Legislators celebrated tremendous victories after both Senate Memorial 1 and House Memorial 3 passed in the memorials’ respective committees, which makes New Mexico one step closer to the potential creation of a paid family and medical leave task force. These memorials, which will now move forward in the legislative process, are an effort to support families in the state and help deal with the worker shortage crisis.

If one of the memorials passes to become law, $160,000 would fund a diverse task force that would introduce a paid family and medical leave bill in next year’s legislature.

SM 1 passed in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee with a 6-2 vote on Monday, Feb. 7 and its mirrored bill HM 3 passed through the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee with a 7-2 vote on Tuesday, Feb. 1.

SM 1 is sponsored by Democratic Sens. Mimi Stewart and Siah Correa Hemphill. HM 3 is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Linda Serrato, Christine Chandler and Patricia Roybal Caballero.

Serrato said the task force would help develop legislation that has become more necessary than ever in the lieu of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has never been clearer that we need paid family medical leave to ensure economic stability for New Mexico businesses facing a worker shortage and New Mexican families facing caregiving responsibilities welcoming a new child into their home or facing serious medical conditions,” Serrato said.

During the time allotted for committee members to ask questions on Tuesday, Feb. 1, Rep. Kay Bounkeua, a Democrat, asked sponsors to make sure that the Asian American perspective was also being included in the task force as it is currently not specifically outlined in the memorial.

“I just hope that you would consider adding our Asian perspective to the taskforce knowing that this population is a part of the New Mexico fabric, and (I) hope that their voices are also heard as you craft some of this and figure out the perspectives that are needed for this study,” Bounkeua said.

Many community members and activists also showed up in favor of the legislation on both nights. Last week at the House committee hearing, Jazmin Morriss, a New Mexico science teacher, said the lack of paid family leave affected her own sense of personal security in starting a family.

“I was not expecting to ever have children because my income as a teacher is rather low and the career is very demanding. So I consider to being able to raise a family a luxury,” Morriss said. 

Vic Gomez, a local activist and member of Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ), a group that advocates for workers rights, showed up in support of HM 3 and emphasized that it will help working families in the state. 

“At OLÉ, we stand in favor of House Memorial 3 and view it as a racial justice issue. No one, nobody in New Mexico should have to choose between their job and caring for themselves, a new baby or a family member,” Gomez said. “And yet, that is the choice that workers are facing every day. This disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous and people of color.”

Rep. Rachel Black, a Republican who voted “no” to the proposed memorial during the House committee, said $160,000 would not be enough to fund the task force. During the debate in the Senate, Republican Sen. Gregg Schmedes, who voted against the memorial, said the task force currently devised would be too partisan and not represent the more republican voice that small business owners in the state tend to have.

Others in opposition to the legislation were primarily concerned about how it would affect small businesses in the state that have already been struggling due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A few individuals showed up to the House committee public comment to voice these issues, including Terri Cole, the president and CEO for Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

“We should not consider, let alone adopt, policies that would make it harder and costlier to do business in our state,” Cole said.

In response to these concerns, Serrato and Terrelene Massey, executive director from the Southwest Women and Law Center, said the legislation specifically outlines that the task force will be built up of individuals representing many different interest groups, multiple of whom represent the interests of businesses and commerce.

“We do strongly believe that this is carefully balanced. We have about eight organizations who are advocates. We also have eight representatives for businesses,” Massey said.

HM 3 and SM 1 are both on the calendar to be heard on the House floor and the Senate floor, respectively, before the legislative session ends on Feb. 17.

Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite