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THURS: USPS sending out free COVID tests, NM Supreme court reprimands judge, + More

Bryce Dix

Postal Service offering four more free COVID-19 at-home tests - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

U.S. residents can receive four free kits to test for SARS-CoV-2 infection, the virus which causes the COVID-19 disease.

You can place your order here. There are no shipping costs. You do not have to give a credit card number; you only need to give your name and address.

Those who need help or do not want to order online can call 1-800-232-0233 or text via teletypewriters at 1-888-720-7489.

The tests will ship after the holiday on the week of Nov. 27.

The majority of people who are infected do not show any symptoms. As one way of tracking where the virus is spreading, public health experts use test positivity, the proportion of tests taken that comes back positive in a given time period.

The latest data available from Nov. 16 shows 23% of tests taken in New Mexico came back positive, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. DOH officials have said most COVID tests are taken at home but there are still some health care providers in the state offering more accurate tests that are analyzed by laboratories.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday COVID-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations are increasing slightly.

The numbers of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have spiked every year between November and April since the pandemic began in 2020, research has found.

This will be the first winter since the federal government stopped requiring private health insurance plans to pay for COVID-19 tests. The average price of an at-home test is $11, according to KFF Health News.

USPS previously gave out free tests in September. People who did not get that round of tests can get eight tests this time.

The government is only offering one order per household. As with previous test distributions, they do not allow multiple people living at the same address to order tests.

New Mexico Supreme Court reprimands judge who advised prosecutors in case involving his daughter Associated Press


New Mexico Supreme Court has publicly censured a state judge in Las Cruces with for providing advice to prosecutors during a 2021 trial of a man accused of pointing an assault rifle at the judge's daughter.

Third District Judge James Martin also was censured for allowing his daughter to wait in his chambers before she testified at the trial — which another judge presided over — and for having an inappropriate conversation with the prosecutors after Robert Burnham was convicted of aggravated assault by use of a firearm.

Martin accepted the court's decision, the Supreme Court said. It said Martin "denied committing willful misconduct" but "viewed through the lens of hindsight ... recognizes the potential for appearance of impropriety based upon his conduct."

The justices said their decision reached Nov. 13 was not selected for publication in the formal New Mexico Appellate Records. But it was made public this week and will be published in the New Mexico Bar Bulletin.

Martin did not immediately respond Thursday to The Associated Press' requests for comment sent in an email and left in a telephone message at his office at the court, which was closed for the holiday.

Burnham is appealing the conviction stemming from the 2018 incident outside a Las Cruces bar he owned. He told police that he had recently won the rifle in a raffle and was just moving it inside his car.

The Supreme Court said after the first day of the two-day jury trial in 2021 before Third District Judge Steven Blankinship that Martin telephoned Assistant District Attorney Samuel Rosten and told him he should use the term "brandished a firearm" in his jury instructions instead of "pointed a firearm" at the alleged victim, Martin's daughter.

The next day the prosecution followed that advice.

Following the conviction, Martin inquired as to whether Burnham had been remanded to custody while awaiting sentencing. When Martin learned that he had, he told the prosecutors, "Good thing he was remanded, otherwise I would have told you to go back in there and try again."

Martin improperly allowed his daughter to be present for that conversation. He also improperly allowed his daughter to wait in his chambers down the hall while waiting to be called as a witness at the trial, the high court said.

The justices said Martin originally provided advice to the prosecutors because he recognized a legitimate mistake of law in their proposed jury instructions.

"Judge Martin believed that he was acting in his daughter's best interest by pointing out the mistake. Judge Martin's actions created an appearance of impropriety, which should not be ignored," Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon wrote in the decision joined by the four other justices.

"We issue this censure not only to remind judges of their responsibility to avoid the appearance of impropriety but also to ensure the public that our legal system is committed to maintaining an independent, fair and impartial judiciary under the law," they said.


Local courts, public defenders offer options to people looking to clear warrants — KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal


People who want to clear any outstanding warrants still have until the end of November to take advantage of a safe surrender event at Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Home for the Holidays virtual safe surrender event gives people with misdemeanor warrants “favorable consideration from the court” when they turn themselves in.

Metro court Judge Joshua J. Sanchez said the safe surrender program works well for all parties involved.

