Monday, February 19, 2024

Picking Up The Pieces: Progressives Plan Another Play For Family Leave Act; Talk Of Compromise Also Surfaces As Speaker Defends Calling Doomed Bill To Floor  

Speaker Martinez (Moore, Journal)
The House defeat of the paid family and medical leave act on the next to last day of the legislative session startled the Roundhouse and handed House Speaker Javier Martinez his first big defeat. Now progressives are trying to pick up the pieces. 

The bill went down when conservative Democrats formed a coalition with Republicans and carried the day 36 to 34, but in a post session interview with us the Speaker dismissed this speculation heard here last Thursday that he was outmaneuvered:

The blame game started immediately with some Roundhouse Wall-Leaners telling us they blame the lobbyist who helped persuade Speaker Martinez to bring the act to a floor vote. He reportedly was uncertain but was assured the votes were there. They weren't and his speakership suffered its first major blow as a result. 

Martinez shot back :

I put the paid family leave bill on the floor because it deserved a floor hearing and debate, and while there were other tough bills that I could have brought to the floor on the final day, I prioritized family medical leave because it's been a long time in coming. I knew there was an even chance of it going either way.

Martinez also pushed back against the theory that he wanted a floor vote to "get on the record" those Democrats who were in opposition:

I didn't put that bill on the floor simply to "get people on the record." That's not how I operate.

Martinez said the 2025 session could be the one where the bill, which provides up to 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave for employees, could meet with success. The measure easily passed the Senate this session but then fell victim to coalition politics. Says Martinez: 

I liken this to the long battle over the constitutional amendment to allow us to increase the funding we take from the Land Grant Permanent Fund and deploy it for early childhood education. This is taking a while but I firmly believe it will happen. 

Meanwhile, those not quite as confident as the Speaker are talking of a possible compromise in the  aftermath of the defeat. For example, having the paid leave first apply only to mothers-to-be. 

They would get the 12 weeks of paid leave without a tax on employers or employees--as the defeated bill called for--but would instead have the leave financed with child care assistance funds already available to households with incomes at 400 percent of the poverty level or $120,000 a year for a family of four. 

The argument is that the state is awash in child care funds and fast tracking paid medical leave for pregnant women would be readily accepted by the House. They also say this would set up a future scenario where coverage could gradually be extended to others.

Like any compromise this one is going to leave proponents sour but it is out there.

As for the Speaker, the defeat of paid leave was his first major setback since taking over at the 2023 session. He will live to fight another day.


Karen Wentworth of the League of Women Voters comes with this tidbit that might have influenced the opposition to the paid leave act: 

Joe, this act was also frightening to cities and counties. Bernalillo County put a family leave act in place a couple of years ago to attract new employees and then they tracked what happened. In FY22, employees of the Metropolitan Detention Center took 134,000 hours of family leave. Because MDC is a 24/7 operation, other employees had to be paid overtime to take up the slack. It cost Bernalillo County $1.8 million dollars. The county didn’t oppose the act, but they did ask to be exempted from it. They want to be able to make adjustments in the future. 

This is the Home of New Mexico Politics.  

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