Spaceport supporters want liability waiver

Posted at: 11/15/2012 7:24 PM
By: Joseph Lynch, KOB Eyewitness News 4

New Mexicans have spent 200 million dollars so far to help launch the commercial space industry. Spaceport America supporters say if lawmakers don't pass a law limiting liability for companies in the commercial space industry here, they might never get it off the ground.

"There's no question that other states are winning business that New Mexico is not winning right now," Virgin Galactic CEO George Whiteside said.

Whitesides and the "Save the Spaceport" coalition said it's a trend they are fighting to stop.

They want lawmakers to pass a bill that would make companies exempt from lawsuits if space travelers are hurt or killed during a flight.

Virgin Galactic has protection. But others don't.

Rick Holdridge from the New Mexico Space Authority thinks Virgin Galactic can't go it alone.

"The spaceport is larger than one company," Holdridge said. "We need 2 or 3 large companies. Just like an airport cannot survive with just one airline. The spaceport will not thrive with one company."

The two previous legislative sessions haven't managed to get a bill out of committee.

Holdridge isn't sure why New Mexico can't get it done.

"What I don't understand is how state legislatures in 4 other states representing almost 60 million americans have found this risk acceptable," he said. "But somehow New Mexico cannot."

Labor Secretary Jon Barela thinks it's only a few holding the bill up.

"I think there's a small minority that- a very small minority that are trying to hold up this legislation," Barela said. "But the greater good is job creation in New Mexico. If we get this bill passed jobs will be created. Many hundreds of jobs will be created."

Many in the coalition are blaming trial lawyers for the bill not becoming law. They couldn't sue if there is an accident.

Whitesides wants to see it work here in New Mexico.

"We're fighting to stay here in the state," he said. "But those other companies are making decisions to go elsewhere and that's just a fact."