Screenshot of Rep. Susan Herrera discussing HB 399 which mandates some counties expand to five member boards based on their population.

Bill mandating expansion of some county commissions passes House

The House approved HB 399, which seeks to require counties with 35,000 or more people to expand their county commissions to five members, on Thursday by a vote of 40-28. 

Only three counties would be affected by the bill should it pass: Otero, McKinley and Rio Arriba counties. “Thank you for the very strong-minded debate and the urgency that we all are coming to recognize,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Willie Madrid, D-Chaparral, said. “I have to say in closing, you know, when we talk about the statutes and listen to the discussion today, it was a start of the will of the people. They have to be a part of this.”

Commission districts must be equally distributed based on population alone. The county commissioner boards draw the new district maps, bill co-sponsor Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said.

Northwest NM continues to outpace the rest of the state for COVID-19 cases

With more than twice as many reported cases of COVID-19 in McKinley County than the more populated Bernalillo County, the state Department of Health announced 107 new test positive cases across the state of COVID-19 Tuesday. There are six new deaths related to the respiratory disease. The numbers released Tuesday brings the state to 4,138 cases of the disease and 162 total deaths related to the virus. There are 964 COVID-19 cases designated as recovered by the state’s DOH. There are 48 patients on ventilators and 178 who have been hospitalized, according to DOH.

State eases some restrictions, but keeps stay-at-home order in place

The governor announced that, beginning tomorrow, some restrictions put in place by the state will be eased, but she urged that New Mexicans should still remain home as much as possible and noted that the stay-at-home order will remain in place. The new public health emergency order goes into effect on May 1 at midnight and runs through May 15. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that this came because the curve has flattened for much of the state, though she emphasized that northwestern New Mexico is still in danger, as cases continue to grow. 

Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase also announced that the state would allow hospitals to increase operations for medically necessary surgeries not related to COVID-19. As part of an order to reduce the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), the state banned elective procedures. Still, Scrase said, “We’re asking folks as they resume to go no more than half-capacity” for a few weeks and that hospitals are in “absolute and complete compliance with all DOH guidelines” including those that are part of the public health emergency order.

Grants mayor facing two legal battles after defying state emergency order

Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks’ refusal to close municipal departments, like the city-run golf course, led to him being named in two different legal filings. One case is a lawsuit filed by the former city manager and the other a petition from the state’s attorney general asking the state Supreme Court to order Hicks to comply with a state emergency order. 

Last week, Hicks publicly announced that he would defy the state’s Department of Health order limiting the scope of what services and business can be open during the COVID-19 pandemic. True to his word, Hicks allowed businesses to open and reportedly told city employees to report to work, in-person. 

On Wednesday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a writ of mandamus, or a petition asking the high court to intervene on the basis that Hicks is not fulfilling his duty as mayor. 

Balderas argued in his petition that Hicks “is knowingly and intentionally violating the State’s public health emergency orders.” 

“He is directing city employees to violate these orders, and fired the city manager who refused to do so,” the petition read. “He is instructing and encouraging city businesses to reopen in violation of the orders, and proclaiming his constitutional authority to do so. Finally, he has invited a legal resolution of his dispute with the State.”

On Thursday, the day after Balderas’ petition, recently fired city manager Laura Jaramillo filed a whistleblower lawsuit against both the city and Hicks. 

In her suit, Jaramillo alleged that Hicks fired her after she refused to go against the state public health emergency order, even after state police issued a citation and warning against opening the course. 

“Upon information and belief, Hicks just wanted to open the golf course as a political stunt and to thumb his nose at the Governor,” the lawsuit alleges.

State to open COVID-19 alternative care facility in Gallup

As COVID-19 cases in McKinley County continue to skyrocket, the state announced that its alternative care facility in Gallup will accept its first patients on Saturday. The facility, in a converted high school gymnasium, will be able to handle 60 patients. As of the numbers on Thursday, the state has found 573 cases in McKinley County, the second-most in the state, only behind Bernalillo County which has nearly ten times the population of the largely rural western New Mexico county. According to the Albuquerque Journal, this translates to 777.86 infections per 100,000 residents. The Navajo Nation, which includes portions of McKinley County, is one of the hardest-hit parts of the country when it comes to COVID-19 infections.

