By Matt Grubs, NMiF Producer
UPDATED: 8:59 a.m.
Democrats in both houses of the New Mexico Legislature announced today that they believe they have brokered an agreement to solve liability issues with manned space flight originating at New Mexico’s Spaceport America. Leadership in the House and Senate met repeatedly since the summer with representatives from the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and the spaceport’s main tenant, Virgin Galactic.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said the legislation compares favorably to laws in Colorado and Florida in that it limits liability for “suppliers or manufacturers of components, services or vehicles to the space flight.”
The liability limit would be one million dollars and insurance would be required to claim protection afforded by the act. The proposed law applies only to lawsuits by passengers of space tourism operations at the Upham, New Mexico facility. The measure suggests extending the effective date of the act from 2018 to 2021.
“This is the way it should be up here, where we work on things,” said Speaker of the House Ken Martinez, D-Grants. “Sometimes if you really care about an issue, you’ll work on it over the course of several years.”
Governor Susana Martinez, who has pushed for a solution – including during her State of the State address – did not immediately comment on the proposed fix. Wednesday morning, the governor’s office released a brief statement, saying “Protecting the $209 million taxpayer investment in the Spaceport by passing a bill preventing lawsuit abuse is one of Governor Martinez’s top priorities for this session. The Governor met with leaders from Virgin Galactic Tuesday and is hopeful that the final legislation that passes will lead to the company’s commitment to stay in New Mexico, and that it will lead to making New Mexico capable of attracting other space industry business.”
During her opening day speech to lawmakers, the governor urged them to “protect our investment in Spaceport and pass lawsuit abuse reform this session.” It’s unclear if a specific fix to the spaceport issue is broad enough for the governor to deem it “lawsuit abuse reform”.
The bill is expected to be introduced on Wednesday.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said the bill means Southern New Mexico has more than just a shiny new building to point to when asked why residents of some counties there have been paying additional gross receipts tax for the facility.
The complete press announcement is below, courtesy of the Senate Democrats.