After another lengthy and contentious debate around, the Healthy Workplaces, HB 20, bill passed the House Judiciary Committee along party lines. With a vote of 7 to 4, the Healthy Workplaces bill will now move to the House . All of the Republicans in the committee opposed the bill and provided lengthy debate around it.
Members of the business community also spoke in opposition to the bill during public comment while workers stood in support, telling stories of going in to work with COVID-19 during the pandemic due to a lack of sick leave policy provided by their employers. Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, said he heard repeatedly that businesses weren’t able to participate in the crafting of the bill but said many businesses don’t provide sick leave so “it’s up to us legislators…to take care of people who work for business.”
“We should have had a sick leave policy 15 years ago,” Alcon said. Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said that a person his wife hires to pet sit the family dog on occasion will, because of the bill’s language, be able to accrue sick leave and call in sick.
A bill to increase the penalties for human trafficking and expand protections to victims of the crime advanced out of the House of Representatives Monday with a nearly unanimous vote. HB 56 passed 63 to 3 and now heads to the Senate. Sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque and of the Acoma Pueblo, the bill increases the penalty for human trafficking from a third degree penalty to a second degree penalty for perpetrators if their victims are 18 or older. For human trafficking crimes that involve a victim under the age of 18, the penalty for the perpetrator would be increased to a first degree penalty. Louis said human trafficking is not limited to one type of victim.
The Paid Family and Medical Leave bill passed the House Judiciary Committee along party lines in an 8 to 2 vote Saturday. HB 38, sponsored by House Representatives Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos and Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, was amended by committee to clean up some of the language. The amendment also exempted railroad employees because of a federal law and inserted language that would prevent counties and municipalities from enacting their own paid family and medical leave ordinances, Chandler said. Chandler said she had many meetings with the business community and chambers of commerce to understand their concerns about the bill and the amendment reflected those conversations. Despite that, many business groups spoke in opposition to the bill during public comment.
A bill that would, if it becomes law, provide earned sick leave for employees in the state passed along party lines in the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday. The bill passed 5 to 3 with one Democrat absent during the vote. The committee substitute for HB 20, known as the Healthy Workplace Act, was not available online as of Thursday night. Last week, two paid sick leave bills, HB 20 and HB 37 were both heard together in the same committee. At the end of a lengthy debate and considerable public testimony around the bill last week, committee chair Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, sent the sponsors of the two bills to roll them into one piece of legislation.
After four hours of testimony on two bills that address paid sick leave, House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs asked the sponsors of both bills to work to roll them into one. The two bills, HB 20 and HB 37, both mandate that employers in the state offer paid sick leave that employees would accrue over a 12-month period, but HB 20 would establish a tiered system of paid time off based on the amount of workers an employer has. For example, employees at a business or organization with fewer than 10 workers would be allowed to earn up to 40 hours of earned sick leave. But employees who work for an employer with 10 or more workers could accrue up to 64 hours of earned sick leave within a 12-month timeframe. State Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Las Alamos, is the lead sponsor of HB 20.
A bill to create paid family and medical leave for all employees in the state is slated to be filed in January. The bill would allow employees to take up to 12 weeks per year of paid leave for a serious medical issue, bringing home a new child or to care for a family member with a serious medical issue. The effort is not new. State Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Las Alamos, sponsored similar bills in 2019 and 2020 and will be the lead sponsor on the upcoming 2021 bill. HB 16 never went to committee in 2020.
Albuquerque resident Iman Andrade got worried when the pandemic began in mid-March. She delivered pizzas for a living earlier this year and the staff making and delivering the pizzas make minimum wage. They came in sick because they had to, she said. “My experience as a worker, as a driver, you don’t get paid enough to get to call into work sick. In the middle of the pandemic, it’s dangerous.
Comments and questions raised on Tuesday during an interim legislative tax policy committee point towards lengthy debates on recreational cannabis legalization in the upcoming legislative session in January.
Richard Anklam, the president and executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, told lawmakers that states that were early in legalizing recreational-use cannabis like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have seen significant tax revenue increases in the past several years. Anklam, using a study from the Tax Foundation, a national think tank, said New Mexico could see roughly $70 million in excise taxes, before factoring in gross receipts taxes, if the state legalizes cannabis for recreational use.
While not as common, Anklam said some states who have recently legalized recreational-use cannabis have developed tax models based on potency instead of by volume of what is sold. He said, the potential increase in tax revenue may not become the state’s saving grace, but that it would make a significant impact.
“What’s the marijuana market worth? It’s worth a lot,” Anklam said. “Most states can’t fund highly significant portions of their government with it, but every little bit helps.”
Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Ultra Health, a New Mexico medical cannabis production company, told lawmakers that despite the large amounts of possible tax money going to the state, current restrictions on cannabis production would not be conducive to a cannabis boom.
Rodriguez has long been a vocal critic of the state’s Department of Health’s restrictions on how many plants producers can grow.
With the coronavirus continuing to spread, some say the crisis emphasizes the need for paid time off for health emergencies in New Mexico. So far, there are no known positive cases of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, in New Mexico, according to state Department of Health spokesman David Morgan. Jodi McGinnis Porter, director of communications for the New Mexico Human Services Department, said that as of the end of Sunday, 57 people in New Mexico tested for the virus and all tests were negative. But the state health department said last week that the agency anticipates positive tests at some point. Every state surrounding New Mexico has had at least one test positive case and there are hundreds of confirmed cases nationwide.
The financial toll of the growing spread of the coronavirus is still not clear, but the Dow Jones dropped 2,000 points Monday and the price of oil dropped to $30.24 a barrel according to MarketWatch.com.
In the years between 1956 and 1972, thousands of kilograms of chemical called hexavalent chromium was released into a canyon near Los Alamos. Some of the contaminant filtered through the soils of the area and was consequently converted to trivalent chromium, a far less dangerous iteration of the chemical. But at least 2,000 kg of hexavalent chromium has remained in the environment, moving through the canyonlands that surround Los Alamos for decades. Today, the contamination is settled atop an aquifer in a plume, and the chemical is now present within the first 100 feet of the water table in the area of the plume. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) have been working to contain the plume since 2005, while officials decide on how best to clean up the contamination.