February 21, 2021

Paid Family and Medical Leave bill clears House Judiciary Committee

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The Paid Family and Medical Leave bill passed the House Judiciary Committee along party lines in an 8 to 2 vote Saturday.

HB 38, sponsored by House Representatives Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos and Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, was amended by committee to clean up some of the language. The amendment also exempted railroad employees because of a federal law and inserted language that would prevent counties and municipalities from enacting their own paid family and medical leave ordinances, Chandler said.

Chandler said she had many meetings with the business community and chambers of commerce to understand their concerns about the bill and the amendment reflected those conversations. Despite that, many business groups spoke in opposition to the bill during public comment.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, addressed some of the issues raised by the business community. One of those was the “messaging” being sent to small businesses in the state.

Both businesses and employees would pay a fraction into a fund that the Department of Workforce Solution would administer. The fund would, starting on January 1, 2024, enable employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off for a major medical issue, the welcoming of a child or to care for a family member experiencing significant medical needs.

Employers would pay 0.5 percent and employees would pay 0.4 percent beginning in 2023.

Related: Paid Family and Medical Leave Act passes House committee

“I’m a little concerned about how we get there but I’m more concerned about the messaging going to small businesses right now. They’ll perceive this as another extraction of money from them that some of them can’t afford at the present time,” Nibert said.

To accommodate the worries that the bill would impact small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill sponsors delayed the legislation so that the surcharge would not go into effect until 2023, Chandler said.

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, asked if the bill could be adjusted to look more like a 401K plan where companies could opt to participate or not.

Chandler said such a plan would be “very hard to get consistent contributions.”

“This plan is like an insurance scheme that creates a trust fund with very small fees on the employer and employee. We all share responsibility for supporting families through this methodology,” Chandler said.

Some during public comment complained about the broad definition of family in the language of the bill. The bill states that a family member can also be “any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee or employee’s spouse or domestic partner is the equivalent of a family.”

Chandler said times have changed.

“We have different ideas of what constitutes a family and many different relationships, cohabitations and living arrangements are the equivalent of a family and that is in keeping with our times,” Chandler said.

Roybal Caballero added that having a broad definition of family recognizes the “strong, rich cultural community across the state,” including Latinx, African-American and Native American communities that may define family in broader terms.

Rehm also echoed a concern made by business leaders during the public comment that with the system in place established by HB 38, if it passes, a replacement worker could, after 12 weeks of filling in for the permanent employee, file for unemployment insurance.

Chandler said the replacement employee could be hired as a contract worker. Roybal Caballero said “those things are generally worked out between employee and employer” and that it should be left up to the individual parties to work out those concerns.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the bill sponsors would need to work out the appropriation issues before the bill arrives in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, where it goes next. The bill does not anticipate costs from the state’s general fund but the state’s Fiscal Impact Report estimated that the program would cost the state $111,004.40 by 2024 due to operating costs for the Department of Workforce Solutions and the state’s employee contribution costs to the program.