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Friday, December 19, 2014

World’s first commercial spaceport, Spaceport America, one step closer to opening in New Mexico

news@dailylobo.com

New Mexicans are one step closer to having the world’s first working commercial spaceport in their state.

Senate Bill 240, the Space Flight Informed Consent Act, passed unanimously in the Senate Wednesday morning. It heads to the House next, hearing date to be determined.

The New Mexico spaceport is located in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin just west of White Sands Missile Range and has been rented out to Virgin Galactic for use as a commercial launching area. The starting price for a space flight around the Earth is $200,000 per person.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen (D-Las Cruces), clarifies liability in tort claims issues brought against “space flight entities,” which makes it easier to conduct business with such companies operating within the state.

The bill provides new definitions for space flight-related language and terms, which had not previously existed in New Mexico law. These new definitions are state-specific, and differ from previous definitions found in federal law.

The law would also create a $1 million cap on liability for the suppliers and manufacturers of parts used in the spacecraft launched from the facility, limiting any possible lawsuits.

This latest success in the Legislature follows the completion of the most critical components of the spaceport late last year. All operational infrastructure needed to launch and recover a spacecraft is in place. The next part of the project, construction of the public areas including the visitors center and restaurant, is underway.

The House is the last major legal hurdle for Spaceport America. If the bill passes the House, it will be passed on to Gov. Susana Martinez. If she signs the bill, it will become law.

In House news, the Legislative Finance Committee released a fiscal impact report for House Bill 114, otherwise known as Prohibit Enforcement of Federal Gun Laws, sponsored by Rep. Nora Espinoza (R-Roswell). House Bill 114 would criminalize, as a third degree felony, the enforcement of federal firearms laws within New Mexico state borders. It would also enable the New Mexico attorney general to defend New Mexicans refusing to follow federal firearms laws because of the new state law.

The report said that the passage of the bill would increase significantly the number of criminal cases filed in all jurisdictions within the state, and would add investigative tasks to state and local law enforcement. As a consequence, costs associated with law enforcement and the court system would rise, as would hours worked by both employees of the court system and law enforcement personnel.

The attorney general’s office and the New Mexico District Attorney’s Association challenged most parts of HB 114 based on the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says that federal laws automatically override state laws. The offices also said the bill is contradicted by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which has been used to regulate the manufacture and transfer of firearms between states and also as an additional legal basis to overrule individual state laws.

Both offices note a number of smaller but still significant problems with the bill. These include the fact that HB 114 would only govern federal legislation and would do nothing to counteract state laws that could end up being more restrictive than federal laws. Also, there is the fact that if passed, holders of federal firearms licenses would be forced to either follow federal regulations and violate state laws, or vice versa.

The final significant issue noted with the bill is that, if passed simultaneously with opposing HB 77, sponsored by Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque), HB 77 would effectively cancel HB 114. HB 77 aims to make state and federal firearm laws the same. Thus, if HB 77 and HB 114 both pass, HB 114 would be meaningless, because there would be no difference between state and federal firearm laws to enforce.