NM legislators reach compromise on spaceport liability bill

Spaceport Compromise

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - New Mexico legislators said on Tuesday a compromise has been reached that could ensure the success of Spaceport America.

The compromise proposal was introduced in the state senate Wednesday morning.

House and senate leaders celebrated on Tuesday, hoping the bill will lead to much success for the state's $209 million investment.

New Mexico law currently offers limited liability protection to space craft operators such as Virgin Galactic. For years, Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America officials have been pushing to expand limited liability protection to space craft manufacturing and supply chains.

Each year, the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association has fought it, saying it didn't protect consumers enough.

"It was too broad. It provided too much immunity to too many potential people and it was unchecked," Ray Vargas, the president of the Trial Lawyers Association, told ABC-7.

It took several months of tough negotiations but both parties have agreed to amend current state law.

Under the proposed compromise, limited liability protection would be expanded to include manufacturing and supply chains for space crafts.

Those seeking protection would also have to show they have $1 million in liability insurance.

It also expands the law to expire in 2021 instead of 2018. Virgin Galactic would extend its lease for that same time period.

The law would allow space flight passengers to sue if an accident is caused by negligence or malintent.

"It is something that I think means that we're going to be able to utilize our 209 million dollars in economic development. Hopefully it's not just virgin galactic. I'm hoping it's going to be other space agencies that are going to come in as well," said Democrat Sen. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces.

If passed, New Mexico would offer the same protection as states like Colorado and Florida -- something spaceport officials said is crucial to bringing in more tenants.

"We've always recognized the benefits of the spaceport and the importance to new mexico and its economy. We want it to be as successful as it can possibly be but at the same time we didn't want to do so at the expense of safety," Vargas said.

"I don't see a problem if it's a bi-partisan effort but I think this should go through the legislature pretty smoothly," said Sen. Michael Sanchez.

The bill still needs to be passed and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez. She met with leaders from Virgin Galactic yesterday. Her spokesman said she's hopeful the final legislation will pass and lead to success for the spaceport.

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