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Domestic violence victims benefit from paid leave plan, supporters say

Bill Jordan with Voices for Children talks at a Monday news conference featuring survivors of domestic violence and advocates for Bernalillo Country’s proposed “paid time off” ordinance. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Supporters of a Bernalillo County paid leave proposal scheduled for a vote tonight say the measure could make a critical difference for those trying to escape domestic violence.

A third of New Mexico women will be the victims of domestic violence in their lifetime and the same holds true for 14% of men in the state, according to a 2017 report by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee.

Organizations that work with victims say fleeing those situations is often a complicated process that involves tending to health, safety, legal and family needs. Paid time off, advocates say, would help victims navigate the challenges.

As currently written, the bill would require businesses with at least two employees to give all workers – including temporary and seasonal staff – one hour of paid leave for every 32 hours worked, up to a maximum of 56 hours per year. It would apply only in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County, such as the East Mountains and South Valley.

Originally written as a paid “sick” leave bill that would have restricted absences to health or domestic violence-related reasons, the Bernalillo County Commission amended it in June to a nonspecific “paid time off” policy.

The legislation – which the commission is slated to act on tonight – has drawn strong opposition from the business community. Critics have complained it will be costly, create administrative burdens and make it too easy to sue businesses over alleged infractions.

But the bill’s supporters on Monday gathered for a news conference at Enlace Comunitario, an organization that serves domestic violence victims. They stressed the importance of paid leave for those leaving dangerous living situations.

Finding new housing is often just one of many hurdles, said Anna Jones, who works with domestic violence survivors at the Albuquerque shelter S.A.F.E. House.

“That can come also with having to re-enroll their kids in new schools or having to find new day care or set up transportation in the area of town they’re going to be safe,” Jones said. “On top of that, they’re trying to take time off to go do restraining orders or make police reports – all of these things.”

Supporters say the bill would help those in the most vulnerable situations – those with the lowest incomes are less likely to have paid leave. Forty percent of workers in Bernalillo County who make less than $35,000 annually don’t have access to the benefit today, according to a June paper by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. That’s compared to 16% of those who earn $35,000 or more.

Gregory Hernandez of Enlace Comunitario said most of the organization’s clients live “paycheck to paycheck” and cannot afford to skip work without pay.

“A lot of the times, they also have to choose between the paycheck and receiving counseling services, case management services or legal services,” he said. “It puts them in a really difficult situation.”

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