House panel holds back family leave proposal to consider amendments - Albuquerque Journal

House panel holds back family leave proposal to consider amendments

Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, center, and Rep. Yanira Gurrola, D-Albuquerque, right, talk before the start of the House floor session Thursday. Serrato is pushing for passage of a family and medical leave law. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Legislation to launch a state-run paid family leave program ran into some bipartisan opposition Friday during a House committee hearing, putting its future in doubt in the final eight days of the session.

Two Democratic and four Republican members of the House Commerce and Economic Development expressed skepticism about the bill in its current form, enough to keep it from advancing.

But the panel didn’t act on the bill, leaving open the possibility of a compromise that may allow the measure to move forward in an amended form.

Rep. Linda Serrato, a Santa Fe Democrat who presented the bill, said she was happy to work with the committee on potential changes.

“I don’t think this is an impossible task,” she said.

Time, however, is running out. The session ends at noon March 18.

The proposal, Senate Bill 11, cleared the Senate last week with the backing of powerful Democratic legislative leaders.

But Friday’s hearing made the bill’s path to passage more difficult.

“I think there’s just too many concerns raised by those who are directly impacted” by increased business costs, Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said. “The last thing rural New Mexico needs is more stuff piled on it.”

Rep. Alan Martinez, R-Bernalillo, called the bill “another regulation, an unwanted tax on employees.”

Serrato, in turn, said the proposal had been carefully crafted over the last several years and would help employers and employees alike.

“This is very new. This is very big. And we want to make sure we’re doing the process correctly,” she said.

Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, expressed concern about the financial solvency of a fund that would be created as part of the legislation. But she said she would talk with Serrato and see whether they could come up with a compromise.

The bill would allow workers who qualify to take up to 12 weeks per year of paid leave following the birth of a child or to attend to serious medical situations for themselves or family members.

The proposal, officially called the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, would require both employers and their workers to start making regular payments into the state fund in 2025, though businesses with fewer than five employees would be exempted.

Dozens of business owners showed up Friday to testify against the legislation, which would make New Mexico the 12th state to adopt a state-run paid leave program.

Bill Lee, the chief executive officer of the Gallup-McKinley Chamber of Commerce, said some area business owners have told him they would move to neighboring Arizona — which does not have such a law — if the bill is passed in New Mexico.

“It’s going to wipe out jobs — it’s going to close doors,” Lee said.

Supporters of the legislation have disputed opponents’ claims the bill would represent a new tax for employers. They have also said about two-thirds of the state’s roughly 44,000 businesses with more than one employee would not have to pay into the leave fund since they have fewer than five workers, though their employees would be required to do so.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not taken a definitive stance on this year’s bill, which was crafted with feedback from a task force featuring advocacy groups, business owners and labor union representatives that met last summer and issued a final report in October.

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