It saves the city money having to arrest someone with an active arrant, he said, and it gives the individual a chance to clear their record, and most importantly, he said, it helps to ensure people can spend the holidays with their families rather than, quote, “unnecessarily spend(ing) time in jail for low-level warrants that could have been easily addressed.”

A spokesperson for the court said a previous event in the past helped to clear more than 250 warrants and bring in more than 2500 dollars in fines.

The official warned though that not all warrants qualify for the safe surrender program and urged people to call the metro court for more information.

New Mexico State Parks offers Black Friday deal with free admission - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is one of the biggest shopping days of the year in the U.S., with massive deals and equally massive crowds. For those looking to avoid the capitalistic frenzy, New Mexico is offering free admission to all of its state parks.

Using the #OptOutside hashtag, the New Mexico State Parks Division announcedon Facebook this week that it is waiving day-use fees at all 35 parks across the state Friday. It usually costs $5 per vehicle, or $15 for buses,according to its website.

State parks range from Navajo Lake in the Northwest to Storrie Lake in the Northeast. Closer to the city centers, Pecos Canyon State Park outside Santa Fe and the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque are also onthe list.

While it may be too chilly for swimming,many of the parks offer hiking andhorse trails, as well as opportunities for birding, fishing and boating.

Albuquerque mayor vetoes city council decision to replace Air Quality Control Board - Alice Fordham, KUNM News

Mayor Tim Keller has vetoed a decision by the Albuquerque City Council to repeal and replace the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board.

Earlier this month, City Councilor Dan Lewis successfully introduced legislation to both replacethe air board and establish a moratorium to stop air quality regulation until February next year.

The boardhad been due to hear a rule proposed by residents of the Mountain View neighborhood, which would have tightened rules for some businesses in areas where there are already several sources of air pollution.

The Mountain View Coalitionsays their neighborhood in the South Valley has long borne a disproportionate burden of industrial development.

Councilor Lewis' resolution, which passed on Nov. 8, would stop the board from hearing that proposed rule until next year.

He also introduced an ordinance to replaceall the members of the board andchange the rules for who could qualify.

On Wednesday, Nov. 22Mayor Keller vetoed both bills.

He said in a statement that he was not consulted about the changes and that they should have been vetted through discussions with his administration and Bernalillo County, as well as the air board itself.

Keller also said in a memo to the city council that the legislation would interfere with the board's duties to ensure that Albuquerque has clean air.

In a statement from the city council, Councilor Lewis said that the mayor had sided with “environmental extremists” against crucial economic development.

The city council could override the Mayor’s veto with six votes at its regular meeting on Dec. 4.

Counties spending $1 in every $3 on detention - By Danielle Prokop,Source New Mexico

New Mexico’s county governments are spending increasing amounts on keeping fewer people behind bars in county jails, the New Mexico Association of Counties told lawmakers Monday.

The nonprofit lobbies on behalf of all 33 New Mexico counties and also manages insurance for the governmental bodies.

General counsel for the group, Grace Philips, began lobbying lawmakers on the Courts, Corrections and Justice interim committee to increase payments from the state to counties for jailing people.

“Jail populations have definitely gone down,” Philips told the committee, noting the average daily population for 2022 was 5,210 people, compared to the peak of more than 8,500 people in 2005.

Philips said that people in detention, for the most part, have not been convicted of anything, but are awaiting hearings.

For the 25 counties operating jails, they spent a total of $336.8 million on jail operations, personnel, and medical expenses at adult facilities last year — out of $1.1 billion across those counties’ general funds. Counties build general funds by collecting local taxes on property, or for goods and services, or fees for utilities and other programs.

“On average, one of every three general dollars is going to detention,” Philips said, adding that for some counties it’s closer to spending $1 for every $2.

She said rising jail costs can impact other county responsibilities, like road maintenance, administering elections, emergency services, senior center operations and even trash collection.

The estimated amount budgeted for jail operations next year by the 25 counties is about $383 million, a more than $46 million dollar increase, Philips said.

Katherine Crociata, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Association of Counties, requested the legislature put more funding to reimbursing counties for incarceration expenses in the upcoming 2024 session.


County jails are not profitable on the whole, the New Mexico Association of Counties said, showing the data from operating jails in 25 counties.

