Mental health advocates ask governor to call off special session

Mental health advocates send letter asking to call off special session

Mental health advocates in New Mexico sent a letter to the governor asking her to call off the special legislative session. They say they would rather work with the governor directly than send lawmakers back to Santa Fe.

SANTA FE, N.M. — Mental health advocates in New Mexico are calling on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to cancel the upcoming special session on public safety.

Marshall Martinez, the executive director of Equality New Mexico, helped write the key letter to the governor. Martinez says lawmakers need to public safety but that the proposed competency legislation would have a detrimental impact on New Mexicans.

“At the end of the day, we think that if these bills are passed and signed into law they will tear families apart and they will harm individuals in every one of our communities,” he stated.

Martinez adds solutions are too complex for the special session. Some lawmakers echo the advocates’ concerns, as they worry this is too much to tackle during a special session.

Martinez adds our state doesn’t even have the systems in place for some of the proposed solutions.

“This special session is not the right venue for these incredibly complicated policies,” he said.

The ACLU of New Mexico, Bold Futures and the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness are also behind the letter to the governor. They wrote that real solutions deserve more time than the special session will give them. They also wrote that they need a more robust dialogue and partnership.

“We would really hoping there would be a convening of these groups to say ‘What’s happening out there? What works, what doesn’t work? These are some ideas we have. Will it work on the ground?’ and we’ve been completely left out of this process,” Martinez said.

The coalition’s top concerns include the proposed bill related to competency. The bill proposes allowing a judge to treatment for someone deemed incompetent to stand trial. It’s the main focus for the governor and a big reason why they penned this letter.

“The criminal competency proposal is about getting them good enough to stand trial and putting them in jail,” Martinez said. “The jail can not continue to be the biggest behavioral health care provider in the state of New Mexico.”

Another relates to involuntary commitment, broadening the definition of danger to self and danger to others.

“Folks could report someone they have a relationship with and a judge could then force that person to an in-treatment facility or mental health care including addiction treatment. And the first question is, ‘What facility?’ We don’t have them now,” Martinez said.

Lastly, the median pedestrian safety bill. Some have called this a panhandling ban. The bill, if lawmakers passed it, makes it illegal to loiter on certain medians.

“This is about criminalizing people who are homeless for standing near a street,” Martinez said.

The coalition hopes the governor will pause and work with them on proposed solutions.

“Our intention was to say don’t have a special session, don’t rush to fix the problems with bad solutions, don’t do it without us,” Martinez said.

A spokesperson for the governor says she appreciates the input but that calling off the special session and doing nothing isn’t an option. They add the proposed bills will provide accountability and treatment for people who have become entangled in the criminal justice system because of underlying mental health challenges.