February 9, 2016

Bill to preempt local government on labor decisions advances

A House panel wants the state government to be in charge of most labor decisions.

The House Business and Employment Committee advanced a controversial bill that would take power away from local governments when it comes to scheduling employees and on requiring certain levels of benefits.

Minimum WageThe bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, advanced on an 11-2 vote, with only two Democrats voting against the legislation.

Harper introduced a relatively major change since the last committee hearing; the new version of the legislation no longer included the portion of the bill that would have barred counties and municipalities from raising the minimum wage.

Instead, the bill focused on other employment issues, including not allowing local governments to require private employers to provide paid sick leave or a minimum notice for setting employees’ schedules.

“We are seeing this trend, and it’s actually kind of a national trend, of local counties and cities and [municipalities] enacting their own labor laws,” Harper said. “What that leads to is a patchwork of different laws in even the same state and we’re seeing that even in New Mexico right now.”

Jason Espinoza, the president of the Association of Commerce and Industry, said that “legislation like you’re seeing in front of you is really trending in the nation.”

Most of the panel was supportive of the legislation and criticized the Fair Workweek proposal in Albuquerque.

“When this Fair Workweek Act came up, we were actually looking at expanding to Santa Fe and Las Cruces,” Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque said of his business. “And when this Fair Workweek came up, it actually caused us to pause.”

The Fair Workweek proposal did not pass in Albuquerque.

Others said that local government was not the right level to make labor decisions.

“Let’s keep this important relationship between the employer and the employee at the state level,” Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, said.

Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho, said that things work best when the free market is allowed to work and when government just provides oversight.

“Government just messes it up,” he said.

It wasn’t just Republicans who supported the legislation.

Rep. George Dodge, Jr., D-Santa Rosa, spoke highly in favor of the legislation and said he did so since he himself is a small business owner.

“It’s just one of those things I have to do for my business and small businesses around the state,” Dodge said.

Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said he was receiving a lot of phone calls from restaurants around the state on the issue of requiring 21 days notice of scheduling, as things can change quickly in the industry. Members of the construction industry also raised similar concerns.

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, was one of the two to vote against the legislation. He said that he believed the legislation was constitutionally flawed and if it became law that it would immediately end up in court.

Garcia said the courts “lay down the gauntlet when there is constitutional means to do it.”

Still, only Garcia and Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, voted against passing the bill.

The legislation now heads to the House floor.