Democratic lawmakers optimistic about paid family and medical leave in New Mexico
SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s the beginning of a new week at the Roundhouse. State lawmakers hit the ground running, discussing new proposals in committee meetings while also setting the stage for a big debate from last year to make its return.
Democratic state lawmakers say they’ve ironed out all the kinks in their new paid family and medical leave proposal and addressed concerns from the previous versions.
“There is a fear about paid family medical leave, but I want to assure our small businesses that this is a way to keep your doors open,” said state Sen. Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces.
The idea is to guarantee all New Mexico workers up to 12 weeks of paid time off when they need it most – like for maternity leave, family emergencies, and chronic illnesses – even if their employers don’t already offer it.
In the newest version of the proposal, there is also leave for military families.
“We deserve a workforce, we deserve to be in a workforce that can take care of or kids. And then when these health stressors affect us, we are not scared of our economic stability,” said state Rep. Linda Serrato of Santa Fe.
According to the proposal, all New Mexico workers would pay $5 out of every $1,000 in wages to a state fund to pay for the time off.
Employers would only pay $4, but only if they have more than five workers. Supporters say that’s only a third of all businesses statewide.
“This is an opportunity for small businesses to have benefits for their employees to keep them around for years to come,” Hamblen said.
The proposal last year faced intense scrutiny over the finances. A legislative report predicted the state fund would quickly run out of money.
The bill’s sponsors say they’ve added new requirements for the Department of Workforce Solutions to conduct an actuarial analysis before the program takes off, and they’ve given the department more flexibility in managing claims.
“The sponsors feel that it is an important addition to ensure that the state spending is responsible, transparent, and fair for businesses and workers,” said Tracy McDaniel, policy advocate with the Southwest Women’s Law Center.
Supporters noted in a recent poll with more than 300 small businesses, 85% said they want a program like this.
“Not only can we take care of our employees, we can help them be caretakers and help them take care of their families as well,” said Alma Castro, owner of Castro’s Cafe.
Despite interest from small business owners, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce says it does not support the new version of the proposal; however, chamber leaders say they do support a similar initiative from State Rep. Marian Matthews.
“I would say that this new bill is undeniably much better for business, and we are able to support it,” said Bruce Stidworthy, Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce chair.
He’s referencing House Bill 11 – the Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance Act.
Matthews’ version of the proposal still aims to provide a paid time-off program for New Mexico workers; however, it limits time off to just 6 weeks, provides more specific instances when employees can take time off, and streamlines the administrative needs to run the program.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not signaled which version of the program she currently supports.
Both versions of the proposed program – House Bill 6 and House Bill 11 – are expected to be heard in their first committees Wednesday morning.