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State lawmakers get behind paid leave

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

With a new proposal pending before the Albuquerque City Council that would guarantee paid time off to nearly every Albuquerque worker by 2022, some New Mexico legislators say they are ready once again to push for a similar policy statewide.

This time, according to one lawmaker, it might actually pass.

While such legislation has always dead-ended somewhere in the Capitol building, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said recent shake-ups in the Legislature could change that.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino

“I think it’s going to be a much more receptive (New Mexico) Senate,” Ortiz y Pino said this week during a “virtual rally” that community organizers hosted to show support for Albuquerque’s new proposal.

The Albuquerque bill, formally introduced this month by City Councilors Pat Davis and Lan Sena, would mean workers must start earning paid leave starting Jan. 1 at companies with at least 10 employees. Those with three to nine employees would have to implement the benefit by 2022.

The proposal guarantees that workers earn at least 1 hour of paid time off for every 32 hours worked, up to 56 earned hours annually.

The bill follows a series of failed attempts – including councilor-sponsored legislation and a citywide ballot question – to implement such a mandate in New Mexico’s largest city.

Business associations have lodged fierce battles against such proposals, contending they would add costs and hurt industry. Advocates, meanwhile, argue that all workers deserve the opportunity to stay home when they are ill, an argument they say COVID-19 has only strengthened.

In the virtual rally for the proposal, several state lawmakers signaled their support for paid leave.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said paid leave is vital for those fleeing domestic violence, because they often need time to find new living accommodations or handle matters in the legal system.

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said she was “lucky” when she was diagnosed with cancer as a young woman because she had paid time off to tend to her health. She said everyone deserves what she called that “basic human right” and wants to see it guaranteed to workers statewide.

“We have to stand up and pass a law that will be acknowledged across the board,” she said.

While previous attempts at a statewide paid leave policy have fizzled, Ortiz y Pino said the tides may have changed. Voters ousted several powerful moderate Democratic senators this year, but the party’s majority in the chamber actually increased.

“We have a different Senate makeup now; I think some of the obstacles put up in committees in the past have simply been swept away by this election,” Ortiz y Pino said.

Republican Sen. Greg Baca of Belen was not part of the rally but told the Journal he thinks paid leave may stand a better chance at passage than before. But he said he would need to see a specific proposal before taking any position of his own.

“Topics come across my desk and I think, ‘I would never vote for this,’ but it ends up being a really good bill and something I could support,” he said. “I can’t rule it out unilaterally just on the basis of the concept. I would definitely need to see a bill.”

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