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THURS: NM governor shares draft proposal for forced mental health treatment, + More

The New Mexico Legislature on June 26, 2024 in Santa Fe.
Austin Fisher
Source New Mexico
More details are emerging about the changes to state law being proposed by New Mexico’s governor for a special legislative session planned in July.

NM governor shares draft proposal for forced mental health treatment - by Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

More details are emerging about the changes to state law being proposed by New Mexico’s governor for a special legislative session planned in July.

Two high-ranking members of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s staff discussed five legislative proposals with a panel of lawmakers from the House of Representative and the Senate on Wednesday afternoon.

“What the governor is looking to do with the bills I’m going to discuss, first, is to really take some small, necessary steps to really help those people who are either an extreme danger to themselves, or an extreme danger to others,” the governor’s general counsel Holly Agajanian said.

Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) said the governor’s previously proposed overhaul of “assisted outpatient treatment” is no longer part of her agenda in July. What will be heard then will be a “pared down” version, Agajanian said. That bigger rewrite would have expanded the list of people who could petition the courts for a civil commitment.

“The governor hears what you’re saying. It’s too much to do in a special session,” she told him. “I think what we’re going to do instead is just focus on the people that are more marginal at this juncture.”

Agajanian and Benjamin Baker, the governor’s senior public safety advisor, presented the discussion drafts to the legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee.

The final proposals could significantly change between now and when the special session begins on July 18 in Santa Fe.

The “assisted outpatient treatment” proposal that the committee heard on Wednesday would require judges in some circumstances to advise a local district attorney in New Mexico to consider starting the process of involuntary commitment in a locked mental health facility.

Under the nine-page draft shared with the committee, the court could confine someone for up to a week whenever they determine that person is not competent to participate in their own legal defense, they aren’t dangerous, and the judge dismisses the criminal case.

The draft also proposes that if any of the criminal charges are a serious violent offense, or involve a gun, or if the defendant has been found incompetent to stand trial at least twice in the past year, a judge could put that person into a locked mental health facility for up to a week.

Agajanian said the draft bill is trying to solve the problem of cases getting dismissed due to defendants being incompetent to stand trial.

“You have certain people who cycle through, and through, and through, who are very likely either going to get worse and harm themselves in one way or another, or harm someone else,” she said.

The proposed changes to the state law are meant to allow for the assessment of those people “to see whether or not they do need to be committed for separate mental health treatment,” she said.

“Because obviously there is something going on, and the crimes they’re committing aren’t violent enough or dangerous enough to keep them in a facility until they can establish competency,” Agajanian said.

Another related proposal would change the legal definitions of “harm to self” and “harm to others” in the state law that governs commitment in a locked mental health facility.

Sen. Katy Duhigg (D-Albuquerque) said she read the proposed definitions and thought, “Boy, this would apply to half the legislators I know.”

“This is really, really broad language,” she said. “It’s going to sweep up so many people who I don’t think it would be appropriate for them to get swept up in this.”

Duhigg asked about the meaning of the term “extreme destruction of property” used in the draft, and pointed out it doesn’t specify property of others.

Agajanian said “that’s a great distinction that we could certainly add.”

“Historically, this language is meant to pull in people like arsonists,” Agajanian said. “You could set your own house on fire. Narrowing it to the destruction of property of another might fix one problem and cause another, but I’m certainly open to conversation about that.”

Winter Torres, CEO and founder of the New Mexico Eviction Prevention and Diversion Program, attended most of Wednesday’s hearing in person and gave public comment at the end of the day.

“I don’t think this session is about public safety, I think it’s about criminalizing homelessness,” Torres said. “That is the primary target of the majority of the bills that are introduced.”

There hasn’t been community interaction or public consultation about that, Torres said.

“We know the answer to folks who churn: it’s permanent supportive housing,” she said. “We know what the evidence is: we know criminalizing doesn’t work.”

Instead, state officials should be using Medicaid funding to pay for housing, she said.

“Housing is a primary social determinant of health, and locking folks up is not a treatment modality,” she said.

Peter Cubra, a retired attorney who helped dismantle the state-run institutions that held people with developmental disabilities in New Mexico, also gave public comment via Zoom. He asked the committee to “please slow this down.”

“What I heard today, in terms of changing the entire civil commitment statute, is more controversial and more impactful than things we have spent literally eight sessions trying to sort out with respect to forced treatment,” Cubra said. “It really would disserve every person with a disability in New Mexico for you to act, under these circumstances, so swiftly.”

In addition to harming people with disabilities who aren’t eagerly seeking treatment, if lawmakers were to enact the administration’s proposal, “there are hundreds of people begging for treatment who would not have access to the beds that they’re begging to get into.”

“Instead, we would be holding people against their will in a form of involuntary treatment which is almost never effective,” Cubra said. “Please slow this down and let the regular session address these issues.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOXSUBSCRIBESource New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Shaun Griswold for questions: info@sourcenm.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and X.

No human remains are found as search crews comb rubble from New Mexico wildfires — Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

No human remains have been found after search and rescue crews combed through 1,300 damaged and destroyed structures in a New Mexico mountain community hit hard by a pair of wildfires.

