Proposal based on 'Kendra's Law' goes before NM lawmakers

Created: 08/06/2014 6:25 PM
By: Nicole Brady, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Mental health is the topic of a series of meetings for state lawmakers this week. One item on the agenda is a proposal to bring a controversial law to New Mexico dealing with the mentally ill. It's based on New York's Kendra's Law.

In 1999, Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a New York subway train by a schizophrenic man. After the incident, New York passed Kendra's Law, allowing judges to order some mentally ill patients to be treated and medicated.

This week, proponents are working on a similar law for New Mexico and they're getting advice from one of the creators of Kendra's Law.

"This would create a tool that communities like Albuquerque could use to create programs like this, but would not mandate that they do so," said Brian Stettin, the lawyer who helped create Kendra's Law.    

Albuquerque briefly had a version of the law that came about not long after a tragic day in 2005, when John Hyde killed five people including two police officers.  

But Stettin says the law officially known as "assisted outpatient treatment" isn't a violence prevention law. It's a treatment plan. He notes that the majority of mentally ill people are not committing the heinous acts that make headlines.

"It's people being homeless, it's people committing petty crimes sitting in jail cells when they should be getting treatment, so these laws help individuals who are not medicated and unable to take control of their own need to be medicated," Stettin said.

But these laws are controversial. Critics say they violate civil rights.

Stettin says it gives patients and families a plan to deal with a devastating illness.

"And they aren't just going to be left to their own devices and left to figure things out on their own once they're back in the community," said Stettin.

Albuquerque's law was struck down because it conflicted with state law. 

If a law were to be passed for the state, it would not make it mandatory for communities to use court-ordered treatment. It would just give them that option.

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