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New Mexico Senate passes version of 'Kendra's law'

Law would require some residents with severe mental illness to get court-ordered treatment

A year after a similar bill died amid partisan bickering, the New Mexico Senate passed a proposal Friday that would require some state residents with severe mental illness to receive court-ordered outpatient treatment.

The Democratic-led Senate voted 29-9 to approve a bill that orders some patients to participate in assisted outpatient treatment if the court finds that the patients are a danger to themselves and others.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said the measure was "like a modified version" of New York's Kendra's law. Papen said the bill was tailored to the needs of New Mexico and took civil liberties into consideration.

That measure 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.

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.

"This is the Legislature's way of making itself feel better that we are not fully funding mental health services," said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.

New Mexico is one of five states without a law allowing court orders to make mental health outpatients take medications, according to the Arlington, Virginia-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 following the March 2014 police shooting death of James Boyd. The 38-year-old homeless camper was fatally shot by Albuquerque police after a long standoff in the Sandia foothills.

Boyd had been suffering from schizophrenia, authorities said.

Video footage of the shooting sparked angry 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.

Republican Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has been one of the bill's strongest supporters and has urged lawmakers to help cities with large homeless populations with members suffering from mental illness.


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