Legislators prepare to tackle complex public safety proposals during special session

Legislators prepare to tackle complex public safety proposals during special session

Lawmakers are revealing more about their ambitious plans for tackling crime during the upcoming special session.

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will bring legislators back to the Roundhouse later this summer for a public safety special session.

State lawmakers are expected to return in six weeks, and they’re doing what they can now to make sure they hit the ground running on July 18.

It costs taxpayers roughly $50,000 a day to bring lawmakers back for a special session, so the goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible. But lawmakers say the governor’s public safety agenda includes some extremely complicated proposals and they need as much time as they can get to discuss them.

The Courts, Corrections, and Justice Interim Committee met this week to start digging into those proposals and the committee chair said it was an efficient few days.

“I wouldn’t call it optimism, I think maybe you might say people are hopeful we’ll have a productive session,” Rep. Christine Chandler said. “You’ll see from our agenda that we’re definitely putting in the work. I am approaching it, and I think my colleagues are approaching it in good faith, and with a willingness to try to resolve the issues.”

Chandler says the governor’s office brought them five proposals ahead of the special session.

Three of them are leftovers from the legislative session earlier this year. That includes a median safety bill that is often described as a panhandling ban, increasing penalties for felons caught with firearms, and new data collection and sharing requirements for law enforcement agencies.

It’s the two new proposals that are keeping lawmakers busy. One of them is reworking the state’s criminal competency laws, ideally making it easier for the courts to mandate certain suspects into behavioral health treatments.

The other is an assisted outpatient treatment bill. Chandler says that one dominated discussions this week.

“It’s aimed at providing an avenue for people who are concerned about individuals with serious mental illness,” Chandler said. “I believe the governor is interested in maybe loosening it up a little bit, so that it will be easier to encourage them and require them to get treatment. It’s not a voluntary program, it is requiring these individuals who meet the criteria to get treatment.”

Chandler says that bill is by far the most complex. She noted the original law took three years to pass, and now state lawmakers are being asked to make significant changes in just a few weeks. Plus, there’s still a looming issue when it comes to behavioral health treatment in New Mexico.

“The concern of many of us, me included, is that we can set up these laws, you know, we can work very hard to make the best possible law that we can. But if there aren’t the behavioral health resources and professionals to assist these people, it’s all for naught,” Chandler said.

Chandler said it seems state lawmakers understand the governor’s motivations to expand behavioral health resources, and they are giving it their best effort, but she’s not fully confident it’ll get done during the special session.

“I would hate to think there would be no bills, but there certainly is that possibility,” Chandler said. I don’t think it will be, you know, all the time will be wasted, because I think we’ll have some good discussions that will lay the groundwork for the 60 day.”

Chandler said the committee will meet again at least twice before the special session begins, so there are more discussions on the way.

Again, the public safety special session is scheduled to begin on July 18.