Gov. Brown signs Knight bill into law

Historic legislation protects entrepreneurs in private spaceflight

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

As Thursday’s final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavor heralded an end to one era, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that empowers the entrepreneurs of private spaceflight to usher low-orbital space exploration into a new age.

“I got the call from the governor’s office, and not 20 minutes later the shuttle flew over my house,” said Assemblyman Steve Knight, author of AB 2243, which offers the same protection to private spaceflight companies that NASA and the U.S. government enjoyed during the federally funded space program.

“Now we have entrepreneurs and geniuses out there like the minds behind Scaled Composites and XCOR and so many others who are doing this same thing in our area. We need this protection to allow these companies to proceed in their work.”

Knight said the bill puts our state on an equal footing with states like Texas, Florida and Virginia, whose state-sponsored incentive programs have been aggressively luring industry out of California.

“Industry will go where it is protected.” Knight said that not only is this bill a critical step in protecting current industry jobs, but it also has the potential to kickstart tremendous growth.

“California is the aerospace capital of the world,” he said. “We’ve built everything from our glorious space shuttle to some of the greatest fighters and bombers the world has ever seen.

“Aerospace is going to be a part of our future, and we expect California to remain at the forefront. This is the first step in keeping our competitive edge.”

Those seeking a more objective testament of the bill’s importance need only to look at New Mexico, the legislature of which is holding a special session just to consider a similar piece of legislation.

In California — whose legislature has been marked by controversial partisanship for years — the bill sailed through the state assembly, senate and two judiciary committees without a single vote of opposition before Gov. Brown added his approval last week.

“In the four years I’ve been in the legislature, I’ve never seen, and definitely never been a part of, anything like this,” said Knight. “People have good cause to say that many things in Sacramento are broken. But I think this shows that there are still some good things happening here.”

He credits the success in part to the teamwork from politically heavy hitters like House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway to industry leaders such as Sir Richard Branson — who were among those testifying to the importance of the bill.

But Knight attributes the inception of the bill to Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stuart Witt. The local champion of the aerospace industry — who was also recently voted to chair the Commercial Spaceflight Federation — has been lobbying for state support to protect the entrepreneurial haven he created at Mojave.

“He merely passed me the ball and asked me to run with it,” said Knight. Part of his role was to educate his fellow legislators on the issue. When you are asked to consider maybe 300 different concepts of varying degrees of critical importance, no one can be expected to be an expert on every subject. “For some people, this was not even on their radar. We took the great information Stu provided and did our due diligence in helping our leaders see the potential here.

“We are not just talking about the thousands of jobs we already have in aerospace. We are looking at what this will mean to California 20 years from now. What it will mean to America.”

“This is a very big step forward and we couldn’t be more pleased at the outcome,” said Witt. He said he spoke for the commercial space industry in Mojave in thanking not only Knight for his “steadfast leadership,” but for the many supporters who worked together with Brown to “craft meaningful policy, which is required by the job creators of tomorrow in our exciting new industry.”

CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria, former commander of the International Space Station, added his praise to California for passing the Spaceflight Liability and Immunity Act.

“This bill will provide the required liability protections needed for companies in this developing sector to operate in an efficient and effective manner, while acknowledging that spaceflight is not a risk-free activity,” said Lopez-Alegria.

“The mission of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight, pursue ever-higher levels of safety and share best practices and expertise throughout the industry.”

Its members are working to preserve American leadership in aerospace through technological innovation and by inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and engineering.

“This is a historic day for California,” said McCarthy. “Not only will signing of this bill help keep innovative commercial space companies from leaving California, it will also ensure high-end jobs in a burgeoning industry with incredible potential for growth right here in East Kern and the Antelope Valley.”

McCarthy helped lead a similar effort earlier this year to pass federal legislation compelling the FAA works cooperatively with private industry. McCarthy said these two accomplishments help to ensure a bright future for industry advancements in the region and the state.

Story First Published: 2012-09-26