Gov. MLG’s Special Session Will Focus On Mental Health Treatment Laws Ignoring Need For Mental Health Treatment Facilities And Funding; Special Session Should Concentrate On Creating Statewide Mental Health Court And Building And Staffing Facilities To Provide Mental Health Services

On April 17, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she was calling state legislators into a Special Session starting July 18 with a  focus on addressing public safety proposals. The governor said she expected the session to wrap up within several days. She decided to convene the session to allow lawmakers to finish what they started during the regular 30-day session.  The upcoming special legislative session will be the fifth special session the governor has called while in office.

The Governor’s news release at the time said in part:

“While we made some progress toward a safer New Mexico during the 30-day day session, we agree that we must do more. The special session in July will enable us to deliver additional statutory changes that reduce the danger and risk New Mexico communities face every day. The best proposals for making our state safer will be under consideration, and I welcome input from my colleagues in the legislature.”

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said at the time a special session would give lawmakers more time to work through details on complex public safety bills. Wirth said this in a press release:

“The Governor’s announced date for a special session gives us enough time to find consensus public safety legislation that can pass both chambers. Discussions between the Governor and legislative leadership to date have focused on bills from the recent 30-day session that required more work due to their legal complexity, namely: criminal competency, felon in possession of a firearm and panhandling. We have agreed additional gun safety and pre-trial detention bills will wait for the sixty-day session in January. In the next several months, we will also focus on finding ways to expand the critical safety net of mental health and treatment services that are vital to the success of the legislation that will be considered.”

Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he believes the special session should focus on the “absence of resources to enforce existing law. … The fundamental problem with crime in Albuquerque is not a lack of laws. It’s lack of accountability and enforcement of those laws.”  Cervantes said he hoped the governor would be receptive to initiatives from the Legislature before the special session “and that my colleagues will step up to consider some changes in law.  It’s hard to imagine that you can accomplish in a matter of a couple of days the work that it’s going to take to restore public trust in public safety in Albuquerque and elsewhere.”

The links to quoted news sources relied upon are here:


On June 6, Holly Agajanian, the Governor’s Chief General Counsel, outlined the bills to the Court, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee the governor’s office will back during the upcoming special session Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham will ask lawmakers to pass 5 public-safety measures during the July 18 special session of the New Mexico legislature.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Jodi McGinnis Porter, released a “discussion draft” of  4 of the 5  bills and said the governor would “welcome input” from legislators.  Porter said in a statement:

“These five legislative proposals are designed to address the pressing public safety issues that our communities face every day, reducing danger and risk for all New Mexicans.”

The 5 public safety measures provide as follows:

The first bill  would make changes to the state’s criminal competency law. The bill, which did not make it very far in the previous legislative session, is at the top of the special session agenda. The bill would send criminal defendants who are found incompetent to stand trial to a mental health or behavioral health treatment program. Supporters say there are far too many suspects who are arrested, deemed incompetent to stand trial, and then released back on the streets only to commit more crimes. It’s a bill designed to address in part the  so-called “revolving door” where defendants are arrested only to be found incompetent to stand trial and then released. The legislation is intended to strengthen a 2016 law and a program originally signed into law by former Governor Susana Martinez that allows district judges to order involuntary treatment for people with severe mental illness who have frequent brushes with law enforcement. It involves a program called the “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” (AOT).

The second bill  would  expand a program that mandates involuntary treatment for people with mental illness. The bill involves civil mental heath commitments where there are no criminal charges involved.   The bill is an assisted out-patient treatment bill proposal that would allow a judge to mandate out-patient treatment, including involuntarily commitments. It would  allow individuals, whether first responders, family members or community members who work with mentally ill individuals on the streets to request involuntary out-patient treatment.

The third bill  would strengthen penalties for a felon convicted of possessing a firearm, making the crime a second-degree felony, punishable by a minimum of 9 years in prison.

The fourth bill  would prohibit pedestrians from occupying highway medians, on-ramps and exit ramps.  The bill is intended to address individuals loitering on street medians despite a similar bill receiving pushback in the 2024 legislature over its constitutionality. It failed to pass.  The new bill would contain language that says that in places where a speed limit is more than 30 miles per hour, individuals may not loiter on a median that is 36 inches or less. The bill is similar to a city ordinance enacted by the Albuquerque City Council last year.

