operations elsewhere,

Myriad problems in the proposal do a disservice to workers it purports to protect and will do the reverse, prompting layoffs, cutbacks and price hikes that slash customer volume. Hart Stebbins and co-sponsor Debbie O’Malley (whom C’de Baca says ignored requests to meet) and their colleagues should take that to heart.

Metro-area workers need sick leave crafted carefully with as much community input as possible. It’s in everyone’s best interest for commissioners to go into this meeting with ears and minds open, take proposed amendments and then defer any vote to give the public sufficient time to study the proposed changes and weigh in.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.