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Sick leave proposal takes shape in House

Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A revised proposal that would require New Mexico employers to offer paid sick leave to their workforce is moving forward in the House after clearing its first committee.

The legislation, House Bill 20, was amended Thursday to incorporate some ideas from a competing bill, and it passed 5-3 with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

Employees would accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. They could use up to 64 hours of earned leave in a 12-month period, unless the employer offers a higher limit.

The requirement would apply regardless of the size of the business.

Democratic Reps. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos and Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces – who sponsored and presented the bill Thursday – said the proposal would help protect employers and employees alike, by limiting the chances for illness to spread within a workplace.

“This is the one thing that workers need right now,” Rubio said, “particularly because of what they’re exposed to on the front lines.”

The measure drew opposition from a variety of business owners and business groups during a three-hour hearing. They said the amended bill didn’t address their concerns about the cost and paperwork burden on small businesses.

“We provided the committee with several reasonable ways to limit the financial impact this onerous mandatory leave bill will otherwise have on small businesses and their workers,” Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said after the hearing. “While this one committee chose to ignore the input of the business community, we can’t imagine the governor, House leaders, and Senate leaders share the belief that small businesses shouldn’t be accommodated and included in the conversation.”

The proposed legislation passed the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday and will head next to the House Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before reaching the full chamber for consideration.

Thursday’s hearing was held online and included testimony from workers and advocacy groups who said the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to ensure employees can stay home without fear of losing money. Every worker, even those at small employers, should have the option of taking sick leave, they said.

“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that staying home when you’re sick is taking care of everyone,” said Eric Shimamoto, a member of the advocacy group OLÉ New Mexico.

The proposal includes a provision for supplemental leave during a public health emergency, expanding what’s otherwise called for in the law.

Sick leave could be used for medical care, caring for a family member or for absences related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.

Employers who violate the act would be liable for three times the wages they should have paid the employee, or $1,000, whichever is greater.

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