The fifth bill  would require law enforcement agencies to report certain monthly crime incident reports and ballistic information.

Three of the five measures are leftovers  from the 2024 legislative session. The  3  “leftover”  measures are 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 is the two new proposals on mental health commitments that are complicated and where it appears there is no consensus arrived at by legislators. 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.

It costs taxpayers roughly $50,000 a day to bring lawmakers back for a special session. The goal any Special Session 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.


On June 4, the AOT involuntary treatment for people program dominated the Court, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee  discussion. Holly Agajanian, the Governor’s Chief General Counsel told committee members that the law and the AOT program needs to be extended statewide and have broader eligibility. Agajanian told committee members this:

“The question then becomes, ‘How do we do this? …. How do we have AOT everywhere? Because that’s what we need. And that’s what this bill has.”

Some lawmakers questioned the need for a special session to make changes to a program originally signed into law by former Gov. Susana Martinez in 2016. Representative Alan Martinez, R-Bernalillo, asked:

“Why do we need this immediately if the AOT is already on the books and jurisdictions can implement that today? …  When we can come back in the [upcoming 2025] 60-day we can take care of whatever changes to the law we need to do.”

Agajanian said changes to the law proposed by Lujan Grisham will mandate implementation of the program and as proposed would require all of New Mexico’s thirteen  judicial districts to institute AOT program by July 1, 2026. Agajanian said this:

“Even though jurisdictions are already statutorily allowed to implement these programs, they aren’t doing it. … This is something that is going to take so long to implement.  … [By waiting until next year]  we will lose time and we will lose the lives of New Mexicans.”

In addition, the proposed bill will expand the number of people eligible for the program.  Agajanian said this:

“I think you’re going to end up being able to provide services for more folks than you had before.”


The court-supervised Assisted Outpatient Treatment program is intended for those who have a history of arrests and hospitalizations and who do not or who are unlikely to voluntarily adhere to prescribed treatments.  The law passed in 2016 allows for State District Court Judges to order people into mandatory treatment programs, which includes medication, therapy or drug testing. Participants have to be at least 18 years old, have a mental illness diagnosis and have a history of not following through with treatments ordered. Under the original law passed, cities and counties have to opt into the program to participate.

Jamie Michael, the county’s Health and Human Services director, told  the committee  that  only the 3rd Judicial District in Doña Ana County has a functioning AOT program, which was initiated in 2016 under a federal grant.  The program serves about 40 people a year, she estimated.

The 2nd Judicial District in Bernalillo County also launched a pilot AOT program in November 2017. Leaders with the city, county, courts and University of New Mexico Hospital announced the program that year.  Witnesses told the House Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee lawmakers that the Bernalillo County program is no longer in effect.

State Representative Christine Chandler, who Chairs  the House Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee said this:

“I think maybe we should try to get the Bernalillo County people in for the next meeting, because I want to know why it fell apart in Bernalillo County.”


Both Democrats and Republicans asked why a special session was needed to be called for legislation that they believed could or should be addressed during a regular session of the legislature. Even some Democrats had harsh  words for Governor Lujan Grisham’s proposal.

Mesilla Democrat State Representative Micaela Lara Cadena said it was hard for her not to feel that the Governor’s proposals are more about “political wins.”  Cadena said this:

“I was part of tabling or not passing bills my good friend Representative (Bill) Rehm brought. We put them in the dumpster and now we’re slapping some Democrat’s names on them and plagiarizing Representative Rehm here….Folks have been trying to have these conversations for a long time now and very quickly in a short summer we have to go because New Mexico is in crisis?”

Espanola Republican Representative Alan Martinez asked why the state must spend thousands of dollars a day for a special session. Martinez asked:

“Why not say, you work on a pilot project, we come back in January?”

Holly Agajanian, the Governor’s Chief General Counsel said the reason for a special session now is because New Mexico is in a crisis in terms of both mental health and violent crime. She said recent reports show that the state has higher than average mental health problems and that New Mexico  ranks 43rd  in the nation for beds available for individuals with mental health issues. She said New Mexico led the nation for violent crime in 2022. Agajanian said this:

“Against this backdrop the governor has called this special session to deal with this crisis that has come to grip our state.” 

Several members of the committee expressed concern about the portion of the assisted out-patient treatment program proposal that would allow individuals who have a relationship with the individual suffering mental health problems to seek a process by which the individual could be placed into treatment involuntarily.

