March 16, 2021

Paid Sick Leave bill passes Senate Judiciary by slim margin

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After a lengthy debate around some of the language and regulatory details of the Healthy Workplaces bill, the Senate Judiciary passed the paid sick leave proposal on a 5 to 4 vote.

HB 20 would enable all private employees to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year with an effective date of July 1, 2022. Earlier this week, the day before it was expected to be heard on the Senate floor, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, pulled the bill and asked that it be assigned to his Senate Judiciary Committee for an amendment. Cervantes said he wanted to strike a section of the bill that stated its purpose, which the committee did so through an amendment.

Republicans also added an amendment. State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, amended the bill three times to include government employees under the bill’s provisions, define “independent contractor” and to strike a provision of the bill that allowed private sector employees to be eligible for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave in the event of a future public health emergency declaration.

Lead sponsor and Democrat Representative Christine Chandler of Los Alamos described the amendment to include government employees into the bill’s provisions as “unfriendly” but the topic engendered lively debate about “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” among the committee members. That amendment ultimately passed with Democrats Cervantes and Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque voting in favor of it, along with the three Republicans on the committee.

Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supported the bill and would sign it “if it passed the way it is,” before the Senate Judiciary began amending it.

The committee also debated at length one of the main issues that has dogged the bill as it has traveled through committee hearings and chamber floor debates, which is its effects on small businesses. State Sen. Katy Duhigg, of Albuquerque, asked Chandler how many businesses in New Mexico have 15 or fewer employees.

Chandler said she did not have that inventory but she said that 80 percent of New Mexico businesses contain 20 or fewer employees. To eliminate small businesses with 15 or fewer employees from the bill’s provisions “would affect an extremely large number of workers,” Chandler said.

“Let’s say you’re an employee in a business where there are 10 employees, you still need to take sick leave to protect the public and others if you worked for a business with 25 workers. An artificial delineation doesn’t promote healthy workplaces; it’s undermining the public policy that is embedded in this bill,” Chandler said.

Ivey-Soto said he found the bill “very problematic,” and wanted the Senate Judiciary Committee to rewrite the bill overnight to mirror the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for things such as the birth of a child or a serious medical issue. Ivey-Soto said that as part of the rewrite, he would exempt small businesses with 15 or fewer employees.

Chandler said it was not “a workable solution for the employees of New Mexico.”

The bill passed by a slim margin with Ivey-Soto voting against it along with all three Republicans on the committee. Cervantes broke the tie by voting in favor but only after extracting a promise from sponsors that they would leave the committee’s amendments in place.

Rep. Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque, both Democrats, said they would as a way to move the bill along. Chandler said she agreed.

”I can commit that we will not try to amend the bill and will encourage others to not amend the bill,” she said.