March 20, 2021

Paid sick leave bill heads to Guv’s desk

The House voted 41 to 26 to agree with Senate changes to the paid sick leave bill on the final morning of the Legislature on Saturday.  

HB 20, whose lead sponsor was Rep. Christine Chandler, a Democrat from Los Alamos, would mandate that all private employers provide up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year for employees. Private sector employees would accrue one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign the bill.

Getting HB 20 to final passage was called “one of the most difficult lifts this session,” by Rep. Susan Herrara, D-Embudo. The debate around HB 20, mostly entailed concerns about the business community’s, particularly small businesses, ability to absorb the cost. But there were also concerns expressed by Republicans and some moderate Democrats that the bill should include public sector employees. This led to a highly contentious debate on the Senate floor between Democrats in the early hours of Friday morning. State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, of Albuquerque, questioned Senate sponsor and Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, also a Democrat from Albuquerque, in a manner that another senator called “bullying.” When Ivey-Soto continued, the Senate recessed for nearly 30 minutes before returning to a respectful line of questioning. Some Senators later spoke of how women in the Legislature have been treated this session by Ivey-Soto and others.

Related: Paid sick leave passes Senate after lengthy, acrimonious debate including a filibuster

HB 20 was debated on the House floor earlier this month when the House passed it. The debate Saturday morning was strictly over the Senate’s amendments, which changed the bill to include reducing the penalties an employer would incur for noncompliance from $1,000 to $500. The date in which the bill will go into effect was delayed to July 1, 2022. Chandler said this was to give businesses time to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to prepare for the new policy.

Additional changes to the bill include removing the clause that provided for up to 80 additional hours of paid sick leave in the event of another public health emergency. Companies that have more generous paid time off policies would be deemed in compliance with the bill. Also, employers do not have to pay for sick leave documentation due to Senate amendments.

During the concurrence process Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, tried to revisit the debate around state employees. Chandler clarified more than once that the bill had already been debated in two House committees and on the House floor earlier in the legislative session, and during the concurrence process, the debate was restricted to the other chamber’s amendments to the bill.

“I cannot tell you why the Senate did not amend the bill to include state government employees,” Chandler said.

During the Senate debate in the early hours of Friday morning, Stewart said that the bill was not designed to include public employees and amending the bill to include them would “kill the bill.” Including state employees would send the bill to the Senate Finance Committee for an appropriation with only 24 hours to go before the session’s end, could interfere with union agreements and cause Lujan Grisham to likely veto the bill.

Many reproductive justice organizations consider the passage of HB 20 to be one of the highlights of the 2021 Legislative session. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called HB 20 passage “absolutely critical.”

“I’m thrilled Paid Sick Leave had a pass to victory,” Rushforth said.