Lawmakers debate paid family and medical leave in New Mexico
SANTA FE, N.M. — The House Health and Human Services Committee was planning to tackle two paid family and medical leave proposals Wednesday, but they only had time for one.
House Bill 6 is an updated version of the paid family and medical leave proposal from last year. It would guarantee all New Mexico workers up to 12 weeks of paid time off when they need it most – after the birth or adoption of a new child, the death of a child, dealing with serious medical issues, recovering from domestic violence, or preparing for military leave.
The bill includes lots of qualifying situations – way more than other states, according to a legislative report.
All New Mexico workers and employers with more than five workers would be required to pay a small amount of money into a state fund which would be used to compensate the workers on leave.
The bill’s sponsors say a program like this would allow an estimated 22,000 workers to re-enter the workforce, while also giving small businesses the ability to compete with larger ones that already offer those benefits.
“I often hear from employers, and that was in the presentations from the public, that I can’t afford to have these people leave. Well, they will be leaving. So if they are seriously ill, or if they have a child, or if they have loved ones who are seriously ill, this bill provides a support for their employees so that they’re more likely to return to work,” said state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos.
Just like last year’s proposal, there are many burning questions – like how many New Mexicans will actually use this program? How will fund contributions be collected? And how should the Department of Workforce Solutions handle fraudulent claims?
The bill’s sponsors say a lot of that can be figured out in the rulemaking process, but Republican lawmakers argued it’s still a big ask for businesses.
“I’ve been told by numerous businesses that if we pass this, that there is a good chance that they will close the doors,” said state Rep. Jenifer Jones, who represents Deming, Lordsbug, and Hatch.
Many business groups and organizations echoed those concerns Wednesday. They told lawmakers they support the idea of paid leave, but can’t support HB 6.
That’s where House Bill 11 comes in. It’s a very similar proposal from fellow Democratic state Rep. Marian Matthews, but with a narrower approach.
Matthews’ paid family and medical leave proposal only allows up to six weeks of paid time off. Workers can only take time off to deal with serious medical conditions or after the birth or adoption of a new child. In this proposal, only employees would pay into the state fund – not employers.
A new state board inside the Department of Workforce Solutions would manage the program, and it also includes guidelines for investigating fraudulent claims. Business leaders say that is something they can support.
“The amount of leave granted, is more manageable for small businesses, in terms of maintaining the business and production capacity if you will,” said Bruce Stidworthy, chair for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
A legislative report noted this new version would still require a major staffing boost at the Department of Workforce Solutions, and there’s still questions on how many New Mexicans would use the program.
The House Health and Human Services Committee approved the first proposal, HB 6, along party lines Wednesday morning. They are expected to take a look at the second proposal, HB 11, later this week.