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Business leaders oppose paid leave bill

Some of New Mexico’s prominent business leaders – including some in eastern New Mexico -- still oppose a bill that would provide employees with paid leave for self or family medical needs. That’s despite lawmakers’ efforts to make it more palatable this legislative session.

“I’m working on our legislative priorities sheet today,” said Portales Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karl Terry on Monday.

“Opposing paid family medical leave will be at the top unless it’s greatly different from last year. I haven’t heard of any great compromise.”

Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, the bill sponsor, said it adds wage caps and requires an actuarial study, which previous versions did not do. This proposal also exempts businesses with fewer than five employees.

“So we’ve adjusted some for the very small businesses in the state,” she said.

However, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce still oppose the bill.

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce outlined its concerns to the bill shortly after lawmakers pre-filed it. Board Chairman Bruce Stidworthy said Chamber worries are the same as the last legislative session, revolving around the amount of leave, who is eligible for it and reasons employees can take leave.

“There has been really no flexibility on those most important dimensions, last year or between last year and this year,” he said.

Under the bill, employees would get paid time off up to 12 weeks for self or family medical purposes, including for serious medical conditions, bonding with a child, demands related to military deployment, bereavement following the death of a child, and in response to domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse and stalking.

Taking the leave, employees would be paid 100% of minimum wage plus 67% of wages above that. Someone making $13, which is a dollar above minimum wage, would get $12.67 per hour.

Employees would pay 0.5% of their wages per year into the fund, and businesses with five or more employees would contribute 0.4% of wages.

Employees would start contributing to the state-managed fund in January 2026 and could apply for the leave starting January 2027.

Employees’ fund contribution increases, which the state would set for the following calendar year, could not exceed 0.1% of wages in a year. There’s also a wage cap established by the federal Social Security Administration program.

Tracy McDaniel, a policy expert with Southwest Women’s Law Center and an expert witness on the bill, noted that leave requires a professional sign-off, such as from a medical professional or military officer. That official also specifies how much time is needed, she said.

“This isn’t just like calling in sick,” she said. “This really is you have to show proof that you have one of those specific causes for leave.”

It would be up to the Department of Workforce Solutions, not the employer, to grant the leave, she said.

Chandler said the bill will make small businesses more competitive with large businesses, many of which already offer these types of leave programs.

“Small businesses don’t have the resources to be able to provide a similar sort of insurance program or even really bear the cost of the person’s wages while they’re out bonding with their child or addressing a serious illness,” she said. “So the state is providing a support for those businesses.”

She said 13 states that already have similar plans are proof of the bill’s benefits.

“Businesses have been successful as a result of these programs, not hampered by them,” she said.

Megan Gleason of the Albuquerque Journal and David Stevens of The News contributed to this report.

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