The sparsely populated rural country has struggled for years to dig the trenches and lay the fiber optic cables needed to expand internet access. The issue has come to the fore during the pandemic, when poor internet access has resulted in inequalities in accessing online education and healthcare.
Lawmakers hope that the influx of federal funding and the creation of a dedicated state broadband office will help accelerate internet connectivity efforts, especially in rural communities.
While students have now returned to face-to-face schools, they are still required to attend virtual classes during bad weather or if they are quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure even though thousands of children are denied access. Internet quality, according to a state’s Department of Public Education in the fall.
“There is no such thing as a snow day anymore,” said Senator George Muñoz of Gallup, of northwestern New Mexico, who sponsors the bill.
The state senate voted 36-4 in favor of the bill, sending it back to the House to pass recent amendments. It is expected that the measure will be passed and keep the preferences added by the House, including $2 million to pay off teacher debt and $50 million for a rural hospital.
The money will come from about $1 billion in federal funds that the state legislature is working to allocate after the state’s supreme court ruled last month that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham did not have the power to act on her own. fund allocation. The Legislature is on track to put about half of that in the general fund, allowing it to distribute the money next year.
Lujan Grisham has urged the Legislature to expedite pandemic aid spending.
The Democratic governor vetoed the Legislature’s allocation of federal pandemic relief funds this spring, sparking a rare public spat between her and the majority Democratic parties in the House. House and Senate. The Legislature sued and ultimately won their argument in court that the Legislature had power in the pocket, even when the money came from federal funding.
(Copyright 2021 by Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/new-mexico-senate-passes-broadband-highway-spending-bill/6332832/?cat=500 New Mexico Senate Passes Broadband, Highway Spending Bill