The state Senate passed the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill that would enable employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off for health emergencies and certain other claims.
SB 11, sponsored primarily by Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, seeks to allow an employee to take paid time off for a major health issue, to care for a family member with a major health issue, to care for a new child and in the event of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault.
The bill passed the Senate on a 23 to 15 vote.
The state Department of Workforce Solutions would administer the program. Employees would pay $5 for every $1,000 of income and employers with five or more employees would pay $4 for every $1,000 of income. When taking the paid leave, the employee who makes more than minimum wage would not receive their entire salary but a percentage of it. Stewart said this creates an incentive for the employee to get healthy and get back to work as quickly as possible.
Stewart said DWS would administer the program and that it would be up and running by January 1, 2026. The legislature has heard the bill in previous years and the January 1, 2026 start time was a concession in this bill to give the department ample time to ramp up the program.
The bill requests $36.5 million from the general fund in non recurring funds to begin the program but the program is expected to pay back the general fund by 2032. Once the program is up and running and is able to pay the general fund back the $36.5 million, Stewart predicts that the Department of Workforce Solutions will be able to lower the $5 per employee and $4 per employer contribution rate.
Stewart said much of the $36.5 million would go to creating an IT system for the Department of Workforce Solutions to help them administer the program.
The Senate debate ran for more than three hours with considerable debate from Republicans who all voted against the bill and argued it would be detrimental to small businesses in New Mexico.
State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, is a cosponsor on the bill. Padilla, who is a business owner, said he got involved on the bill so he could be a voice for the business community. Padilla said the bill would bring 47,000 workers into the workforce if enacted.
“It’ll expand payrolls, a stronger economy, reduce turnover costs, improve morale, employees will take fewer sick days and it will bring mothers back into the workforce. It’s an affordable program,” he said.
Several Democrats stood in support of the bill. State Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, noted that this year is the 30th anniversary of the federal family medical leave act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993.
That program, however, provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees who work for businesses with 50 or more employees.
Correa Hemphill said this bill would help families in rural communities where individuals sometimes have to drive long distances to see a specialist.
State Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española, said “no one should have to sacrifice economic security to balance the demands of work and health,” he said.
Not all Democrats supported the bill. State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, voted against the bill and also asked Stewart if the fund would remain solvent, based on the Fiscal Impact Report’s findings. The FIR analysis identified potential fund insolvency risk.
Stewart disagreed with the FIR’s analysis and said “we have used a lot of data.”
She said the Bureau of Business and Economic Research did its own risk analysis and the Paid Family and Medical Leave Task Force also researched the other 11 states and the District of Columbia where paid family and medical leave programs have already been implemented.
She said the FIR data “had nothing to do with New Mexico” and said the BBER anticipates about 30,000 to 35,000 claims a year.
State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, voted for the bill, but brought up language in the bill that he said would lead to litigation. He said “the act applies to employers not physically in this state,” and cited employees in his district who might commute to El Paso to work.
Stewart clarified and said the bill language is about employees who work in the state for out-of-state employers, such as large corporations based elsewhere.
Republicans maintained that the bill would hurt small and medium-sized companies, particularly those operated by local entreprenuers.
“A medium-sized business like ours, it’s especially difficult,” state Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said.
“I don’t know how a small business in New Mexico can do it. Only large corporations can do it with sophisticated H.R. departments. They can transfer resources, move employees. Being able to do this for a small employer is incredibly difficult,” Moores said.
State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, went around the Senate floor calling on mostly Republicans, but also Muñoz, who own small businesses and asked them if their businesses would suffer but while they all agreed the bill would be harmful, they also reflected on moments when they gave their employees large amounts of time off for health emergencies.
“They don’t need the government to force them to do this,” Brandt said.
Stewart has said in the past that the bill will primarily help women who have children. State Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, and also a cosponsor, said research shows that having a paid family and medical leave policy improves child well being and relieves family stress that often leads to adverse childhood experiences. New Mexico ranks high in Adverse Childhood Experiences, which are traumatic events that happen before the age of 18 which increases the risk for substance abuse and poverty.
Several amendments were introduced and two were accepted. Duhigg amended the bill to change some language to ensure that individuals could not “double dip” by applying for both worker’s compensation and also paid family and medical leave.
That amendment passed 25-to-5.
State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, introduced an amendment that would enable the employer to know the amount of time an employee would require leave, provided by a medical provider. The Senate adopted it by voice vote.
State Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, introduced amendments to try to reduce the amount of time of paid leave an employee could take, to reduce the number of employers who would have to opt in and to make the program optional for employers. Stewart said making the program optional and reducing the number of employers who would participate would render the fund insolvent.
Reducing the amount of time an employee could take would “hurt the people who need it,” Duhigg said. That amendment failed by a 20-to-13 vote.
Sharer’s amendment to allow businesses to opt in to the program failed 23-to-12. His amendment to change the threshold for employers who must comply from those with five or more employees to those with 50 or more employees also failed 22-to-15.
The bill heads to the House next.