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Sen. Papen battled for NM’s vulnerable residents

THROUGHOUT HER years of public service, Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen has been a tireless champion for New Mexican families and their loved ones with mental illness, her own family and grandson among them.

She could be counted on to sponsor legislation to improve the lives of those with mental illness, such as establishing assisted outpatient treatment as an alternative to hospitalization and incarceration.

In 2016, she sponsored legislation to limit the use of confined isolation by correctional institutions for inmates with serious mental illness and to require private prisons to report settlements with inmates. In 2019, she succeeded in passing legislation to make behavioral health clinics owned by local governments eligible for behavioral health capital funding.

Papen has also been an advocate for adults and children with developmental disabilities, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and fought to reduce health care disparities for minority and rural communities.

She sponsored legislation to provide funding for the Special Olympics; school-based behavioral health programs; autism research, testing, training and intervention programs; youth suicide prevention, bullying and substance abuse programs; community-based rural behavioral health services; and child care services for homeless children. Of note, in 2017 she sponsored and succeeded in passing legislation that lengthened the time that victims of childhood sexual abuse had to bring claims against their abusers.

Supporting the development of the state’s health care workforce was a frequent subject of bills she sponsored, in particular NMSU’s nursing and psychiatric mental health nursing program. She also proposed funding for medical students attending New Mexico post-secondary institutions who promised to remain in New Mexico to practice medicine.

In 2019, she was successful in passing the Safe Harbor for Nurses Act that protects a nurse from retaliation by the nurse’s employer if the nurse, in good faith, rejects an assignment under certain circumstances.

After the suspension of the majority of the state’s behavioral health providers in 2013 and resulting major disruption of the state’s behavioral health services, Papen was steadfast in demanding a full and fair investigation of those accused….

Papen was, if nothing else, patient when it came to the legislative process, and she took the long view. If one of her bills didn’t pass the first time around, she nevertheless persisted in reintroducing it in subsequent legislative sessions until it did.

In short, when it came to causes that she believed in, she was not a quitter. When her term is over (in December), the Legislature will be losing a trusted and powerful voice for vulnerable New Mexicans, their families and communities. Her boots will be hard to fill.