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Ballot meeting to tackle sick leave, campaign financing

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County commissioners have called a special meeting for Thursday to consider squeezing two more questions onto the Nov. 8 ballot – one on the proposed sick-leave ordinance, the other on public financing of mayoral campaigns.

But whatever they decide might not be the final word.

The decision on the sick-leave proposal, in particular, seems particularly vulnerable to a legal challenge. There’s intense debate over whether the whole seven-page ordinance, or just a summary, must be placed on the ballot.

And that’s a critical decision because election officials say a summary is all that will fit.

The agenda for Thursday’s meeting presents the commission with both options.

Supporters of the measure say only a summary is needed. Opponents contend the City Charter requires the whole ordinance on the ballot.

City attorneys have weighed in, too, and they say publication of the entire ordinance is required.

But the decision on what to put on the ballot belongs to the County Commission.

Opponents of the sick-leave ordinance, in any case, have made it clear they will consider filing a lawsuit if only a summary appears on the ballot.

The debate centers on a proposal to require employers in Albuquerque to allow their workers to earn paid sick time off. It’s the result of a petition drive by a coalition of left-leaning groups.

They gathered enough signatures to trigger an election under the City Charter, but the city doesn’t have a municipal election scheduled until October 2017, so city councilors asked the County Commission to consider adding the proposal to the Nov. 8 general-election ballot.

Supporters say voters shouldn’t have to wait until next year to consider the proposed ordinance. Its passage would ensure workers don’t have to choose between their paycheck and time off to care for themselves or a loved one, they say.

Opponents, meanwhile, say sick leave is a worthwhile goal but that the ordinance includes onerous record-keeping and other requirements that could force some small companies out of business altogether.

The ballot is due to the state on Sept. 13, or five days after the special meeting, so if there’s going to be a court fight, it will happen under deadline pressure.

The public financing proposition, meanwhile, is only about 165 words long, so the space question isn’t as critical. If passed by voters, it would increase the funding for mayoral candidates who opt into Albuquerque’s public financing system for campaigns.

County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said both questions could probably fit on the ballot if the sick-leave question appears as a summary and she reduces the size of the typeface. But the authority to decide rests with the County Commission, not her office, she said.

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