The state Senate passed the Healthy Workplaces bill 25 to 16 after a lengthy debate that stretched into the early hours of Friday during which Democrats sparred against each other on the chamber floor over the treatment of the bill’s sponsor, while Republicans railed against the bill and one even held a lengthy filibuster.
HB 20 would mandate that all private sector employers provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Private sector employees could accrue up to 64 hours a year of paid sick leave. The bill would not go into effect until July 1, 2022.
Advocates had pushed for mandated paid sick leave for years, including at the local level in Albuquerque.
Bill sponsor and Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, amended the bill to remove public sector employees from the mandate, leaving the bill to apply to private sector employees only. The Senate Judiciary Committee had amended the bill to include public sector employees earlier this week.
Another small amendment meant the bill now must go back to the state House for concurrence. Legislation must pass both chambers with identical language to go to the governor’s desk.
The debate between Stewart and state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, turned acrimonious over a debate on why Stewart wanted to amend the bill to remove public sector employees.
Ivey-Soto asked Stewart why it is important to provide paid leave. Stewart talked about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affected many low wage workers.
“They were all serving us food and a lot of people got sick. The places where people got sick the most are restaurants, bars and big box stores that had so many people in them. We need people to be well at work,” Stewart said.
She also said the amendment which added public sector employees in the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Ivey-Soto is a member, was “designed to kill the bill.”
“That’s what it was designed to do. I hope we’re all being honest,” Stewart said.
To which Ivey-Soto then said he “got a speech not an answer to my question.”
Ivey-Soto continued to repeatedly ask Stewart a hypothetical question about a receptionist who works at a private hospital v. a receptionist who works at a public hospital in an attempt to drive home his belief that the bill should include public sector employees. Stewart read a letter she received from several public sector unions and associations that stated that the Healthy Workplace bill would negatively affect collective bargaining if it included public employees.
At one point, Ivey-Soto quipped, “I feel like I’ve heard that story before.”
State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Democrat from Las Cruces, said that the bill sponsors were “seeking press” but that he believed the bill sponsors would “undo” the bill next year. He then added that the sponsor “is genuinely behind this issue.”
But Ivey-Soto’s repeated questions, often with a tone that led state Sen. Liz Stefanics, D- Los Cerrillos, to interject that Ivey-Soto’s line of questioning was “bullying,” continued after Stewart said she would refuse to recognize him during floor debate.
After Stefanics’ comment, Lt. Governor Howie Morales, who presides over the state Senate, addressed Ivey-Soto’s manner and asked him to calm down and ask his questions “not in an attacking manner.”
Ivey-Soto continued his questions, without answers from Stewart until state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, asked for a ten minute recess, which stretched to nearly 30 minutes.
When the body returned, some Democrats took to the floor to show their support for Stewart and the bill. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said he was “proud to stand with the Pro Tem on this.”
“I apologize to the other members of this chamber how she was treated a while ago,” he said.
Ivey-Soto, for his part, said that he was told the debate was abusive but “that was not my intent.”
Senate Majority Peter Wirth addressed the incident after the vote, at past 2:30 in the morning, and said he was “honored to serve with all of you, but in particular with an amazing group of women who serve in this chamber and who serve in this Legislature.”
“Repeatedly this session, there has been conduct that has crossed the line,” he said. “It has to stop. It’s not acceptable, and it just won’t be tolerated. We’re all better than this.”
State Sen. Harold Pope, a freshman Democrat from Albuquerque, said that he has “seen this as a new Senator. This is something that is not new.”
He also said, “last Tuesday evening I had a discussion with Senator Ivey-Soto about this. And this cannot happen any longer.”
Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, bristled at a mention of “the other side” by another senator.
“This wasn’t a partisan issue,” Baca said. “This was an issue that happened between two people and it had nothing to do with this side.”
Senator Katy Duhigg, another freshman from Albuquerque, mentioned this remark.
“What happened tonight, that might have been one individual acting,” she said. “But let’s not pretend that there’s not an issue with how women are treated in this Legislature.”
Duhigg said she thought “we were better than this.”
“It is an issue and if you’re not feeling it, it’s probably because you’re not a woman. But don’t pretend that it’s not happening and don’t pretend that it’s some partisan BS. Because it’s not. It’s the lived experience of every woman who is serving in this chamber and in the other chamber. And it has to change.”
Morales, a Democrat who formerly served in the Senate, also addressed the remarks, and he implored Senators to treat each other better.
“Every single one of you in this chamber matters,” he said. “Every single one of you in this chamber has value.”
During debate on the amendment to remove public sector employees from the bill, state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, asked Stewart why these employees’ inclusion would “kill the bill.” Stewart said that if public sector employees are added, the bill would have to go to the Senate Finance Committee, where it would not likely pass. She also said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would likely veto the bill if that provision were in place.
Republicans tried to amend the bill three times by trying to add a tax credit, by trying to add a provision that the state would preempt employers, municipalities and counties for requirements in the bill and by trying to exclude part-time and seasonal workers. Stewart said all of these amendments were unfriendly and they failed by majority votes.
Candelaria amended the bill to clear up some language to make it clearer for the courts to understand. Stewart’s amendment also reduced the fines that private employers will incur for noncompliance from $1,000 to $500.
No Republican voted for the legislation, and one—Senator Bill Sharer of Farmington—staged a filibuster for over an hour, beginning shortly after 1 a.m. He spoke about tacos, COVID-19 restrictions and what viewed as a session that passed many bills that are unfriendly to businesses.
Baca appeared to say something to Sharer shortly before the Farmington Senator ended his speech, which he repeatedly said would go until breakfast time, or when the sun rose.