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House narrowly approves sick leave measure

House members speak on the chamber floor in this Jan. 28 file photo. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state House adopted legislation Sunday that would require private employers in New Mexico to offer paid sick leave to their workers, sending the measure over to the Senate with 20 days left in the session.

Supporters said the proposal, House Bill 20, would offer critical protection for low-income New Mexicans who might otherwise have to choose between a paycheck or caring for a sick loved one. It would also, they said, reduce the spread of illness in the workplace.

“This is the right thing to do, not only for workers but for our economy,” said Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe.

Throughout the session, the legislation has faced intense opposition from business groups and Republican legislators, who said it’s a particularly bad time to impose costly new regulations on employers already struggling because of the pandemic.

“I believe if this legislation passes, small businesses will suffer,” said Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs.

The bill passed 36-33, with nine Democrats crossing party lines to vote “no.”

Under the proposal, employees would earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. They could use up to eight days of earned leave – or 64 hours – in a one-year period, unless the employer establishes a higher limit.

Businesses of all sizes would be covered by the regulation.

It would apply to private employers, not state or local governments – a difference Republicans highlighted during Sunday’s debate.

Rep. Christine Chandler, a Los Alamos Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said she and other sponsors determined that public employers generally offer benefit packages that exceed what’s required in the legislation, making their inclusion in the bill unnecessary.

Republicans disputed that characterization and argued, in any case, that the state should subject itself to the same requirements it imposes on businesses.

But the House rejected a GOP-sponsored amendment to extend the bill to public employers.

The proposal will head next to the Senate, where it will have to make it through a network of committees and receive full Senate approval by March 20 to reach the governor’s desk.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, suggested recently that it might not be the right time for New Mexico lawmakers to pass bills imposing new requirements on businesses.

Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, pushed to delay the effective date of the bill to next summer – an idea rejected by a majority of the House.

“I’m worried that this is going to backfire and do more harm than good,” he said of the legislation.

Five Democrats are sponsoring the bill – Reps. Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces, Daymon Ely of Corrales, Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque and Chandler, in addition to Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque.

“This is about bringing equity to workers, especially the most vulnerable in our economy,” Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-Albuquerque, said. “It’s long overdue.”

Under the bill:

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

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

⋄ Supplemental leave would be offered, on top of what’s already required, during a public health emergency.

⋄ Employers wouldn’t have to compensate an employee for unused sick leave upon termination.


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