House committee advances Paid Family and Medical Leave

The Paid Family and Medical Leave bill passed the House Health and Human Services Committee on a party-line vote Wednesday. The committee passed the 2024 Paid Family and Medical Leave bill, HB 6, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, on a 6-3 vote, with Democrats voting in support and Republicans opposing. The bill […]

House committee advances Paid Family and Medical Leave

The Paid Family and Medical Leave bill passed the House Health and Human Services Committee on a party-line vote Wednesday.

The committee passed the 2024 Paid Family and Medical Leave bill, HB 6, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, on a 6-3 vote, with Democrats voting in support and Republicans opposing.

The bill would create a program that would enable an employee to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off for welcoming a new child, to respond to a serious medical condition, to care for a family member with a serious medical condition, or to recover from domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault or abuse. When an employee would need the time off, the employee would notify the employer, then notify the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, which would manage the fund and process the employee’s request.

Both employees and employers, with some exceptions, contribute to the state-managed fund.

Employers with fewer than five employees could opt out of contributing into the fund. For employers that do contribute, the amount would be 0.4 percent, or $4 for every $1,000. For employees, the contribution would be 0.5 percent, which would amount to no more than $843 per year. An exception would be made for employees who earn $168,000, who can opt out of the program. 

When taking paid leave, the employee would have to show documentation to prove the leave is necessary. In addition, only employees who earn minimum wage would be able to collect 100 percent of their salaries. Employees who earn more than minimum wage would collect 100 percent of minimum wage plus 67 percent of their wages above minimum wage.

Another change to the bill this year is that the sponsors included family members of military service workers who are deployed to another base. The family member could take leave to help with  the relocation.

The three Republicans on the committee questioned several points about the bill, with one of the primary themes to their questions being that there would be workers who would take advantage of the paid leave. But state Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, said she didn’t agree with letting something that would help the greater good be a victim to a few bad actors.

“There’s a chance people will cheat. But we shouldn’t prevent 99.5 percent of the people to have a benefit to punish the 0.5 percent,” Thomson said.

Another concern the three Republicans who sit on the HHSC had was that it would hurt small businesses and that it would hurt farmers and ranchers who cannot easily replace a field worker for up to 12 weeks.

But state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, a bill cosponsor, said a worker has to have worked for the past six months to qualify over a 12-month period. 

Chandler said she believed the paid time off would mean that the worker would return to the job and would be retained for a longer period because studies show that paid time off for a major life event, such as a health emergency, leads to better employee satisfaction. 

State Rep. Jenifer Jones, R-Deming, said she didn’t believe the sponsors of the bill had listened to her constituents in her district, which is comprised of voters in the southwest corner of the state. She also took exception to the definition of who could take time off because the bill states that someone who has “an affinity to” another could take paid time off to care for that person in the event of a serious medical condition or other life event such as welcoming a new child.

Serrato said the phrasing is common in a lot of other statutes passed by other states and that it exists in the federal paid family and medical leave law.

“You’re not there for a vacation. You don’t just bathe someone or wipe someone unless you’re close to that someone,” Serrato said. 

The LGBTQ community supports the bill because of the broad way the bill defines the term “family.”

A competing bill, called the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act, sponsored by state Rep. Marion Mathews, D-Albuquerque, was rolled over at the end of the Wednesday hearing to be heard at the next HHHS Committee hearing. Mathews made the decisive vote last year that killed the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill during the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee after it passed both Senate committees and the Senate floor.

The bill heads next to the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

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