Paid leave advocates vow to continue the fight

By | February 27, 2024

Feb. 26—Sheyenne Lacy, a Santa Fe entrepreneur, says she would have liked to see the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act land on the governor’s desk this past legislative session.

Lacy, 27, runs two companies – a fashion design company called LAND + OBJECT and the digital strategy agency HODZA Management – ​​in which she employs contract workers.

Had paid family and medical leave been passed, she said, it would have helped her attract and retain talent for her growing companies. It would also allow Lacy to attract full-time employees and easily bill for costs associated with such a program.

“The climate in New Mexico – when it comes to finding talent and attracting talent, you really have to compete with the labs,” Lacy said. “And unless I offer a really competitive package for high-quality talent, then I just can’t do it.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 3, passed the Senate but failed in the House on a 37-35 vote, with 11 Democrats joining Republicans in opposing it. After years of effort to bring such a program to the state — and almost crossing the finish line during the thirty-day session — a new failure has left the bill’s supporters wondering why it isn’t on the desk of the governor has been sentenced. It has also inspired them to keep fighting by trying to convince companies of the benefits of such a program and advancing legislation during next year’s 60-day session.

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill in that chamber, told The New Mexican last week that other states that have implemented paid leave programs — a program that allows workers to take longer days off for medical issues, the birth of a baby child or caring for a sick loved one – did this with bipartisan support. But she said this year’s session proved that Republicans, especially those in the House of Representatives, “made it their mission to kill this bill.”

“It’s very frustrating to have a party that seemingly doesn’t want to care for families, and for women having babies and for caregivers for serious medical problems. It’s just beyond all boundaries,” she said. “The two rooms – [the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and New Mexico Chamber of Commerce] – both shouted from the mountain tops that companies don’t want this. That is not the case.”

Other supporters of the bill, including the Southwest Women’s Law Center, say some of the failures to pass the bill this year may be the result of disinformation campaigns.

Tracy McDaniel, an advocate for the center’s policy, said critics pointed out that employers must pay a person’s wage replacement while he or she is on leave, and said the program would have created a human resources nightmare for companies, especially small businesses.

But that’s not the case, McDaniel said. She said the failed legislation called for workers to pay about $5 for every $1,000 in wages and employers $4 for every $1,000.

“When someone is on leave, they receive money from the Department of Workforce Solutions – the paid sick leave fund for families – and that employer doesn’t pay that employee a dime during that period, giving them a salary savings of . .. [hire] a temporary worker, paying overtime for an employee or what most people in other states do is just reinvest that in other ways,” McDaniel said.

When it comes to human resources, she said, “the Department of Workforce Solutions is responsible for processing all the claims and reviewing the forms and doing all the verifications and all that stuff, and the individual employers are not responsible for that.” process.”

Awesta Sarkash, director of public policy for the Small Business Majority’s work in New Mexico, agrees. She says there were many misconceptions about how the program works and pointed to a survey by the Washington, D.C.-based organization that found about 85% of 305 companies surveyed supported paid family and medical leave.

“There was strong sentiment and a lot of legislative and business support for this,” she said.

But Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, disagrees with the idea that his organization has misrepresented anything. He told The New Mexican that there were important policy differences, such as over how the law should treat Medicaid contractors who are paid at a flat rate. He said it wasn’t until the legislation reached the House floor, when an amendment was introduced, that proponents of SB 3 recognized that “that was a real problem.”

“They have had years to adjust their plan so that there is no impact on Medicaid-based businesses, such as Early Childhood [and] senior centers,” he said. “That’s a key part of their bill that would undermine the social safety net industries that care for New Mexico’s most vulnerable.”

Black, whose organization supported a more limited form of paid family and medical leave proposed in this year’s House Bill 11, added that the Small Business Majority survey did not accurately reflect the number of small business owners who vote Republican. Just over 20% of business owners who responded to the survey considered themselves strongly Republican or some variation of leaning Republican.

“[They are] that survey gives a completely wrong picture of the population,” he said. “I think you have to be a little careful with people throwing around that we’re the ones misrepresenting the facts.”

Regardless, SB 3 proponents say they will continue pushing legislation for the 2025 session. That means continuing to educate business owners about a paid family and medical leave program in the meantime.

“It traditionally takes about six years to pass a piece of legislation,” said Santa Fe City Councilwoman Alma Castro, owner of Café Castro, “so I am prepared to fight for this piece of legislation for years to come.”

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