Albuquerque Democrat State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a licensed New Mexico attorney, said she was worried the mandatory mental health commitment law changes could violate an individual’s constitutional rights.

Albuquerque Democrat State Senator Katy Duhigg  said she didn’t feel she had been presented with “great data that this is a solution that solves this problem and that is data I’d want to see before passing this legislation.” Duhigg said she found data from other countries with a quick online search that suggests that involuntary mental health treatment could lead to worse outcomes, rather than better ones. Duhigg asked why the state needed legislative changes in order to establish the assisted outpatient treatment program in every county. In response The Governor’s Chief General Counsel Holly Agajanian said this in response:

“I have to go back to the fact that I don’t suggest that they don’t have the authority to do it on their own. I’m suggesting, it hasn’t been done. We need to require it.”

Courts, Corrections and Justice Chair Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said she was confused over the logistics. She asked if the legislature would be mandating that the judicial branch set up these assisted outpatient treatment programs.  Agajanian said the proposal breaks up the areas for the treatment programs based on the judicial boundaries of the state court system because those are smaller than regional boundaries and that would make it easier for an officer to take an individual suffering mental health problems to treatment rather than to jail. Agajanian also said the court would have a memorandum of understanding with the county and either Medicaid, private insurance or indigent funds would pay for the treatment.

Milan Democrat State Representative Eliseo Lee Alcon expressed support for holding a special session and said this:

“Nobody wants to get something done. The sky is falling if we go into special session…Who knows what’s happening in Santa Fe or Las Vegas or Grant or Milan. We have no idea if anybody is getting treated or helped. I honestly do not think the sky is going to fall if we do something about this problem,”

Albuquerque area Republican State Representative Bill Rehm said he has introduced a bill for 15 years prohibiting a felon in possession of a firearm. He said during this past session, that bill passed the House but never made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rehm also said he is an expert witness in traffic crash reintroduction and that he’d like to work with the governor’s office on both the bill prohibiting a felon in possession of a firearm and on the no loitering on a median proposed legislation. Rehm retires at the end of this term.

Duhigg asked if Lujan Grisham would consider adding “serious sanctions” to managed care organizations to provide mental health treatment. Agajanian responded by saying  that was “music to my ears” and said she thought Lujan Grisham would be amenable to such a proposal.

The link to quoted and relied upon news source material is here:


New Mexico State Representative Christine Chandler, District 23 represents Los Alamos, Sandoval & Santa Fe counties. She chairs the House Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee. Representative Chandler said this about the Special Session:

“I wouldn’t call it optimism, I think maybe you might say people are hopeful we’ll have a productive session. …. 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 said the Assisted Outpatient Treatment measure expanding the program and allowing involuntary treatment for people with mental illness is by far the most complex measure.  She noted the original law took three years to pass, and now Governor Lujan Grishma is asking state lawmakers to make significant changes to the law in just a few weeks.  She noted there is also the looming issue when it comes to behavioral health treatment in New Mexico itself.

Representative Chandler said this:

“[The legislation] is aimed at providing an avenue for people who are concerned about individuals with serious mental illness. … 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. … 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 state lawmakers seems to 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. She said this:

“I would hate to think there would be no bills, but there certainly is that possibility. …  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.


It was in 2007 that the Second Judicial Court located in Bernalillo County established the states only specialized Mental Health Court (MHC).  It is a state-certified specialty treatment court program specifically for individuals whose involvement with the legal system is directly related to an untreated or unstabilized mental health disorder, indicating a clear need for intervention, treatment and support. The program serves individuals charged and/or convicted of felony level charges within Bernalillo County.

Mission And Goal Of Mental Health Court 

The Mission and Goal of the Mental Health Court are very straight forward:

Engage individuals with serious mental health diagnosis who are involved in the criminal system. The program strives to improve one’s quality of life through treatment, linkage to community resources, specialized supervision and extensive supportive measures.

The overall goal of the MHC program is to minimize and/or eliminate involvement with the criminal justice system while improving one’s overall mental health and quality of living.

Focus of Mental Health Court

The Mental Health Court has an overall focus on assisting with improving participants’ quality of life, appropriate treatment services and discontinuing involvement with the criminal justice system.  The program includes both pre and post plea tracks. The program serves individuals at high levels of risk and need, as assessed. The program duration typically ranges from 18-24 credit earned months. Time in the program is dependent on the severity of risk and need, level of participation and overall progression through the program.

