2023 NM Legislative Update: Senate Passed Family Medical Leave Act Killed In NM House Committee; Voting Bill Rights Act Passes Both House And Senate; Goes To Governor For Signature; Time Has Run Out On Major Legislation Stuck In Committees With 4 Days Left In Session
On March 13, and with a mere 5 days left in the 2023 legislative session, two major bills met their final fate in the New Mexico House of Representatives. The bill killed in committee was the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act family and the bill passed by the full House was the Voting Rights Act.
SENATE PASSED FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE ACT KILLED IN HOUSE COMMITEE
On March 13, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 6-5 to table Senate Bill 11 known as the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. Senate Bill 11 had already passed the Senate.
Senate passage of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act resulted in a strong, organized onslaught of opposition from business owners and organizations and was fiercely opposed by Republican legislators who described it as a tax on both workers and employers alike. Several days of negotiations between bill supporters and skeptics failed to produce a compromise both sides could accept.
The House Committee vote blocks the bill from advancing any further in the House thereby effectively killing it.
HOW IT WOULD HAVE WORKED
Senate Bill 11 was written by a task force featuring advocacy groups, business owners and labor union representatives that met last summer and issued a final report in October.
The program if enacted would have provided 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. The Department of Workforce Solutions would have administered 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. Businesses with fewer than five employees would be exempted. About two-thirds of the state’s roughly 44,000 businesses with more than one employee would not have to pay into the fund, though their employees would be required to do so. Starting in 2026 the fund be used to compensate employees who qualify for the paid leave.
The formula to be paid the benefits would have been 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. $36.5 million in nonrecurring funds from the general fund over the next 2 years would have been provided. Once the program was up and running by January 1, 2026, it would begin paying back the state the money and it was expected to take a full 6 years.
ATTEMPT TO SALVAGE
Opponents of Senate Bill 11 said it was too broad and too burdensome on small business and questioned whether a state fund that would be created to make leave payments could end up facing insolvency in future years.
Sponsors and supporters of Senate Bill 11 did attempt to rescue it from defeat by meeting with opponents and agreeing to several changes before the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee met. The concessions included clarifying that paid leave would be calculated over a rolling 12-month period and not a calendar year and limiting the size of annual adjustments for employer contributions into the fund. Bill sponsors rejected the far-reaching changes of allowing businesses to opt in to the paid leave program.
The concessions did not satisfy opposition concerns. Republican Rio Rancho Representative Joshua Hernandez said during the committee hearing:
“This is just not enough to make this [bill] palatable.”
Representative Hernandez and other opponents argued the bill would be another body blow for employers, after the COVID-19 pandemic, a paid sick leave mandate on private employers that the legislature enacted last year and now in effect and the increase to the state’s $12 per hour minimum wage.
TWO DEMOCRATS JOIN REPUBLICANS TO VOTE NO
What came as a surprise to some was that 2 Democrats joined the 4 Republicans on the committee to vote to table the measure
Albuquerque North East Heights area Democrat Representative Marian Matthews said she received phone calls from hundreds of people about the bill. It was Matthews who cast the deciding vote to table the measure after meeting with bill sponsors over the last several days. Mathews said this:
“This was a one-size-fits all approach. … It didn’t feel right for New Mexico.”
The other Democrat who join with the 4 Republicans to table the measure Gallup Representative Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who said of the bill:
“It’s not ready for prime time.”
Santa Fe Democrat Representative Linda Serrato said after the vote:
“It deserves to be voted on. … My goal is that this coalition keeps growing and growing.”
Allen Sánchez, president St. Joseph’s Children Hospital, which operates the states largest home-visiting program said sees first hand the need for paid family medical leave. Sánchez sad this after the vote:
“We have recently heard legislators talk about protecting women of color [but] the tabling of [Senate Bill 11] lets down women and infants. … We assure you, we’ll be back [next year].”
NEW MEXICO VOTING RIGHTS ACT PASSES AS DID PROTECTIONS FOR ELECTION WORKERS
Last year during the 2022 legislative session, a short 30 day session, the Voting Rights Bill failed in the Senate after passage in the House despite endorsement from Governor Michell Lujan Grisham, Secretary of State Maggie Talouse Oliver and Democratic leadership. It was Republican Senator William Sharer, R-Farmington, who effectively killed the measure last year with a filibuster on the Senate floor.
This year, New Mexico House voted 42 to 25 to enact House Bill 4, the Voting Rights Act and to concur with the Senate’s amendments to the bill. The voting Rights bill is now forwarded to the to Gover Michelle Lujan Grisham where she expected to sign it.
The enacted Voting Rights Act does the following:
Phases in a system of automatic voter registration, such as during MVD transactions, for citizens who are qualified to vote but aren’t registered and provided enhancements to voter registration systems and voter data privacy.
Creates a permanent absentee voter list. Voters will have the option of opting in to receive ballots by mail before every election rather than having to apply each time.
Provides for automatic restoration of voting rights for inmates exiting prison. Under the current system, they must complete probation or parole before registering to vote again. There are 21 states that automatically restore voting rights after incarceration. Another 16, including New Mexico, require someone convicted of a felony to complete their entire sentence, including probation and parole, before registering to vote.
Establishes a Native American Voting Rights Act intended to better coordinate access to the polls on tribal land and allow the use of tribal buildings as a voter-registration address for people without a traditional address.
Calls for election day as a school holiday.
The House also passed Senate Bill 43 a bill to protect election workers with broad partisan support which would make intimidation of election officials and workers a fourth-degree felony, is also headed to the governor’s desk.
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COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The 60-day legislative session ends March 18. Democrats in the 2023 legislative session hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 in the Senate. Given the fact that there is a mere 4 days left in the 2023 legislative session, time has run out on passage of other significant legislation, especially all the gun control measures, as legislators are now forced to move more aggressively to complete their work. Expect Republicans to rely on the filibuster in the last few days to kill Democrat initiatives remaining to run out the clock and the Democrats have only themselves to blame given their majorities in both chambers.
Links to related news coverage are here:
Committee tables Paid Family and Medical Leave bill, likely ending bill’s hopes this year