Albuquerque voters shouldn’t expect to see the proposed sick-leave initiative when they head to the polls this year.
In a packed courtroom Monday, state District Judge Alan Malott refused to order the proposed ordinance onto this year’s general-election ballot.
He also ruled that when the initiative does go to voters – presumably next year – it must be published in its entirety on the ballot, not presented as a summary.
Malott’s decision came less than 24 hours before Bernalillo County must send this year’s ballot to the printer. It’s due at 5 p.m. today.
Outside the courthouse, supporters of the sick-leave initiative said they were disappointed in the ruling but haven’t decided yet to whether to appeal. It isn’t unusual for ballot disputes to end up before the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The proposed ordinance would require employers in Albuquerque, regardless of size, to allow their workers to earn paid sick time off. It would apply to full-time, part-time and temporary workers at any business with a physical presence in Albuquerque.
Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, part of a coalition opposing the proposal, said the judge’s decision “is a victory for all of us.”
“Small businesses have a chance to explain to the public what this measure will do; the proponents get their vote in 2017; and the citizens get maximum transparency with the full text on the ballot,” she said in a written statement.
Cole and other opponents say the proposal is more complicated than it sounds and that it could force small companies out of business because of increased costs and onerous record-keeping requirements.
Supporters said they believe voters are entitled to consider the ordinance this year. Its passage, they say, would ensure that workers don’t have to choose between their paycheck and caring for themselves or a loved one.
Martha Gamboa, who works in a sales job that doesn’t offer paid sick leave, said the ordinance would mean she doesn’t have to go to work sick. She and other supporters of the proposal addressed reporters outside the county courthouse in Downtown Albuquerque.
“I live on a tight budget where every cent counts,” Gamboa said.
The sick-leave ordinance is the result of a summertime petition drive. Supporters gathered enough signatures to trigger a City Charter provision that requires the proposal to go before voters in the next general or municipal election.
But a legal fight erupted over whether a summary or the full text of the proposal must go to voters – and whether the county government, which oversees general elections, had to put it on this year’s ballot.
The Nov. 8 ballot has room only for a summary of the measure, not the full seven-page ordinance, and the County Commission decided against putting it on the ballot.
Attorneys for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed a lawsuit last week arguing that the city and county had a duty to put a summary of the ordinance on this year’s ballot.
Elizabeth Wagoner, representing the Center on Law and Poverty, told Malott on Monday that city and county officials are “playing politics” with the initiative simply because they don’t like it. The governments are grasping at unreasonable “technicalities” as an excuse to keep the proposal off the ballot, she said.
“The people of Albuquerque have a right to vote on this,” Wagoner said.
Malott said he didn’t necessarily disagree that politics are at play. But he said he focused his decision on the legal merits of each side’s case.
The City Charter, he said, requires the entire ordinance to go on the ballot. He cited a charter provision that says the ballot should contain “the proposed measure as originally submitted.”
And Malott wasn’t convinced that the county had a mandatory duty to send the question to voters this year. The City Charter, of course, governs the city government, not the county, he said.
So without county approval, the proposal must go to voters in the next city election, scheduled for October 2017.
Supporters of the measure include OLÉ New Mexico, the SouthWest Organizing Project, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos.
Opponents include the New Mexico Restaurant Association, Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry and NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association.
By: Dan McKay (Albuquerque Journal)
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