The Mental Health Court (MHC) team members take into special consideration that participants typically have extensive trauma histories, limited support systems and a history of substance abuse, mental health and co-occurring disorders. In addition, participants often lack basic resources such as housing, education and/or employment.  In an effort to meet the individualized needs of each participant, MHC provides intensive clinical case management, individual, group, and family treatment services, housing, academic and vocational support through community service providers.

The services provided are unique to the person and are identified through individualized assessments and treatment planning. Each participant is given ample opportunity to receive the needed services to develop the life skills needed to live a life that is substance and criminal justice free.

The program is 100% voluntary, and is an alternative to the standard judicial process. The courts current capacity is 35.  The recidivism rate from September 1, 9/1/2017 to 1/1/2023 is  5.5% with a success rate of 94.5%

Pre-Adjudication, Post-Adjudication

Program referrals are accepted from attorneys, judges, treatment providers, community agencies, family members and from individuals involved in the justice system that are interested in participating in jail diversion programs, as an alternative to traditional court processes.

The MHC program accepts both pre-adjudication and post-adjudication referrals:

Pre-Adjudication: Participants can screen for the program pre-adjudication upon a referral to determine eligibility.

Post-Adjudication: Participants enter the program upon the filing of a formal plea agreement or upon a trial conviction. Sentencing is completed upon graduation of the program. Participants are advised appropriately of the possible sentence and penalties they may face, should termination or a voluntary withdrawal occur.

Eligibility For Mental Health Court

There are 4 major eligibility criteria to for the court:

  1. MHC accepts individuals with a Serious Mental Health Illness (SMI) as a primary diagnosis.
  2. Participants must have current felony charges-pending in Bernalillo County.
  3. Participants must have identifiable substance abuse, mental health and/or social service needs, and be willing to participate in treatment for the duration of the program. Treatment services may include psychiatric evaluation, medication management, substance abuse individual and/or group counseling, and other behavioral treatment services as recommended.
  4. Participants are not excluded from participation in MHC due to lack of residence and/ or stable residence.

All referrals are reviewed and considered on a case-by-case basis and a decision is made if a person is disqualified.

Disqualification Criteria For Mental Health Court 

There are 5 areas where a person can be disqualified from court participation:

  1. Individuals who have pending charges or who have been convicted of capital offenses and/or sex offenses are disqualified.
  2. Individuals who have been found incompetent, or competency is pending and/or do not have the cognitive capacity to participate in the program are disqualified.
  3. Individuals who do not engage in completing clinical assessments and who stop showing up for program requirements are disqualified.
  4. Individuals unwilling to follow treatment recommendations (e.g. medication management, counseling, case management services), are disqualified.
  5. Individuals with cognitive impairment or learning disabilities that prohibit the ability to advance through the program are disqualified.

Service Delivery For Mental Health Court 

Community treatment and case management is provided by many entities in the community. Referrals for clients are based on need and agency availability. Participants complete a therapeutic assessment and develop an individualized treatment plan that focuses on identifying strengths and addressing needs. Services are strength-based and client centered for individuals who are challenged by substance abuse and co-occurring disorders and/or are deemed high-risk to reoffend in the community. Clients are ideally engaged in MHC for a period of 18 to 24 (credit-earned) months by transitioning through four phases, with an ongoing relationship of care in the areas of treatment, case management, housing, medication, stability, job readiness, parenting, and educational referrals.

The link to the quoted source is here:


The are laws on that books that deal with when and under what circumstances formal civil commitment hearings can be initiated for 3-day, 7-day and even 30-day observation and diagnostic evaluations for the mentally ill and the drug addicted. These time frames to allow treatment must expanded to allow for far more time, perhaps 6 month to a year of two years and could be made mandatory.  The civil commitment deals with  those who are a danger to themselves and others and provides that the District Attorney can initiate civil mental health commitment actions for evaluations and treatment.

The link to review the applicable New Mexico state statutes NM Statute §43-1-1 (2019), NM Stat § 43-1-1 (2019), NM Stat § 43-1-11 (2020) on civil mental health commitments is here:,grounds%20exist%20to%20commit%2


There are 13 Judicial District Courts in the State of New Mexico that are courts of general jurisdictions that handle both civil and criminal matters for the 33 counties in the State of New Mexico. Each of the 13 Judicial District Courts have primary jurisdiction over one or more counties based on population.

