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City of ABQ leaders to explore new paid leave law

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — By next summer, all businesses in unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County with at least two employees will have to offer workers paid time off.

Now, Albuquerque leaders are exploring the impact of creating the same standard inside city limits.

City Councilors Isaac Benton, left, and Pat Davis.

City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton said Friday that they have ordered an economic analysis of the paid leave legislation the Bernalillo County Commission approved this week to see how it would work in Albuquerque.

“Every worker deserves to have access to paid leave for life’s emergencies, and it makes sense that employees and businesses in both the city and the county should expect some consistency in our law,” Benton said in a statement. “This study will tell us if that is feasible.”

But the idea that the city should copy the county is unpopular with some business groups. Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that the county’s approach was “fundamentally unreasonable,” saying it disproportionately hurts small businesses and reduces flexibility.

“Implementing a leave ordinance in Albuquerque like the one the county passed would bring hardship to job creators in our city – period,” Cole said in a written statement.

Davis in late 2018 introduced a “paid sick leave” bill for the city that has so far languished without a hearing before a council committee. Davis said he knows his bill lacks enough votes on the nine-member council to pass.

And previous attempts to require paid sick leave in Albuquerque have failed. A 2017 ballot measure was narrowly defeated, and a 2017 bill by Councilors Don Harris and Ken Sanchez that would have applied only to businesses with at least 50 workers was struck down in committee.

But Davis said the county’s decision this week has reignited the discussion.

The legislation the Bernalillo County Commission approved 3-2 on Tuesday looked much like Davis’ bill when it was initially introduced. However, the commission heavily amended it before the final vote.

The changes included redefining the benefit as the less-specific “paid time off.” Officials said that better aligns with modern workplace benefits packages and reduced the administrative burden of tying leave to health or medical uses.

Other amendments made in response to the business community’s feedback included a required county administrative process before any alleged offender can be sued and limiting the financial penalties for an infraction.

Under the final version passed by the commission, all businesses with two or more workers must offer employees at least one hour of paid leave for every 32 hours worked. The law takes effect July 1, 2020, and would be phased in so businesses could limit employee leave accrual to 24 hours in the first year, 40 in the second year and 56 each year after. It does not prevent businesses from offering more generous benefits packages.

Davis said he has put his 2018 legislation on hold and is willing to explore making the changes the county made if it improves the chances of passage.

“I do think the county’s bill strikes the right balance for businesses and workers, and everybody gets a little something,” he said. “If that’s what it takes to get us leave for all folks, I’m down for that.”

Many business groups complained that the county’s effort – which applies only to unincorporated areas, such as the South Valley and East Mountains – would complicate operations for businesses that have locations in multiple jurisdictions, such as inside and outside the city limits.

Davis said passing the same law in Albuquerque would provide consistency.

“There’s a real conversation about consistency, and how we apply the law between the city and the county,” he said. “Even though the county legislation doesn’t have everything I’d like to have in it, there’s a good argument that the city law is consistent – for employers and workers, no matter what side of the line they work on.”

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