Governor joins fight for N.M. liability law

The governor of New Mexico is asking legislators to reconsider their opposition to an updated spaceflight liability bill, as time runs out in the current session. Earlier this week a Senate committee failed to advance the bill, which would update the state’s existing liability indemnification law for commercial spaceflight by extending the same protection to suppliers. A companion bill in the House is also stalled, increasing the chances that the legislation will not pass before the state legislature adjourns from its brief session next Thursday.

In a letter Thursday to members of key House and Senate committees, Gov. Susana Martinez (R) and several legislators from both parties asked those committees to reconsiders their votes to block the legislation. “Simply put, this would make it extremely difficult for Spaceport America to achieve its mission of providing commercial space flights and boosting local economies in the southern part of the state,” Martinez wrote in the letter to members of the committees blocking of the bills, adding it was “a step in the wrong direction.”

It’s not clear the tactic will work: several members told the Albuquerque Tribune that the letter would not change their minds. “This kind of pressure is going to make me say no even more so. I can’t believe she has the gall to do this,” said Rep. Eliseo Alcon (D), whose serves on the House Business and Industry Committee, where the House version of the bill is stalled. Proponents have until February 16, when the legislature is scheduled to adjourn for its 2012 regular session, to get the legislation passed.

Some, including Gov. Martinez, have suggested that money has played a role in blocking the legislation. The Journal notes that the state’s trial lawyer association, which opposes the bill, has donated $67,000 to 25 current members of the state legislature, nearly five times the $14,000 donated by Virgin Galactic, the spaceport’s prime tenant and a supporter of the legislation. “Some have suggested that political donations have influenced some legislators to put the interests of a small but powerful special interest group ahead of the priority of economic development and growth shared by all New Mexicans,” wrote Martinez in her letter to legislators. She argued that the investment already made by the state in the spaceport “should weigh more heavily on legislators than lobbyists dollars targeted at a few individuals.”

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