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Session a mixed bag for business, labor

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A statewide business group is happy about changes to workers compensation and broadband rules, but not happy that cities and counties will still be able to pass their own labor legislation.

An advocate for the Working Families group in Albuquerque is cheering the fate of that labor-related measure, but is disappointed in minimum wage laws passed by lawmakers during the session that ended on Saturday.

Both Jason Espinoza, president of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, and Eric Griego, Working Families’ state director, are glad the governor has indicated she will not sign the minimum wage legislation.

Espinoza said both minimum wage bills, one to raise the limit to $9.25 and the other to $9, would “negatively affect our rural communities.” Griego said those levels are too low, but he was particularly opposed to the $9.25 bill with its provision blocking local labor ordinances that regulate employee work schedules.

A separate measure to keep local government from passing a variety of labor measures was defeated in what Espinoza called “our biggest disappointment.”

Terri Cole, president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, summed up the two-month session this way: “It was a long and very difficult session. It was acrimonious from the start.”

Although lawmakers passed a $6.1 billion budget for the coming year and about $350 million in tax increases to help pay for it, Gov. Susana Martinez plans to veto it and call lawmakers back to a special session.

“We were hopeful that at some point, the two sides (lawmakers and the governor) would sit down and review the proposals that the governor had put on the table and likewise that the governor would review their proposals and (do) old-fashioned horse-trading, but  that didn’t even happen,” Cole said.

Espinoza said several broadband measures that are “critical to the state” and economic development won approval. One makes it easier for government agencies to allow private companies to lay fiber lines when public roads or similar infrastructure is built. Another allows the Public Regulation Commission to put more money toward efforts to extend broadband into rural New Mexico or urban areas that lack good service.

Here’s the fate of some other business or labor-related issues:

–Lawmakers approved a fix to workers compensation rules so that an employer would no longer have to pay benefits to a worker who returns to work and then is fired for misconduct. Espinoza said that change was needed to address a state Supreme Court ruling.

— A right to work law again failed to win approval.

— A bill that would establish an ethics commission — if voters approve — was passed in what Cole called “a bright spot.”

— The governor vetoed a measure aimed at making it easier for local governments to support the development of infrastructure for high-speed internet.