March 4, 2015

Fate of Democrat’s pregnant worker protections uncertain

Young Woman On The Telephone And ComputerA tie vote has put into limbo a Democrat-sponsored bill meant to enact a range of new protections for pregnant workers in New Mexico.

Members of the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee split 3 to 3 along party lines today after about an hour of discussion on HB 37, Rep. Gail Chasey’s Pregnant Worker Accommodation Act.

Chasey’s expert witness, Southwest Women’s Law Center Executive Director Pamelya Herndon, said that because more than half of New Mexico’s population consists of women, special safeguards for pregnant employees are necessary to help ensure the state’s economic viability.

Rep. James E. Smith, R-Sandia Park, said he was concerned about how the measure could affect small mom-and-pop businesses. Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, who presented the bill in Chasey’s stead today, responded that “any burden on businesses can be taken into account.”

Armstrong added that the legislation’s requirements that businesses provide reasonable accommodations for workers facing physical hardships related to pregnancy or childbirth are balanced against other provisions designed to safeguard employers’ financial bottom line.

“There’s quite a lot of leeway to decide on a business level whether it’s a reasonable accommodation,” said Armstrong.

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said she had seen firsthand why the legislation is necessary.

“This is actually being played out on a regular basis,” she said, citing personal conversations with a pregnant employee at an Albuquerque small business who was forced to stand for long periods of time. Roybal Caballero said the woman had asked her boss if she could use a chair like the ones available for customers, but that the request was denied.

“She didn’t want to complain any further, because she didn’t want to lose her job,” said Roybal Caballero.

Committee discussion also surrounded the fact that a different bill with the same title sponsored by Republican Rep. Terry McMillan, R-Las Cruces, is already slated to be heard by the full House. Its protections would affect a significantly smaller number of women than those in Chasey’s proposal.

House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, said that she’d floated the idea of combining the two bills, “but it did not seem to be a well-received idea.”

New Mexico Political Report previously compared and contrasted the two versions of the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Act.