New Mexico legislature sends pandemic assistance bill to governor

SANTA FE, NM (AP) – A spending bill is on its way for the governor of New Mexico that would allocate $ 478 million in federal pandemic assistance to highways, internet infrastructure, travel advertising, building hospitals and more.

The State House on Thursday approved the latest Senate changes, sending the bill to Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. The legislature meets in special session to redesign congressional political and legislative constituencies to conform to population changes in the 2020 national census.

Lujan Grisham called for the rapid deployment of federal aid. She has the right to veto all parts of the bill.

The bill includes at least $ 123 million in spending on Internet projects, including “alternative broadband” using emerging technologies such as wireless towers, airships and new satellite Internet networks.

The sparsely populated rural state has struggled for years to expand internet access by laying fiber-optic cables underground. The problem came to the fore during the pandemic due to inequalities in online education and access to healthcare.

The Senate amendments added $ 2 million for teacher loan repayment and $ 50 million for a rural hospital. The bill includes money to build libraries in Native American communities and $ 10 million to bolster the budgets of food banks that provided a crucial safety net during the coronavirus pandemic.

The money is believed to come from the nearly $ 1.1 billion remaining in pandemic relief funds. Lawmakers want to put about half of that money into the general state fund, providing more flexibility on spending timeframes.

Lujan Grisham vetoed the legislature’s pandemic relief proposals in the spring. Several senators have successfully sued to ensure legislative authority over relief spending.

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