The Senate Finance Committee passed a bill to provide paid leave for workers for medical reasons by a 6-5 vote on Saturday.
SB 3, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would, if enacted, provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for all employees in the state in the event of a new child, in the event of a severe medical condition or to care for a loved one with a severe medical condition. It also includes a provision for the families of military personnel to take time off in the event of a relocation.
The state budget currently includes an appropriation of $36 million, which will get the state fund started, if the bill is enacted. After a year of rule-making, employees and employers would pay premiums into the fund for a year before the program would take applications for paid leave starting July 1, 2027. Stewart projects that the fund would be able to pay back the appropriation of $36 million by 2032.
Under the bill, employees with fewer than five employees would not pay the premium but all employees will pay 0.5 percent upon wages into the state fund. Employers with five or more employees would pay 0.4 percent of wages into the fund. Organizations that have a comparable program can opt out.
Employees who are paid minimum wage would receive 100 percent of their wages when taking paid leave but employees earning more than that would earn 100 percent of minimum wage and 67 percent of their wages after that. Stewart said that was intentional to encourage workers to get back to work as soon as they could.
State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, asked about nonprofits who earn what he called a fixed income from Medicaid reimbursement rates. He said he was concerned about how a nonprofit disability service provider would manage the 0.4 percent on wages the employer would pay into the program.
Stewart said Medicaid reimbursement rates are going up and that those fixed-income issues would be worked out during rulemaking. The state Department of Workforce Solutions would have a year to create rules around the legislation and will have an advisory board with an expert on benefits and leave as well as a small business representative on the board if the bill is enacted.
Senate Finance Chair George Muñoz, D-Gallup, argued that employees would rather have the money in their paychecks rather than the time off, if the bill is enacted. He expressed concern about being able to replace a skilled worker in Gallup if an employee takes paid leave. He said it is really difficult to start a business and that the first few years can be very unstable. He also said there will be wage inflation for the next few years and that as wages rise, so will prices.
Stewart said that for an employee who makes minimum wage, the premium paid into the state fund for the program will be less than $100 a year and for minimum wage employees the premium will be $124 a year.
“Basically, two bucks a week,” she said.
Muñoz said there are people in Gallup who sell goods by the side of the road and that he employs an elderly man who does odd jobs for him.
“Making $100 a week makes a difference,” Muñoz said.
Stewart introduced an amendment at the start of the hearing to clean up some language in the bill. That amendment passed by a vote of 8-3. An effort to table the bill failed by a 6-5 vote. During that vote, Muñoz sided with Republicans to table it.
State Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, made a motion to have a committee report sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This caused some concern over whether that was a valid motion. A representative from the Legislative Council appeared before the committee to say that it was a valid motion and the committee could recommend the bill be referred to another committee.
Sharer’s motion failed on a 6-5 vote, with Muñoz also siding with Republicans to send the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Tax, Business and Transportation has already heard the bill and passed it and it heads next to the Senate floor. The more committees that hear a bill, especially this late in the legislative session, the smaller the chance the bill will pass.
Muñoz also sided with Republicans against the passage of the bill.