Bills on workers' compensation, regulatory reform, and health insurance highlight accomplishments
The first half of the 2017-2018 session of the New Mexico Legislature ended March 18 with some big victories for small business that NFIB successfully lobbied for. The second half commences Jan. 16, 2018.
- Workers’ compensation legislation often is difficult to craft, understand and pass. This year marked the third try for the bill which addresses past upper-court rulings adversely impacting return-to-work provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque Democrat with strong small-business-family ties, led the campaign on Senate Bill 122. With votes of 32 to 8 in the Senate and 65 to 0 in the House, then signed by the Gov. Susana Martinez, a truly bipartisan effort was realized.
- Regulatory reform also found bipartisan commitment for agency rulemaking requirements in House Bill 58, sponsored by Republican Rep. Nate Gentry with Democrats Reps. Linda Trujillo, Tomas Salazar and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto. HB 58 provides a detailed, uniform process for state agencies to adopt rules that increase transparency, uniformity, and public input. This new law productively reworks the rules of engagement between small business and their regulators.
- As the world of health insurance spins, small businesses often find themselves with few options. House Bill 336, sponsored by Republican Zachary Cook, makes stop-loss more accessible and better facilitates small businesses looking at the option to self-fund health plans like bigger businesses do.
All three of the above bills were signed into law.
Victories by Defeat
Like bad pennies, legislation introduced included raising the minimum wage, increasing income taxes, cutting capital gains deductions, and hindering private sector employer-employee relationships.
- Five bills were introduced to raise the state’s minimum wage, ranging from $15 an hour down to $8.45 an hour with several including annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases to reflect inflation. One of two bills that made it to Governor Martinez’s desk offered a wage rate of $9.25 an hour with no CPI but would have prohibited local governments from enacting laws regulating private sector scheduling of employees. The other bill called for $9 an hour with no CPI and a 60-day, $8 training wage. It gained momentum when several chambers of commerce endorsed it. Governor Martinez held the NFIB line by vetoing both.
- Seven bills asked for an increase in personal income taxes and three cut the current capital gains deduction. NFIB repeatedly testified against such proposals explaining to legislators that small businesses are different from high-wage individuals. Under such proposals, both would be hit with higher taxes. Small business relies on the money left on the table after paying bills, payroll, and taxes, to grow, be competitive, and create jobs.
- Bill titles can make it tough for legislators to oppose, especially ones dealing with employment law. However, it is the content of legislation that can put business owners in legal harm’s way. One bill restricted the ability of employers to ask job applicants to provide credit histories, including for jobs that can entail fiduciary responsibilities. The Senate Judiciary Committee noted its unworkability and tabled it.
- The same was not true with the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Act. While bill advocates did listen to small business’ concerns and made some changes, NFIB’s Legal Center found that it contained a high level of litigation risk for small business. It took the governor’s veto pen to stop it from becoming law.