February 1, 2020

Bill for pregnant workers passes committee with support from all sides

Laura Paskus

A bill to support pregnant workers brought both abortion rights and anti-abortion groups together and passed unanimously 13-0 in the House Judiciary Committee Friday.

HB 25, the Pregnant Worker Accommodation bill, aims to protect pregnant workers and allow new moms to be able to ask for “reasonable accommodations” from an employer while pregnant or newly parenting. Advocates of the bill say those accommodations include things like asking for a stool to sit on or more bathroom breaks, additional water to drink and the ability to refrain from heavy lifting. If an employer does not comply, the pregnant worker could file a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission.

The bill passed the House Labor, Veteran, Military Affairs Committee earlier this week.

This time around, 23 different individuals, mostly representing nonprofit groups, spoke in favor of the bill. One woman who said she worked as a housekeeper while pregnant and experienced hardships during that time also spoke in favor of the bill.

The bill brought together groups that are often opposed to one another. Representatives from abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and Indigenous Women’s Rising voiced support alongside spokespeople from anti-abortion groups such as the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico and the Family Policy Alliance of New Mexico.

A representative from the New Mexico Business Coalition, the sole voice in opposition, said the bill is unnecessary because pregnant workers are already protected by various federal laws. Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring the bill along with Democratic Senator Liz Stefanics, of Cerrillos, said the federal laws do not apply to many New Mexico workers because so many businesses within the state have fewer than 15 employees.

Other business groups spoke in favor of the bill, including a representative from the New Mexico Hospitality Association. A spokesperson for the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry spoke in favor of the bill as long as the bill carried an amendment.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the amendment, which struck five words from the existing bill. The amendment eliminated the words “as long as necessary” from a section that defines that “reasonable accommodations” means “modification or adaptation of the work environment.”