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Senate Committee Grounds Spaceport Liability Exemption

The Senate Judiciary Committee today put the brakes on an effort to exempt spacecraft manufacturers from liability in case of passenger injury during spaceflight.

The legal exemption in Senate Bill 3 was pushed by Spaceport officials as a way to attract new aerospace manufacturers to establish their operations near Las Cruces at Spaceport America. Without the special space travel liability exemption, those companies may choose to open shop in Texas, Florida or Virgina, states where manufacturers and suppliers are not held liable for death or injury in commercial space travel, critics said.

Several votes to take action on the bill failed in committee, and the bill is not expected to move out of the Judiciary Committee for consideration elsewhere in the Senate.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said she is hopeful the effort could get another chance if the House passes their version of the bill and sends it back to the Senate.

“It”s still in the House. We still might have an opportunity to get this peice of legislation passed,” Papen said.

Several Judiciary Committee members, however, said the lack of legal liability could cause companies building spacecraft parts and materials to act recklessly and potentially create unnecessary hazards for space travelers now being billed about $200,000 for a trip reaching just beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

The proposal has drawn sharp opposition from the state’s trial lawyers association, which is asking lawmakers to not allow added safety risks for New Mexico-based space travel for the sake of potential economic development.

Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, said the legal protections for consumers are something he is not willing to “water down” to better recruit aerospace businesses to New Mexico.

“We just have to, at some point, say we want you here, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” Griego said.

The House version of the bill, HB 239, is scheduled to be heard by the House Business and Industry Committee this afternoon.