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Paid family and medical leave bill moves ahead in the Roundhouse

Alice Fordham
Via nmlegis.gov

House Bill 6, which would provide up to 12 weeks paid medical and family leave to most employees, moved ahead in the legislature on Jan. 24 despite Republican lawmakers' concerns about the impact on employers.

Democratic lawmakers told the House Health and Human Services Committee that they have been working on versions of this bill for years. They said they had paid close attention to the 13 states, including Colorado, and Washington DC, which have already enacted mandatory paid leave programs.

This bill would create a state fund that employers and employees would pay into. After an application process managed by the Department of Workforce Solutions, employees would be paid at least a portion of their salaries while on leave.

Rep. Jenifer Jones (R-Doña Ana) said her constituents had many misgivings.

"I've been told by numerous businesses that if we pass this, that there is a good chance that they will close their doors," she said.

She added she was concerned that the bill was broad and vague, for instance allowing people to take leave to care not just for family members but for non-relatives that they're close to.

"Basically, anyone who has an affinity for someone can take advantage of this," she said.

She said, too, that clauses allowing people to take leave for psychological problems, or because they or someone close to them was dealing with domestic violence or sexual assault were too broad.

Expert witness Tracy McDaniel of the Southwestern Women's Law Center pointed out that small businesses will not contribute to the fund and 66% of businesses in the state have fewer than five employees.

"Which means that 66% of employers in this state will not be paying $1 into this program," she said.

Bill sponsors Representatives Linda Serrato (D-Santa Fe) and Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos) said that on a million-dollar payroll, a company would pay out about $4,000 a year, while an employee who makes the median household income of $54,000 would contribute $218 a year. And that the administrative burden would fall on the Department of Workforce Solutions rather than the employer.

McDaniel pointed to analysis cited by the nonprofit the National Partnership for Women and Families predicting what would happen if women participated in New Mexico's workforce at the same rate as in countries with robust paid family leave

"We'd have 47,000 more workers available for work in the state of New Mexico, and an additional $1.4 billion in wages," she said.

The bill passed the committee by a 6 to 3 vote along party lines and is set to head to the House Commerce & Economic Development committee.

A mirror bill has been introduced in the Senate, Senate Bill 3, and is due to be heard on Jan. 25 in the Senate Tax, Business & Transportation Committee.

Another bill proposing similar paid leave, sponsored by Rep. Marian Matthews (D-Bernalillo), but structured differently, was due to be debated. But the committee adjourned before reaching it.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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