On February 23 and after a 3 hour contentious hearing the NM Senate Finance Committee voted 6 to 5 to approve Senate Bill 11 that will create and fund a new state program that would make payments to employees who take time off for the birth of a child or to attend to serious medical situations for themselves or family members. Senate Bill 11 is fiercely opposed by business groups and Republican legislators who described it as a tax on both workers and employers alike.
Senate Bill 11 is sponsored by Albuquerque area Democrat and Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart. The Senate Finance Committee held a specially convened hearing to hear from members of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Task Force. The task force had representation from advocacy groups, business owners and labor unions that met last summer and issued a final report in October. The task force drafted SB 11.
HOW IT WILL WORK AND FUNDING REQUESTED
The program would, if enacted, provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off for an employee who has a new child, is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking or has a serious medical illness or to care for a family member with a serious medical illness.
Under the SB11 the Department of Workforce Solutions would administer the program. Employees would pay $5 for every $1,000 of income and employers with 5 or more employees would pay $4 for every $1,000 of income into a fund. Starting in 2026 the fund be used to compensate employees who qualify for the paid leave.
Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart said she thinks that over time the Department of Workforce Solutions would likely be able to lower the contributions.
The formula to be paid the benefits is 100% of minimum wage plus 67% of wages above minimum wage. Only minimum wage earners would earn their entire pay during the paid leave. The employee requesting time off would have to show documentation to establish the request for the leave and the Secretary of Workforce Solutions can impose fines on anyone who tries to commit fraudulent claims.
Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart is asking for $36.5 million in nonrecurring funds from the general fund over the next 2 years. Stewart said that the program once it is up and running by January 1, 2026 would begin paying back the state the money and it is expected to take a full 6 years.
Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Sarita Nair said her department supported the bill but said the worst-case scenario would be an “unfunded mandate” by the Legislature.
Stewart sponsored and introduced several amendments at the beginning of the February 23 hearing which she said were based on recent meetings with the business community. One of the amendments cleaned up language to add a definition for Indian Tribes and ensure consistency of that throughout the bill.
Another amendment removed a waiver for businesses that have an equal program to the 12 weeks of paid leave to a waiver for businesses that offer a substantially similar program to the 12 weeks of paid leave.
Stewart also sponsored a changed to the minimum amount of time an employee can take from 4 hours to 8 hours. Stewart said upon completion of an intermittent leave claim, both the Department of Workforce Solutions and the employer would receive a finding and an ending on the claim,
Stewarts amendments passed on a 5-4 party line vote.
Not at all surprising, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee expressed strong objections to SB 11. Republicans expressed concern about small business owners in New Mexico and said this is a “mandate” and that does not need to be imposed.
Farmington Republican State Senator Bill Sharer had this to say:
“[My] real heartburn here, especially as a small business owner myself, is New Mexicans are still struggling. It feels like they just had the snot beat out of them. … We want to be compassionate. … We just don’t want to have our hands tied about how compassionate we have to be.”
Elephant Butte Republican State Senator Crystal Diamond said she feared a kind of reverse discrimination could happen if the bill is enacted. She said she feared employers would not hire women of child-bearing age because the employer would fear the woman would take up to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. Diamond raised a rhetorical question and asked this:
“By law, they [employers] shouldn’t discriminate. But if I’m applying for a job, I’m more of a liability for an employer, for women who’ve worked so hard, we’re creating a setback here. By law [the employer] shouldn’t do that. But clearly I’m more of a liability than Senator Sharer if I’m applying for the same job. Do you see how this creates a form of unintended discrimination?”
Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart Stewart responded to Diamond saying this:
[T]hat’s what’s happening now. Why do we have half of the women of workforce age not working? They have to stay home with babies. They don’t get help from employers. They fire people. They have to quit because they had a C-section and need 6 weeks off, not one or two. I think this helps women more than men actually. It helps businesses because it’s a way to keep employees and not have to pay. It’s an insurance program. It’s a way to keep employees coming back, keep their job and they want to come back because they’re not getting the whole of their salary, only 67% of it.”
Silver City area Democrat Senator Siah Correa Hemphill who voted “YES” referenced her experiences as a mother and said the proposal would help women in particular. Hemphill cited data showing only 53.2% of New Mexico women age 16 and older held jobs over a recent five-year period and said this:
“This bill will protect women in the workplace.”
Last year, New Mexico lawmakers enacted a separate paid sick leave law that also took effect last year. Some business groups said the cumulative effect of the policies could prompt some small employers to leave the state. Terri Cole, the president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce had this to say:
“If you pass this bill, New Mexico will become more corporate and less unique.”
In response to Cole, Senator Stewart said about two-thirds of the state’s roughly 44,000 businesses with more than one employee would not have to pay into the leave fund, though their workers would have to do so.
LEGISLATIVE FINANCE COMMITTEE ANALYSIS SUGGEST $516 MILLION DEFICIT
Opponents of Senate Bill 11 cited a Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) analysis that said the Paid Family and Medical Leave Task Force likely underestimated how many people would file and take paid family leave under the proposed law. The LFC bill analysis projected the fund could face a $516 million deficit by the 2028 budget year. It’s an amount that could cause the state Workforce Solutions Department to order an increase in the premium amount that businesses and employees would have to pay into the fund.
