March 1, 2021

Bill to mandate paid sick leave passes House

After a three-hour debate in the House of Representatives late Sunday, the Healthy Workplaces bill passed 36 to 33 and will head to the Senate.

HB 20 would allow all private employees working in the state to accrue up to eight days of paid sick leave per year. If passed, a full-time employee would have to work close to six weeks before being able to accrue one full day of sick leave, Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said. Chandler is the lead sponsor to the bill.  An employee would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

The debate largely revolved around small businesses in the state. Many Republicans argued this bill would hurt small business owners.

Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, said that “if this passes, small businesses will suffer.”

But Chandler said the state has provided nearly $1 billion in relief for small businesses in the state during the 2021 Legislature.

“I’d like to remind everyone this Legislature has been extraordinarily active to provide support and relief to those hurt by the pandemic,” Chandler said of relief already approved for small businesses in the state.

Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, tried to amend the bill to exempt employers with fewer than 10 employees and provide a tax exemption for companies that hire 11 to 99 employees.

Chandler called the amendment “unfriendly,” and said that such a proposal “essentially places the onus on the state,” due to the tax break for some businesses.

The House rejected the attempt. 

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, who is a co-sponsor on the bill, said the lack of sick leave affects low-income women in her district.

“I’ve heard from single mothers crying and working two jobs at McDonald’s and as janitors and they do not have enough money to pay for essentials,” Roybal Caballero said.

Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, also a co-sponsor to the bill, spoke of the racial and social inequities the COVID-19 pandemic made apparent.

“Many of us knew the inequities existed but now they’ve been amplified,” she said.

Rubio also said that an employee cannot earn the full eight days of paid sick leave until the employee has worked up to 2,000 hours in a year.

Eight Democrats voted against the bill. . All Republicans voted against it.

Chandler introduced an amendment to the bill that cleaned up some language and removed an emergency clause. It also allows an employer to ask for a doctor’s note after two consecutive sick days instead of three.

Many Democrats referred to the bill as “long overdue.”

“This should’ve happened 30 years ago; 50 years ago. The fact that we’re debating it in 2021 is saddening and maddening and embarrassing,” Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, said.