Authorities made the announcement Wednesday evening during a public meeting, easing the concerns of many who had been working to whittle down a list of people who were unaccounted for in the wake of evacuations that came with little warning.

The teams — with the help of specially trained dogs — spent the last few days going property to property, coming up with nothing but debris in areas where whole neighborhoods were reduced to ash and charred vehicles lined driveways or were buried under twisted metal carports.

Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford also confirmed that there were now zero names left on the list of those who had been unaccounted for following the evacuations. Early on, authorities confirmed two fire-related deaths.

The mayor and other officials talked about work being done to ensure the drinking water system and electrical services can be restored at homes that were spared. Utility officials said miles of lines will have to be replaced and there are estimates that more than 1,300 power poles need to be replaced.

"It's going to be a long effort and this is just the beginning," Crawford told the audience, promising that officials were working to help businesses reopen so that Ruidoso's economic engine could start humming again.

The community has about 8,000 permanent residents but that population can easily triple in the summer when tourists are looking to escape to the Sacramento Mountains or visit the Ruidoso Downs Race Track to watch the horses run.

The track, its owners and members of the horse racing industry have created a special fund aimed at raising money to help with recovery efforts throughout the community, while donations have been pouring in from around New Mexico.

Firefighters reported Wednesday evening that the threat from flames was all but quenched with the help of rain over recent days. Fire managers were using drones to identify any remaining heat within the interior of the fires.

Brad Johnson, a member of the incident command team overseeing firefighting efforts, described it as a mission to "seek and destroy" all of those hot spots.

Forecasters said storms that have popped up so far have not tracked directly over vulnerable areas. Still, they warned that if the showers expected over the next two days cross impacted areas, flash flooding will become a serious concern.

The New Mexico fires are among others burning in the western U.S., and the latest maps from the National Interagency Fire Center show above normal chances for significant wildland fire potential across a large swath of New Mexico, throughout Hawaii and in parts of other western states heading into July and through August.
Court in Bernalillo County to revive mental health treatment program- Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — Court officials in Bernalillo County plan to revive an outpatient treatment program for people with severe mental illness with $900,000 in funding provided by the city of Albuquerque, officials told lawmakers on Wednesday.

The goal of the program, called Assisted Outpatient Therapy, or AOT, is to provide mental health therapy and other services under the supervision of a judge, city and court officials told members of an interim legislative committee.

Assisted Outpatient Therapy is overseen by a civil court judge and is separate from the criminal court, Laura Braun, the court’s program manager, told members of the Court, Corrections and Justice Committee.

“One of the main goals of AOT is keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system,” Braun said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham plans to call lawmakers into a special session next month to consider several public-safety measures, including one intended to expand AOT programs statewide.

The measure is intended to strengthen a 2016 law that allows district judges to order involuntary treatment for people with severe mental illness who have frequent brushes with law enforcement.

Albuquerque officials budgeted $900,000 this year to pay for the program, according to Gilbert Ramirez, the city’s director of Health, Housing and Homelessness.

Officials expect to begin enrollment in August or September and serve about 40 people in its first full year.

The city plans to contract with First Nations Community HealthSource to provide clinical services for the program, Ramirez said.

First Nations will bill Medicaid for clinical services, and city funding will pay additional costs for court personnel and attorneys involved in the civil litigation.

Albuquerque’s first attempt to create an AOT program ended in 2021 when the city withdrew its contract with a medical services provider.

The city reached a four-year contract with HopeWorks in August 2019 to provide clinical services for the AOT program. However, the city terminated the contract in June 2021 after the city’s Office of the Inspector General determined that HopeWorks owed the city $155,586 for allegedly double-billing the city and Medicaid, the Journal reported at the time.

HopeWorks subsequently reimbursed the city, Ramirez said Wednesday.

Second Judicial District Judge Beatrice Brickhouse, who served as the civil judge for the AOT program from 2019 to 2021, said she typically held four hearings for each participant over a period of a year.

Brickhouse said she explained to each participant that their obligations were spelled out in a court order.

“I let them know what the expectations are with regard to their participation and the fact that the service provider also has obligations under the court order,” she said.

Participants are required to stay in contact with a case manager and cooperate with their treatment, including taking prescribed medications, she said.

Netflix expands Albuquerque studio, further boosting New Mexico’s film industry- KUNM News

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos announced today an expansion of the company’s Albuquerque studios, further solidifying New Mexico’s role as a leading film and television production hub.

The expansion will include four new soundstages, three mill spaces, one production office, and two stage support buildings. The studios will incorporate new sustainability features like on-site solar and battery storage systems, geothermal heating and cooling, and 50 electric vehicle fast chargers to reduce the facility’s carbon footprint.

The governor said she is proud to see Netflix deepen its roots in New Mexico by creating thousands of jobs and boosting our local economy.

Since the 2019 partnership with New Mexico, Netflix has produced 12 film and TV projects in the state including the Avengers, Breaking Bad and Stranger Things.

The New Mexico hub has earned nearly $900 million dollars in total investments and has employed more than 4,000 residents.

The $2 billion commitment by Netflix is expected to create thousands of jobs and generate an economic boost to the state.