Judge Rules Earned Sick Days Ordinance Must Appear on 2017 Ballot

Illegal “Advisory Question” Stricken

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Yesterday, in a victory for advocates of earned sick leave, the Honorable Judge Alan Malott reaffirmed his prior ruling that the Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance must appear on the 2017 municipal election ballot. He also struck an illegal “advisory question” related to sick leave from the ballot, ruling that it employs “semantically loaded terms” and “is an inappropriate attempt to inject political advocacy onto the ballot and into the election process.”

The earned sick leave ballot initiative, if passed, would give workers the right to earn sick leave to recover from illness or care for ill family members. Local community organizations have been working to educate the public on the earned sick leave initiative since last summer, when over 24,000 voters in Albuquerque signed the petition in support of it.

Recently, advocates filed an emergency motion in district court asking Judge Malott to order the City to administer a fair election on the Healthy Workforce Ordinance after Mayor Berry and the City Council removed the summary from the ballot, added an illegal advisory question on sick leave to confuse voters, and insisted that the ballot be printed in difficult-to-read 7-point font.

Yesterday’s ruling handed a major victory to the advocates, by removing the illegal advisory question and ordering other protections to ensure voters can read their ballots. The City of Albuquerque must now provide samples of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance in at least 12-point type at polling places, and must provide a specific number of magnifying devices at each polling place so that voters can read their ballots.

“This ruling protects our democracy in Albuquerque. There will be nothing on the ballot to confuse voters about how to find the Healthy Workforce Ordinance and vote on it,” said Kiana Tavakoli, a member of OLÉ. “Although we think the best solution is to print a summary of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance on the ballot, this ruling will at least force the City of Albuquerque to provide magnifying glasses and print the Healthy Workforce Ordinance in a voter supplement large enough that people can read it.”

The Healthy Workforce ABQ Ordinance can be read online here: https://healthyworkforceabq.org/full-language-of-ordinance/

Voters living within the city limits of Albuquerque will have a chance to vote for the Healthy Workforce Ordinance on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. Its full text will appear on the back of the ballot under the heading “Proposed Ordinance.” Early voting starts September 13 and ends September 29.

What You Can Do to Stop the ACA Repeal

While efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) briefly stalled last week, the Senate still plans to strip healthcare from millions of Americans and make disastrous cuts to Medicaid.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to vote to move forward with repeal as early as TODAY!

This past Thursday, Senate Republicans released a revised version of their bill – the Better Care Reconciliation Act. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this revised version would still take away healthcare coverage from 22 million Americans, slash federal Medicaid funding, raise the price of private insurance, and gut consumer protections.

If that option wasn’t bad enough, the Senate is also considering another proposal that would repeal the ACA and delay the development of a replacement plan for two years. This would strip healthcare coverage from up to 32 million Americans, make even larger cuts to Medicaid funding, end financial assistance that helps make private insurance more affordable, and eliminate critical consumer protections.

Regardless of which plan is voted upon, the results would be devastating for New Mexico.

  • New Mexicans Will Lose Healthcare Coverage – Every proposal to this point would end Medicaid expansion, jeopardizing the healthcare coverage of over 260,000 New Mexicans.
  • Drastic Cuts to Medicaid Funding – The Senate plans cut federal Medicaid funding by $770-$840 billion over the next decade. This will force New Mexico to have to raise revenue just to maintain current Medicaid levels or cut eligibility and benefits.
  • Consumer Protections are Eliminated – States will be allowed to opt-out of covering “essential health benefits” (prescriptions, maternity and newborn care, and mental healthcare).

Please call and urge your networks to contact the Senators below and tell them to stop with their efforts to repeal the ACA.

• Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) – (202) 224-4521
• Senator John McCain (AZ) – (202) 224-2235
• Senator Cory Gardner (CO) – (202) 224-5941
• Senator Dean Heller (NV) – (202) 224-6244
• Senator Mike Lee (UT) – (202) 224-5444

City Ordered to Make Public Mock-Up of Illegible Ballot

Employees Say Families Need Fair Election on Earned Sick Days Question

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Alan Malott ordered the City of Albuquerque to hand over the mock 2017 municipal ballot to members of the Healthy Workforce ABQ campaign, which advocates for the passage of an ordinance that would allow all Albuquerque workers to earn sick leave. The judge also ordered the Albuquerque City Clerk to testify at a deposition about how the City will fit all required issues, contests, and questions on the 2017 ballot.

