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Spaceport confidentiality bill revised in committee

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Spaceport America Terminal Hanger Facility (COURTESY OF SMPC ARCHITECTS)

SANTA FE — A proposal that would protect the confidentiality of aerospace companies at Spaceport America passed the House late Wednesday — but only after significant changes aimed at narrowing what can be kept secret.

Senate Bill 98 underwent significant change in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and later passed the full House on a 63-1 vote.

And transparency advocates didn’t oppose the proposal.

A previous version of the legislation specifically said aerospace tenants at the Spaceport could keep their identities secret if they wanted. Even how much rent they paid could have been kept confidential.

But the new version — a product of negotiations involving House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque — is more narrow, though there may be disputes over how to interpret the language.

Nonetheless, the bill now exempts from public disclosure aerospace customer information that would cause “substantial competitive harm” to the company. The exemption would have to be based on “specific factual evidence.”

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government didn’t oppose passage of the amended bill — a contrast to its position on early versions.

The sponsors of the proposal agreed to the amendments.

Supporters say the legislation would help taxpayers earn a return on their $220 million investment in the Spaceport, which lies west of White Sands Missile Range. They hinted that customers are ready to sign contracts if the bill passes.

The aerospace industry is so competitive that companies won’t consider the Spaceport unless they have confidentiality guarantees, supporters say.

“This is such an important time for the Spaceport,” Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said Wednesday.

She is a co-sponsor of the bill, in addition to Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences.

The proposal still must go back to the Senate for approval of the amendments. The session ends at noon Thursday.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s signature would also be required.

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