Correction officer salaries in New Mexico right now account for more than $150 million, nearly half of the budget for the 25 county-run jails in the state.

Operations consume nearly one-third of jail budgets, costing county governments statewide $104 million. Medical costs for people held in jails amounts to just under one-fourth of annual jail budgets, at $64 million.

The remaining $16 million goes to capital costs, such as updating facilities.

Last year, New Mexico counties that run detention centers only received $40 million in jail revenues. About $23 million of that revenue came from the U.S. government for counties to detain people in federal custody.

Counties paid other county governments in New Mexico about $8.9 million for keeping inmates in other county jails.

The state paid $4.6 million to counties on behalf of people arrested by state police and kept in county jails. Municipal governments paid $3.5 million, based on agreements hammered out between city and county to pay a per-bed per-person cost of people arrested by municipal police departments.

Revenues amount to about 11% of the expense of running jails, Philips said, meaning counties are eating the cost to incarcerate people on behalf of the agencies that make the most arrests — municipal and state police.

“When state police arrest someone and bring them to jail, how much do you think the state pays for that housing?” Philips asked rhetorically. “The big zero — the state does not pay for that.”

Philips said detention centers have high fixed costs, so unless counties close down parts of the facility, or shutter it entirely, they don’t see savings.


For years, New Mexico was unique, because it held significantly more people in jails compared to its prison population, Philips said, jailing people at the second highest rate in the nation behind one other state.

Jail populations rose to a peak of more than 8,500 in 2005, Philips said. They declined in recent years, and dipped sharply after 2020, during portions of the pandemic, which included the temporary shutdowns of courts.

New Mexico is holding fewer people in jails, but the jail population is rising again, more slowly this time, she said.

Jail populations are based on two factors: how many people are booked into jail, and how long they stay. Philips said the increase now isn’t about more bookings but longer wait times before court hearings.

“The longer it takes someone to go through, then your population in your jail increases,” she said.

Philips told lawmakers there’s been no long-term tracking on jail data statewide by the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, which is the custodian of the data. Instead, she said, the studies have been infrequent and only on a sample of counties.

“We’ve never had a statewide — every detention facility — longitudinal study where we can really see: How are people moving? How long are they in for? And what are the trends?” Philips said. “I’m disappointed in that, it is really something that would be money well spent.”

Philips said some of the data available is outdated, pointing to numbers for length of stays for people with serious mental illness that are 10 years old.

“People with serious mental illness stay in custody longer than anybody else,” she said. “We have a lot of opinions about that, but we don’t have the hard facts. I wish we did.”

Rep. Andrea Reeb (R-Clovis) asked if there’s any data on how many people are serving felony sentences in county jails, and whether the state is reimbursing for those.

Philips responded that people with felony sentences shorter than one year, or who need certain medical treatment for substance use disorder, are still being held in county jails, but there’s not a “concrete” number.

She cited examples in Bernalillo County where people are kept in the Metropolitan Detention Center because their treatment programs cannot transfer with them to prisons since the state Corrections Department cannot conduct the treatment.

“The Corrections Department does not currently provide methadone maintenance or suboxone,” Philips said. “So, sometimes people, I was shocked to learn, are kept at MDC, which you’ve got to remember that jails are not meant to be long-term housing facilities.”

Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque), asked if lawmakers should set up an automatic billing system for counties to charge the state.

“Right now, the Corrections Department has no incentive to change its probation, parole practices, and that might provide one,” she said.

Philips responded, “we love that idea.”

Albuquerque police cadet and husband are dead in suspected domestic violence incident, police say - Associated Press

The husband of an Albuquerque police cadet shot and killed her before taking his own life, authorities said Wednesday.

Investigators say the scene at an apartment in a northeast area of the city indicates 32-year-old Taylor Hagan was shot to death by Briton Hagan on Tuesday afternoon.

Briton Hagan, 41, died at the scene.

Police Chief Harold Medina says Taylor Hagan was a current member of the police academy. Fellow cadets learned of her death late Tuesday.

Her body was transported to the Office of the Medical Investigator with an honor guard.

Mayor Tim Keller called her death a tragic loss and urged people to look out for warning signs of domestic violence and abuse.