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Possible NM ‘Kendra’s Law’ in the works

Some New Mexico residents with severe mental illness could receive court-ordered outpatient treatment under a new proposal expected to go before lawmakers during the coming session.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said Thursday that the proposed legislation would allow judges in some counties to order patients to take medication and undergo treatment if they are deemed a danger to themselves and their community.

PAPEN: "Like a modified version" of New York law

PAPEN: “Like a modified version” of New York law

Papen said it’s “like a modified version” of New York’s “Kendra’s Law” – a measure that was named after Kendra Webdale, a 32-year-old woman who was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train in 1999 by a man battling untreated schizophrenia.

Papen, who discussed the proposed bill with the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, said the measure would be tailored to the needs of New Mexico and would take civil liberties into consideration.

“We are not going after people with disabilities,” she said. “We are looking to help people who are a danger to themselves and their families, and are noncompliant with their treatment.”

Supporters of the bill say it would help reduce hospitalization and jail costs in the long term. Opponents say it compromises the civil liberties of patients.

New Mexico is one of five states without a law allowing court orders to make mental health outpatients take medications, according to the Arlington, Va.-based Treatment Advocacy Center.

The push for a New Mexico version of Kendra’s Law, which has failed in previous legislative sessions, gained momentum in recent months after the March police shooting death of James Boyd. The 38-year-old homeless camper was fatally shot by Albuquerque police after an hourslong standoff in the Sandia foothills.

Boyd suffered from schizophrenia, authorities said.

Video footage of the shooting sparked protests in the city and eventually led to an FBI investigation.

The U.S. Department of Justice then released a harsh report faulting Albuquerque police on its use of force, especially with suspects battling mental illness. The city and the department recently signed an agreement to overhaul Albuquerque police.

Papen said the intention of the bill is to get those suffering mental illness the help before it leads to violence.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said many of his constituents in his district supported the proposal.

But he was concerned about language on who would refer a patient to the court. “It’s rather vague,” Candelaria said.

Candelaria said he also was concerned about whether the courts had enough resources to handle the cases.