September 12, 2016

Judge won’t order county to put sick leave proposal on the ballot

Andy Lyman

Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque

A high profile ballot proposal that would require businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees will likely not be on the ballot this November.

Healthy Workforce ABQ

Healthy Workforce ABQ supporters

A district judge in Albuquerque ruled Monday county commissioners legally have the discretion to deny ballot access to city initiatives during general elections.

Second Judicial District Judge Alan Malott told a courtroom packed with advocates both for and against the paid sick leave initiative that he would not order the Bernalillo County Commission to add the proposal to the November general election ballot.

“The county cannot be forced to include the proposed ordinance,” Malott said.

Malott also ruled the full text of the order must be on the ballot when it does go in front of voters, which is likely in 2017.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty represented proponents of the proposal. Center on Law and Poverty attorney Tim Davis said after the ruling he was disappointed with Malott’s decision and couldn’t say if the center would pursue an appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Counties must submit the final general election ballots to the Secretary of State’s office by Tuesday, but Davis said if a challenge is in order they will push forward regardless of the deadline

“That deadline has been extended in the past,” Davis noted.

Former Republican National Committeeman and prominent Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers intervened in the hearing as a representative for business coalitions that oppose the initiative.

After the hearing, Rogers told NM Political Report that the initiative itself is problematic and called it “logrolling” or combining unrelated issues into one proposal.

“The whole entire process, from beginning to end, was designed to push something through without people reading it, without people understanding it,” Rogers said.

A field organizer with the coalition that proposed the sick leave initiative, Adriann Barboa, said she was disappointed but said she would not give up.

“We know that this is the will of the voters,” Barboa said.

Throughout the hearing, lawyers from the Center on Law and Poverty argued the county commission failed to follow the election code in Albuquerque’s city charter.

“We’re here today because our local government has not done what they must do,” Center on Law and Poverty attorney Elizabeth Wagoner said.

The paid sick leave initiative began earlier this year with proponents gathering signatures to put the measure in front of voters. After collecting more signatures than required by the Albuquerque city charter, the city council voted to send the measure to the county commission.

The commission did not add it to a meeting agenda in August, but last week held a special meeting to discuss the issue, along with another city proposal regarding public financing of mayoral candidates.

Ultimately the commission made the decision not to include either of the city’s initiatives on November ballots, citing space and an unclear process of sharing county ballot space with city proposals.

A spokesman for the Bernalillo County Clerk previously said there was a possibility that both initiatives could fit on the ballot if the sick leave proposal was summarized.

The county commission has added city proposals to the ballot in the past.

Without another court challenge, the initiative will go in front of voters in October 2017 during Albuquerque’s next municipal election.

During testimony, Davis argued that proponents would have to start from the beginning in drumming up support. Later in the hearing Malott challenged Davis’ claim by asking, “Don’t both sides have a lot of politicking to do?”

Rogers alluded to opponents pushing against the measure even next year.

“It’s a long time until October,” Rogers said.