State District Courts are primary courts of jurisdiction over criminal cases, including felonies and misdemeanor cases. State District Courts have jurisdictions over civil matters with disputes of more than $10,000, domestic relations, mental health and civil commitment cases, appeals from administrative agencies, disputes over real estate, contract disputes, tort actions for personal injury.  District Court criminal convictions and criminal matters are appealable to the one New Mexico Court of Appeals and/or the New Mexico Supreme Court.

New Mexico also has a small claims court or Magistrate Court and Metropolitan Court System that are courts of limited jurisdiction that handle civil disputes of up to $10,000 and misdemeanor criminal matters and appeals are to the State District Courts.

An Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has been established and is funded by the New Mexico legislature to enable the courts to accomplish their mission by ensuring that the courts have adequate, equitable distributed resources. The AOC ensures that the courts have and use current technology and it provides a statewide human resources system. The AOC is responsible for developing and implementing improved court processes and supporting the courts in their  use.  The AOC ensures sound financial, budgeting and procurement practices in the management of court resources.


It’s very disappointing that the Governor has failed to reach any real consensus with legislative leaders on what needs to be done and what measures should be enacted before  the special session she has called.   All five measures Governor Lujan Grisham is proposing for the Special Session are a good start, but in no way come even close to what is actually needed.  Warehousing the mentally ill or drug addicted in jails for crimes committed is not the answer and does not address treatment and the court’s must be looked to as part of the solution.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature need to proceed with  the  Special Session of the legislature for public safety, but the primary emphasis should  be the creation of a new 14th Judicial District Court designated as a  Mental Health Court  with 3 separate regional divisions one located in Albuquerque, one in Las Cruces and one in Las Vegas, New Mexico with the creation of at least 3 District Court Judge positions with 6 year terms appointed by the New Mexico Supreme Court.  Appointment by the Supreme Court would ensure rapid filling of the new positions and take the elective partisan politics out of the process.  The Administrative Offices of the Courts must play  a pivotal role in setting up the new court process, including locating the new Mental Health Treatment Court in existing court houses in all 3 locations.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the legislature should seek to designate the 14th Judicial District Court a specialty “Mental Health Treatment Court” functioning as outreach and treatment court for the drug addicted and the mentally ill in mandatory  hospital or counseling settings and not involving jail incarceration.

As has been  pointed out by New Mexico State Representative Christine Chandler, there is a major  need for the construction and staffing of a mental health facilities or hospitals to provide the services needed to the mentally ill or drug addicted. As it stands now, there exists less than adequate facilities where patients can be referred to for civil mental health commitments and treatment.  In other words there is nowhere for people to go or be placed to get the mental health and drug treatment needed. There is glaring need for a behavioral health hospital and drug rehabilitation treatment facilities.  The Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Center and the Las Vegas Mental Health hospital could be expanded to accommodate for court referrals and a new behavioral health facility could be constructed in Las Cruces to handle mental health commitment and treatment.

New Mexico is currently experiencing historical surplus revenues and this past legislative session the legislature had an astonishing $3.6 Billion in surplus revenue. Now is the time to create a statewide Mental Health Court and dedicate funding for the construction of behavioral health hospital and drug rehabilitation treatment facilities the courts can rely upon for referrals.

Creation of a new court system must include funding for District Attorneys and Public Defenders with dedicated personnel resources for the filing and defending of civil mental health commitments as prescribed by law.

A statewide mental health court with mandatory civil commitments will get treatment to those who need it the most, help get the unhoused off the streets and help families with loved ones who resist any mental health treatment.

Links to related blog article are here:

Convening Special Session Of NM Legislator For Public Safety Must Include Expanding Existing Mental Health Court; Create New 14th Judicial District Court With 3 Regional Divisions For Mental Health Commitment Hearings; Build Regional Treatment Facilities And Hospitals For Mandatory Treatment Ordered


ABQ Journal Dinelli Guest Opinion Column: “Lawmakers should set up statewide mental health court”; Related Column: Laws, Statistics, and Resources Needed To Create 14th Judicial District Court For Mental Health Commitment Court


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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.