Governor supports mandatory treatment for mentally ill

By Deborah Baker: The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Flanked by police officers’ widows and an officer who survived a shooting, Gov. Bill Richardson on Friday threw his support behind court-ordered outpatient treatment for some mentally ill people.

It was a turnaround for the administration, which just a couple of months ago had opposed the proposal.

Under the bill, mentally ill people could be ordered by courts to get “assisted outpatient treatment” if they were determined to be a threat to themselves or the community.
That could include medication, therapy sessions or alcohol and drug counseling.

A family member, roommate, doctor, service provider or parole or probation officer could petition the court for the order.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez has proposed a similar ordinance for the city and had asked Richardson to put a bill on the agenda for this session.

Two members of the governor’s cabinet, Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham and Human Services Secretary Pamela Hyde, had written a letter late last year saying they were against it — in part because the state lacked the resources to properly implement such a proposal.

Richardson acknowledged Friday that there had been “open dissent and discussions” about the issue within the administration. He said after conversations with Chavez, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and other advocates, he decided to back it.

“This is the governor’s position. … We’re for the bill. We support it strongly and we’re going to get it passed. And that’s all there is to it,” Richardson said at a news conference.

Grisham, who also endorsed the bill, said the administration had added $2 million to its budget for treatment programs.

Forty-two other states have a similar law, Richardson said. It’s sometimes referred to as “Kendra’s Law,” after Kendra Webdale, who died in New York City in January 1999 after she was shoved in front of a subway train by a schizophrenic who did not take his medication.

Joining administration officials at the news conference were Debbie King and Susan Smith, whose police officer husbands were among five people killed in August in Albuquerque by a diagnosed schizophrenic.

Smith said lawmakers should “bridge the gap in our health care system” by passing the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Joni Gutierrez, D-Las Cruces.

Sgt. Carol Oleksak, who was shot in the head on an Albuquerque street in 2003 by a mentally ill man, said officers encounter people with mental illness every day who need outpatient treatment.

Saying she found it “kind of surprising I’m still here,” Oleksak said she has concluded it provided her with an opportunity to “get out and get some things changed.”

The bill is also endorsed by the state chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness.