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Spaceport Renews Liability-Immunity Pitch

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TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES — Spaceport America officials made a renewed pitch here this week for a bill to grant legal immunity to manufacturers of spaceflight parts, in the case of a crash or other problem.

But it was met with skepticism from some lawmakers who were in Truth or Consequences for a joint meeting of two interim legislative panels.

Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson told lawmakers that the bill’s failure in the 2012 Legislature was a key reason behind one company’s decision to locate its headquarters in Florida — a state that already has OK’d the legal immunity being proposed. New Mexico is at risk of losing more potential spaceport clients, she said.

“It’s important we remain competitive,” she told lawmakers. “We can’t have a spaceport with only one tenant.”

Anderson referred to Great Britain-based Virgin Galactic, which has an agreement in place with New Mexico to launch tourists to suborbital space from the state-owned Spaceport America.

The bill debated is the same version as one that didn’t clear the legislative session earlier this year. It would prevent lawsuits by passengers of spaceflights against companies that make or supply parts or components. A bill offering the same kind of legal immunity is already in place for Virgin Galactic and any other spaceflight companies.

Presenter David Jaramillo, member of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and lobbyist for the group, argued against the proposal, saying the right of residents to seek legal remedies for their injury shouldn’t be curtailed to attract businesses.

The immunity would cover cases of negligence, but not intentional harm, said Robert Desiderio, local attorney for Virgin Galactic. Similar laws are already on the books in Florida, Texas, Virginia and Colorado, he said.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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