In its lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque, the campaign argues that because the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance will only fit on the ballot in an illegible and illegally-small font size — approximately 6-point font — the City Clerk should place a legible summary on the ballot and provide a legible, large-text copy of the full ordinance in each voting booth so that voters can read both documents.The City’s uses the same practice for bond questions.

“I’m legally blind and have to cast my ballot in a special voting machine that has long lines. Small font on the ballot will mean more people will have to make use of the limited machines that help visually-impaired people read their ballots,” said Jerry C De Baca, veteran and voter.

According to federal voting systems guidelines adopted in Section 1-9-14 of the New Mexico Election Code, election ballots must be printed at a minimum of 8.5 point font or larger to ensure that voters with poor vision can read their ballots. In their demand for a copy of the City’s mock-up ballot, Healthy Workforce argued that it will show that the earned sick days ordinance can only fit on the ballot in in a font size well below 8.5, in violation of law.

“Everyone deserves a fair election. Voters will be frustrated and discouraged from voting because the election ballot will be printed too small for voters to read,” said Diane Goldfarb of the League of Women Voters.

“A lot of voters will see that small font and skip right over it,” said Becca Arana, a member of OLÉ. “A ballot printed too small to read can determine whether hard-working moms and dads get a fair election, or not, on allowing employees to earn sick days.”

Albuquerque City Clerk, Natalie Howard, was also ordered to testify in a deposition about whether she can fit the Healthy Workforce Ordinance on the ballot in legible type alongside all the other issues that voters will decide in 2017, including the mayoral race, city council races, and bond questions.

Judge Malott did not rule on the font size question or issue any final rulings today. The plaintiffs plan to seek a final ruling soon after the City produces all of the information the Court ordered it to produce today, to ensure the people of ABQ will have a chance to vote a ballot they can read in October.

 

 

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Judge Holds NM Human Services Chief in Contempt

human-services-departmentOriginally published in the Albuquerque Journal September 28, 2016
https://www.abqjournal.com/854783/judge-finds-contempt-in-hsd-legal-case.html

SANTA FE – A federal judge held New Mexico’s top human services official in contempt Tuesday for failing to comply with court orders aimed at improving the administration of food aid and Medicaid health care benefits.

The contempt order against Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest by U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales upheld findings that the cabinet secretary did not diligently attempt to comply with court orders concerning the handling of Medicaid benefit renewals, eligibility for immigrants, training for agency employees and other administrative requirements.

The judge, in his Tuesday order, also said objections filed by the agency were without merit and that the overall direction of the case was troubling.

“It remains clear that HSD and its officials have failed to exercise the leadership, control and managerial oversight to effectively come into compliance with the court orders,” Gonzales wrote.

However, a spokesman for the Human Services Department, which runs the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, took issue with at least part of the judge’s order.

“We strongly disagree with the judge’s characterization of the department, which doesn’t take into account all of our efforts to resolve long-standing issues – some of which are three decades old and occurred under several administrations,” HSD spokesman Kyler Nerison said. “However, we are pleased that the court has agreed with us to bring in an outside monitor to help resolve those issues.”

“Regardless, we are going to continue providing services to New Mexicans who need it the most,” he added.

The contempt finding accompanies the judge’s earlier approval of plans for a court-appointed special master to help ensure federally funded benefits are administered properly amid internal investigations by state and federal agencies into allegations that food aid applications were falsified.

The civil contempt order carries no additional sanctions or penalties.

Sovereign Hager, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and advocate for aid beneficiaries in the litigation, said the order sends a strong message nonetheless.

“I think this is a message that if things don’t work out with a special master and the state doesn’t come into compliance, the court will look to harsher remedies,” she said.

New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, and there were more than 536,000 New Mexicans receiving food assistance benefits under SNAP, which was formerly known as food stamps, as of July, according to HSD. That figure was up by more than 7 percent – or nearly 36,000 people – from a year earlier.

The judge’s contempt order is the latest twist in a 1988 lawsuit. Earlier this year, a series of hearings were conducted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza, who had been tasked with monitoring compliance with a consent decree in the lawsuit and previous court orders.

Those hearings showed potential problems with the SNAP program, including testimony that state intake workers had been ordered to falsify income for some applicants, effectively denying them emergency benefits.

The testimony prompted criticism of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration by top legislative Democrats and party officials, including a call from Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the chairman of the interim Health and Human Services Committee, for Earnest to resign.

Earnest took over as HSD secretary – after Martinez picked him for the job – in December 2014 after the agency’s former secretary stepped down.

Read the Order from Judge Gonzales here.