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House rejects paid family and medical leave


A guarantee of paid family and medical leave for New Mexico workers died on Wednesday by a single vote.

After just over three hours of debate, the House of Representatives voted 34-36 on Senate Bill 3. Eleven Democrats joined with every Republican to vote against the bill that passed the Senate chamber 25-15 on Feb. 9.

Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos) carried the proposal in the House. She said it would have created a benefits program which would have supported parents, working families, people with sick relatives and small business owners.

The bill would have made small businesses more competitive with larger ones, she said, and would attract more people into the workforce.

Co-sponsor Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, said SB 3 would have brought more people into New Mexico’s workforce including chronically ill people, result in workers taking fewer sick days, and protect the economy during COVID surges.

“Paid family and medical leave is a proven way to get more of our workforce back,” Serrato said.

Another co-sponsor Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said people across New Mexico have countless stories about having to choose between taking time off to care for their sick relatives or losing wages or their jobs altogether.

The Paid Family and Medical Leave Act would have created a fund overseen by the state Department of Workforce Solutions, financed by contributions from companies and workers based on wages.

Workers would have paid $5 for every $1,000 in earnings, companies would have paid $4 for every $1,000 in wages.

Minimum wage workers would have had their entire paychecks covered while on leave, and people making more would have received two-thirds of their paychecks.

When it passed the Senate, Sen. George Muñoz was the only Democrat to vote against the proposal.


Concessions to business

Opponents argued the bill would have been bad for small businesses.

“We all know small business owners — they’re our friends or our neighbors — a lot of them don’t pay attention to what we do here in the Legislature,” Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, said. “And I’d hate to be near those people when they find out this is implemented.”

Rep. Alan Martinez, R-Bernalillo, said business owners in his district would love to provide family and medical leave to their workers “but they’re not willing to pay an additional tax.”

He said he was getting phone calls and text messages from businesses inside and out of his district opposing the bill.

“Good business owners are going to take care of their employees because they see them as family,” Martinez said. “They want to do this on their own, they’re willing to do it, and many of them do it already.”

The proposal has been amended numerous times over the years and during this session in response to feedback from business owners, Chandler said.

One such change after discussions with the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Insurer Association, Chandler said, would have required the state to study whether the fund would have received more money than it would have paid out.

Another concession to business would have preempted local governments from creating their own rules around family and medical leave, she said.

Companies already providing “substantially similar to or greater” than the benefits provided by the bill could have applied to opt out.

Self-employed workers, tribes and Pueblos could have opted into the program.

Companies with fewer than four employees would not have had to pay into the fund, although their workers would. That would’ve left 66% of New Mexico businesses not having to pay into the fund but their workers would have benefitted, Chandler said.

To qualify, a worker would have had to have paid into the fund for six months and would have to have been working for their employer for six months. They would have had to have given their boss 20 days’ notice with an exception for emergencies.


Home health and child care would have been included

Most of the debate on the House floor on Wednesday centered not on the bill itself but on an amendment introduced by Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque.

Dixon’s amendment would have exempted leave for time off work until 2029 for more than 1,000 employers in the home health care and child care industry whose bottom lines depend on reimbursements from Medicaid, and who say they couldn’t afford to spend more on providing leave to their roughly 10,000 workers.

Serrato said the amendment was “friendly,” meaning the sponsors weren’t opposed to it. The amendment still failed, also in a 34-36 vote.

  • Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico


How local reps voted

SB 3 passed the New Mexico Senate on Feb. 9 on a 25-15 vote, with the support of every Democrat except for Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. Voting in the affirmative were Sens. Joseph Cervantes, Carrie Hamblen, Bill Soules and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces; and Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City, all Democrats. Sen. Crystal Brantley, R-Elephant Butte, voted nay.

In the House vote on Feb. 14, eleven Democrats joined Republicans in voting SB 3 down, 34-36. Local Democratic representatives split in their support while Republicans reliably voted it down.

Voting in support were Reps. Joanne Ferrary, Doreen Gallegos, Angelica Rubio and Nathan Small of Las Cruces, plus Micaela Lara Cadena of Mesilla.

Among the no votes were Democratic Reps. Tara Jaramillo of Socorro; Raymundo Lara of Chamberino; and Willie Madrid of Chaparral. Republicans Jenifer Jones of Deming and Luis Terrazas of Santa Clara also voted no.

Las Cruces Bulletin

Family Medical Leave, Senate Bill 3, NM Legislature