Three bills pertaining to vulnerable adults have been presented in the 2023 Legislative Session. They are: SB 89 (Supported Decision-Making) sponsored by Sen. Hemphill, Sen. Lopez and Rep. Ferrary. Another is SB 118 (Financial Crimes Relating to Vulnerable Adults) sponsored by Sen.r Padilla, Sen. Wirth and Rep. Matthews. The last one is SB 119 (Financial Exploitation Act) sponsored by Sen. Duhigg, Sen. Wirth and Rep. Chandler.
One common thread in all three bills is that the “family voice” was not consulted when legislators crafted these three bills. Various state agencies responded with their comments in the bill analysis; however, the New Mexico Family Guardianship Conservatorship Coalition (NMFGC Coalition) as well as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) were not given the opportunity to contribute ideas and valuable information in the crafting of these bills.
In 2021, a yearlong task force was created to research “best practices” regarding Supported Decision-Making as an alternative to court-appointed guardianship. The task force had no family members from NMFG Coalition or NAMI present to contribute to the development of SB 89. Many of our coalition members have experienced horrific events within the current guardianship system that legislators must learn about. The coalition and NAMI could have shared valuable research information regarding “best practices” for Supported Decision-Making.
Alice Liu McCoy, executive director of the DDC-OOG, has been a champion advocating for the vulnerable individuals in New Mexico. We commend her for her dedication to helping those individuals who are vulnerable. We continue to request that a few “family members” from our coalition and NAMI be present at the “decision- making” table when any future committees are formed to create new rules and legislation for all vulnerable New Mexicans.
The WINGS Committee created by the Supreme Court as a result of HB 234 is another place where the “family voice” is not utilized in any decision-making regarding vulnerable New Mexicans. Yes, they allow the public to submit written comments; however, the questions asked in the written comments are never answered. Public comments are also allowed via a Zoom call; however, there’s no feedback from any members of the WINGS Committee. According to the WINGS coordinator, the WINGS Committee is not bound to answer questions or provide feedback to the public.
The “family voice” must be included in any crafting of bills related to vulnerable adults. Families know and understand the needs, wants, hopes and dreams of the vulnerable adult. Families are aware of medical and personal information. The family unit is critical in providing information on experiences within the court system.
A culture shift must occur in order to truly protect, meet the needs and well-being of our vulnerable New Mexicans. The courts, state agencies and families must work together in order to accomplish the best possible life for these individuals. Families are willing to collaborate! Families are the number-one advocate for our most vulnerable! Families matter!