Public defenders hit speed bumps in protecting inmates from COVID-19

The prosecutor made clear what it would take to keep a woman, twice accused of driving while intoxicated, out of jail. “It’s a Corona SALE a ‘BOGO’ buy one get one! She only has to do one of everything and it gets credited to the concurrent one,” senior trial prosecutor John Bernitz wrote in an email to the defendant’s attorney. 

Bernitz’s conditions were in response to public defender Earl Rhoads, who had asked why the McKinley County District Attorney’s office waited for more than two months to call for the detention of a woman who was already facing open container and aggravated drinking and driving charges from last year. In October 2019, the woman was accused of drinking and driving when a state police officer said he found her asleep in her running car, outside a gas station in Gallup. The original criminal complaint alleged that the woman admitted to consuming alcohol and parking at the gas station to “recover.” A state magistrate judge released the woman on a $1,500 bond.

One new COVID-19 death in NM, 51 new positive cases

The state announced 51 new test positive cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the total in the state to 543 test positive cases and one additional death related to the virus. Update (4/5): 81 new COVID-19 cases in New Mexico, 1 more death

A man in his 60s from McKinley County with COVID-19 died Saturday. He had been hospitalized and had underlying medical conditions, according to the state. This brings the number of deaths related to COVID-19 in New Mexico to 11. The announcement Saturday includes additional positive tests from the La Vida Llena long-term care facility in Albuquerque, where five additional residents and eight additional staff members have now tested positive for the type of coronavirus, according to the state.

Eight new positive COVID-19 cases, including first in southern and western New Mexico. Total is 43

With the state’s announcement of 43 people total who have tested positive for COVID-19, the virus has now been detected in southern and western New Mexico for the first time. The state announced eight new positive tests on Friday. Update (3/21): State DOH reports 14 new COVID-19 cases; total of 57

A male in his 20s tested positive in Doña Ana County and a male in his 30s tested positive in McKinley County, the first in those counties

 The other new cases include:

A female in Bernalillo County in her teensTwo males in Bernalillo County in their 40sA female in Sandoval County in her teensA male in Sandoval County in his 80sA female in Taos County in her 70s. Including the above newly reported cases, New Mexico has now had a total of 43 positive tests for COVID-19:

Bernalillo County: 23Doña Ana County: 1McKinley County: 1Sandoval County: 6San Miguel County: 1Santa Fe County: 7​​Socorro County: 2Taos County: 2

The state has processed 3,814 tests for COVID-19 as of Friday. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
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TelAbortion could ease access woes

While abortion access at the national level has come under greater assault in recent years, some nonprofit groups on the front lines for reproductive healthcare are providing what is known as “TelAbortions” to New Mexicans through a study. A TelAbortion has the potential to simplify the process of terminating a pregnancy and some advocates say it could be the way of the future. To qualify, the patient needs to be less than 10 weeks pregnant. Through video conferencing over an electronic device, the patient speaks with the study’s health provider. After establishing that the patient is less than 10 weeks pregnant, the patient receives the two pills necessary – mifepristone and misoprostol – through the mail.

New right-to-work tactic: One piece at time

As the issue of compulsory union dues and fees for public employees is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, one New Mexico activist group is jumping from county to county, pushing local lawmakers to ban unions from requiring money to represent private sector workers. The libertarian non-profit Americans for Prosperity announced its reentry into New Mexico politics about a year ago. Funded by David and Charles Koch, Americans for Prosperity is a 501(c)(4), which means most of the group’s work has to focus on advocacy or education, rather than support or opposition of specific political candidates. Other groups with the same tax category include the American Civil Liberties Union, AARP and the National Rifle Association. In New Mexico supporters of right-to-work laws haven’t been able to pass a statewide right-to-work law for decades.