Supporters of Senate Bill 11 insist the bill has been thoroughly vetted and said it could actually help businesses by providing a level playing field across the state. Supporters dispute the LFC analysis saying it relies on U.S. Department of Labor surveys about the federal Family and Medical Leave Act which requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in certain circumstances and not on other states’ experiences with paid family leave laws. Senator Mimi Stewart said this:
“We want employees to want to go back to work. … The “[fiscal impact report] is wrong. … It used an inaccurate study.”
Gallup area State Senator George Muñoz was the sole Democrat to vote against the bill even though he voted against a motion to table the bill. Muñoz said he opposed Senate Bill 11 because the Fiscal Impact Report questions “the solvency of the fund and we need to fix that.”
Senate Bill 11 will now go to the Senate floor for a final vote and if it passes the Senate, it goes onto the House.
Links to quoted and relied upon news sources are here:
Some New Mexico employers already provide paid family leave, and could decide whether to join the state program, as long as they offer similar benefits. Under a 2019 executive order issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham paid family leave is already required of some employers and the list of employers includes the University of New Mexico, Netflix and the state of New Mexico. However, the Governor has not taken a stance on Senate Bill 11 with a spokeswoman saying she was still evaluating the proposal.
COMMITTEE VOTE PROMPTS SENATE FLOOR OUTBURST DELAYING FLOOR PROCEEDINGS
On February 24, Senate Republicans on the Senate floor challenged as inappropriate the manner and method the Senate Finance Committee voted 6 to 5 to approve the Paid Family and Medical Leave SB 11. Pandemic-related rules and the Senate Finance Committee vote on paid family leave bill prompted Senate Republicans to slow virtually all Senate floor proceedings to a crawl. The Republican delay tactics included a 30-minute mini-filibuster by Farmington Republican Senator William Sharer and requests that bills being voted upon be read in their entirety. The reading of pending legislation before a vote is taken is usually “suspended” or waived by a sperate vote so as to save hours of time with the underlining presumption that legislators have already read and understand the legislation they are about to cast their final vote on.
The Republican procedural protests caused Senate Democratic leaders to cut short the day’s planned floor session. It halted action on the 178-page elections reform bill that was on the daily agenda, legislation also strenuously opposed by Republicans so Republican’s were able to delay two major Democrat initiatives with their obstructionist antics.
The Senate floor dispute centered on Republican false accusations that Senate Democrats broke a Senate procedural rule during the February 24 Senate Finance Committee hearing when the final committee vote on the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill was cast via telephone by Senator Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, who is self-isolating at his home because of COVID-19. Under the Senate procedural rule in question, senators who have tested positive for COVID-19 can participate remotely and also vote on bills, but only if they are “visually present” via online technology.
During the committee hearing, Gonzales voted “YES” on the legislation joining 5 other Democrats in voting in support resulting a 6-5 vote after Democrat Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla called him and then held his phone close to a committee microphone to record the vote, but was not visually present on the committee’s webcast. Not once did anyone on the committee even suggest that someone else was on the telephone line nor that they did not recognize the voice.
Senate Republican Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen said on the Senate Floor
“That’s well outside the Senate rules.” Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho for his part self righteously said “We have rules for a reason.” There is also obstruction that goes on for a reason.
Democrats strongly defended the legality of the committee vote. Senate Finance Committee Chairman George Muñoz said Gonzales had been participating in the committee hearing via zoom before encountering technical difficulties while trying to vote.
Republicans argued the bill should be sent back to the committee for another vote, but their attempt to do that was rejected by the entire State Senate on a party-line vote. The Senate vote triggered the requests for bills to be read in their entirety. This led to the Senate’s official reader, Harry Montoya to read aloud much of a 37-page licensing bill before the request was dropped.
The link to the relied upon and quoted news source is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is no getting around it. Republican votes and obstructionist antics to derail the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill and other Democrat legislation go way beyond mere “loyal opposition.” Simply put, when Republicans find themselves on the losing end of a vote, they will go to any lengths to obstruct the business of the majority without seeking any compromise nor concessions.
Democrats and the voting public need to remember that it was Republican Senator William Sharer, R-Farmington who effectively killed the Democrat House sponsored Voting Rights Bill last year with a filibuster on the Senate floor. Last year the Voting Rights bill had the endorsement of Governor Michell Lujan Grisham, Secretary of State Maggie Talouse Oliver and Democratic leadership measure. In order to run out the clock on the 2022 legislative session, Sharer talked about San Juan River fly-fishing, baseball rules, Navajo Code Talkers and the celestial alignment of the sun and moon during his lengthy filler buster on the Senate floor and it worked.
Republican Shaerer and his Republican colleagues are once again doing whatever they can, where ever they can, to stop the passage of Democrat initiatives. Democrat initiatives Republicans oppose this year include the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, this years HB 4 Voting Rights Act and HB 7 the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare Act that prohibit discrimination in reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming healthcare and that prohibits municipalities and counties from passing ordinances that directly or indirectly discriminate against either reproductive and gender-affirming care.
Democrats in the 2023 legislative session hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 edge in the Senate and this year’s session is a 60 day session. With less than 3 weeks left of the 2023 legislative session, Senate and House Democrats need to move as quickly and as aggressively as possible to get a final votes on all of their pending legislation in order to avoid embarrassing Republican filibusters. If not, they will have only themselves to blame.