March 14, 2023

Committee tables Paid Family and Medical Leave bill, likely ending bill’s hopes this year

A House committee tabled a bill that would provide paid family and medical leave to workers statewide by a vote of 6-4 in the final week of the session, likely ending its ability to pass this Legislative session

The vote to table the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act was bipartisan, with some Democrats voting alongside Republicans to table the bill.

SB 11, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would have appropriated $36.5 million from the general fund to establish a program which would have allowed workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave from work for a new child or a serious medical condition. The opposition’s primary concern was that it would be too much of a burden on small business owners. There were also questions about the program’s ability to remain solvent.

The bill’s Fiscal Impact Report states that the fund administered by the state would become insolvent by 2028. The bill sponsors and bill experts have maintained that the FIR relied on incorrect data and that the fund would not only remain solvent but within six years of its initiation would be able to pay back the general fund the $36.5 million the bill appropriated to start up the program.

The University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research, which studied the program, estimated that 35,126 yearly claims would likely be made while the LFC estimated the yearly claims would be 87,125. The larger number of claims constitutes the difference in why the FIR found that the fund would not be solvent by 2028.

Serrato said “we’ve seen it succeed in other states.”

There are 11 other states that have implemented a similar program.

State Rep. Marion Matthews, D-Albuquerque, who voted to table the bill, called the program an “unfunded mandate” on childcare workers and nonprofits who have contracts with the state.

State Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, who presented the bill, said the Legislature is passing a bill that will decrease Gross Receipts Tax for early childcare facilities and that the reduction in GRT would offset the costs this program would incur those businesses.

Matthews also had concerns about public schools and firefighters, which have employee ratio mandates. 

Stewart said those employees are getting sick now and the employers are “dealing with it.”

The bill underwent a three-hour debate on Friday that ended with Serrato agreeing to amend the bill over the weekend and present it again the next time the committee met. Matthews spoke at length at the previous committee hearing about the bill, criticizing it by saying small business owners are “workers as much as anybody,” and also questioning the solvency of the fund the Department of Workforce Solution would be administering.

But when Serrato presented the amended bill on Monday, state Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said, as she listed the new amendments, “this does not meet what my expectation was.” Lundstrom also voted to table the bill.

The amendments defined terms such as “medical provider” and also tried to address questions about the fund’s solvency by capping how much the Department of Workforce Solutions could raise the contributions. 

Matthews said she was a part of the negotiations over the weekend to amend the bill but she said the bill sponsors rejected some of the efforts to amend the bill further.

“For ages, businesses have worked it out. We heard testimony from small businesses working with their employees on issues, not because of law, but out of respect and support for one another,” she said.

Stewart said this bill would enable all business owners the ability to provide paid time off, not just the business owners who can afford to do so.