Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, appeared to have the momentum to pass this year but like last year, it failed in the House process. Last year, the House Commerce and Economic […]

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session.

SB 3, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, appeared to have the momentum to pass this year but like last year, it failed in the House process. Last year, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee tabled the effort after it passed the Senate floor. This year, the bill bypassed that committee and made the House floor, but the chamber narrowly tabled it, as well, by a vote of 34 to 36.

Related: Paid Family Medical Leave bill dies in the final days of the session for a second year in a row

Martinez said that Chandler “did an amazing job” of working with both advocates and representatives of industry who opposed the bill and that by the time the bill reached the House floor it was a “good compromise.”

One of the bill sponsors, state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, called it a “uniquely New Mexico” bill because of the compromises made on the bill. 

The number of compromises included reducing the amount of paid leave time workers could take for both safe leave, in the event of domestic or sexual violence, and medical leave, in the event of a significant medical diagnosis, of up to nine weeks until 2029. 

But after a two-hour debate around an amendment spearheaded by state Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, that created a carve out for organizations with contracts with the state for both Medicaid reimbursements for personal services and for early childcare, some Democrats sided with Republicans to vote against the amendment and shortly afterward, against the bill. 

In all, 11 House Democrats voted to table the bill.

Organizations that rely on Medicaid reimbursements to provide services for the elderly or individuals with disabilities opposed the efforts to get the bill passed both this year and last year because they operate on very slim margins. The bill would have required employers to pay a 0.4 percent premium on employee wages. 

The amendment was intended to buy time for the state to improve Medicaid reimbursement rates so that the organizations with state contracts could have time to see adjustments made. The House tabled the amendment.

Bill Jordan, interim co-director and government relations officer for New Mexico Voices for Children, said his organization is “deeply disappointed” in the vote that happened on the House floor on Wednesday.

He said New Mexico is now a leader in investing in children getting a healthy start in life. 

“That’s why we’re so incredibly disappointed so many lawmakers voted against parents bonding with their newborns,” Jordan said. 

The bill, if it had passed, would have allowed up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to welcome a new child. 

Martinez said legislators will have to “go back to the drawing board and figure out what are the other areas that need to be tweaked in order to get this all across the finish line.”

During the debate on the House floor, there were concerns about the term “personal services,” written into the amendment, that it did not meet the federal definition for some who work in industries that receive Medicaid reimbursements. Some lawmakers also expressed worry that too much was being left to rule making instead of being put into statute. Some appeared frustrated that the carve out would apply to certain industries but not to others.

A group that represents small businesses said through a news release that 85 percent of small businesses in New Mexico support a state-run paid family and medical leave program. 

“This is a step backward from efforts to level the playing field for our state’s job creators. When implemented in other states, paid family and medical leave programs have proven successful,” Awesta Sarkash, Small Business Majority public policy director said through a news release.

Martinez said that this is what happens with bills that contain “big ideas.”

“You are undoubtedly going to have people across the political spectrum who are going to have some concerns right now. Some of those concerns may be technical in nature,” he said. 

A coalition of advocacy groups echoed Martinez’s sentiment that PFML will return to a future legislature. Terrelene Massey, Diné, and executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said through a news release that they “remain steadfast in our commitment to advocating for paid family and medical leave and we will not rest until every New Mexican has access to this crucial support.”

Reporter Nicole Maxwell contributed to this story.

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