SANTA FE — Three days after a bill creating a state-run New Mexico paid family leave program stalled in a House committee, backers of the concept vowed they will continue to keep trying — even if it takes years to get the proposal passed.
During a Thursday news conference at the Capitol rotunda, Democratic legislators and their allies said misinformation spread by business groups and lobbyists who staunchly opposed this year’s proposal led to its demise.
“We have come closer to the finish line than we ever have before,” said Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos. “We plan on pursuing it next year as vigorously as we did this year.”
This year’s paid family leave bill, Senate Bill 11, passed the Senate this month but was tabled in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee on Monday when two Democratic lawmakers — Reps. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup and Marian Matthews of Albuquerque — voted with the committee’s four Republican members to block the measure from advancing.
Several days before, numerous business owners had traveled to the Roundhouse to oppose the bill, saying it could force some small businesses to close their doors or move to another state.
As drafted this year, 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.
Critics said the plan to make New Mexico the nation’s 12th state with a state-run paid leave program was good-intentioned but flawed, even though it stemmed from a task force featuring advocacy groups, business owners and labor union representatives that met last summer and issued a final report in October.
Specifically, opponents highlighted a legislative analysis of the measure that raised questions about whether the task force had underestimated the program’s cost and whether future premium increases might be necessary to keep the fund solvent.
While Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not take a public stance on the bill during this year’s 60-day legislative session that ends Saturday, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the governor told her during a meeting this week she supports the idea.
“We will have the governor’s support,” Stewart said.
A Lujan Grisham spokeswoman confirmed the governor’s general support, while also saying Lujan Grisham had committed to work with bill backers during the run-up to next year’s legislative session.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, compared the push for a paid family leave program to the effort to take more money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund for early childhood programs.
He and other backers pushed for roughly a decade for that policy, which was finally approved by lawmakers in 2021. It was then overwhelmingly approved by state voters in November 2022.
“We came up a little short, but we’ll be back,” Martínez said. “This is not over — this Legislature will deliver for you.”