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Pandemic relief spending bill passes in New Mexico House

December 11, 2021 GMT
Democrat and House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chair Patty Lundstrom, of Gallup, hears proposed amendments to a $500 million spending bill during a meeting of the state Legislature on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
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Democrat and House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chair Patty Lundstrom, of Gallup, hears proposed amendments to a $500 million spending bill during a meeting of the state Legislature on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
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Democrat and House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chair Patty Lundstrom, of Gallup, hears proposed amendments to a $500 million spending bill during a meeting of the state Legislature on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico House on Friday passed a bill for funneling federal pandemic relief funding to improve broadband internet improvement projects and the state’s road infrastructure after a committee added more spending items to the bill.

An amendment put in the bill by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee calls for using $50 million to build a rural hospital. While a location for the hospital has not been determined, some legislators were leaning toward building it in Valencia County, south of Albuquerque.

Another amendment consolidated $123 million in internet funding to allow state officials flexibility in deciding which technology to improve broadband access in underserved areas, especially rural regions. New Mexico has considered methods ranging from traditional fiber optic cable to internet beamed to the ground by satellites and blimps.

Republican committee members complained that $25 million in existing internet projects have stalled because they have not been funded.

“They’ve been vetted. They’ve been approved, and they’re sitting on a shelf lacking funding,” said Rep. Randal Crowder of Clovis.

Broadband also was also discussed earlier Friday in the Senate, with one lawmaker announcing that state officials are considering buying a new form of satellite internet for rural students — most of whom have lacked internet access through the pandemic.

The state Public Education Department is working on a deal to connect rural students to the internet through StarLink, a SpaceX satellite network that will offer service to the public in New Mexico starting next year. Agency spokeswoman Judy Robinson said the cost would be $1.6 million for the first year of service and for the installation of receivers.

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The legislation passed by the House also includes $142 million for roads and $2 million for a teacher training fund.

Boosting the training fund is aimed at pulling the state out of a growing teacher shortage that has swelled to about 1,000 unfilled vacancies. Supporters have said the bill could support as many as 1,500 educators and aspiring educators, mostly by subsidizing university tuition for college students who want to become teachers.

“Our teacher shortage is acute,” Democratic Rep. Nathan Small of Las Cruces said, adding that he wanted aspiring teachers to know the Legislature is taking action.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.