Launch Liability Bill on House Calendar for Monday – UPDATE

Launch Liability Bill on House Calendar for Monday – UPDATE

UPDATE, DECEMBER 2, 2013:  The House passed the bill 376-5.  All five “nays” were Republican.  Of the ayes, 201 were Republican and 175 were Democrat.  Fifty members did not vote:  25 Republicans and 25 Democrats.

ORIGINAL STORY, DECEMBER 1, 2013: The House is scheduled to debate and vote on H.R. 3547 tomorrow.  It would extend the FAA’s authority to indemnify commercial space launch services companies from certain levels of liability for third party claims that could arise from a launch accident.  FAA’s current authority expires on December 31.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee, would extend the indemnification authority for one year.   It is listed first of three bills due to be considered under suspension of the rules tomorrow on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s website.  The House meets at 2:00 pm ET, but votes are delayed until 6:00 pm ET.

The liability indemnification provision was originally enacted in 1988 and has been extended numerous times since then.   It was due to expire last year, and at the last minute Congress extended it for one more year.  Hence it is again about to expire.

The launch services and communications satellite industries are anxious to get the indemnification authority extended and want a longer extension or, better yet, to make the provision permanent.   The bill was introduced shortly after a House SS&T hearing on this and other commercial space issues on November 20.  In a joint statement, Smith and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the Space Subcommittee, said they wanted a longer extension, but the top Democrat on the full committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and the top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), said they wanted more hearings before deciding to extend for more than one year.

The Senate version of the bill (S. 1753) would extend it for three years.

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