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OLYMPIA, Wash. — A bill is in play in Washington state Legislature to get the state government deeply involved in nurturing Washington’s fledgling space-exploration industry.

Rep. Jeff Morris, D-40
Rep. Jeff Morris

The bipartisan House bill by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, would create a space exploration center to boost the industry in Washington. Morris is chairman of the House Technology & Economic Development Committee. The committee will hold a public hearing on the bill at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the O’Brien Building next to the CapitolDome in Olympia.

“It’s kind of neat to get a (space-exploration) cluster like this off the ground,” Morris said.

The push comes as one major commercial space company based in the Seattle region, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, calls for further tax incentives from the Legislature to boost the emerging industry. Companies including Blue Origin, SpaceX, Planetary Resources, Spaceflight Industries and others have established major operations in the state.

Last year, Morris tried unsuccessfully to get a tax break for the space industry through the legislature. This year, some space tax breaks will be a component in some aerospace tax-exemption legislation.

Under the latest bill, the Washington Department of Commerce would pick a government, non-government or academic agency to manage the proposed center.

The center’s purpose would be to coordinate Washington’s young space industry, to tackle joint university-industry research on space technologies, and bolster space-oriented education in the state’s universities. The center would also work with space companies of all sizes to identify research needs.

It would recruit entrepreneurs, and help existing Washington firms build ties with space-exploration companies, in addition to setting up space-oriented conferences, helping with intellectual property issues, and seeking federal and private money.

The bill’s goals are to increase federal space funding in Washington by 30 percent, and to increase space-related jobs by 15 percent. However, the baselines for those increases are still being calculated, Morris said.

Morris estimated this effort would need $250,000 in state appropriations annually or $500,000 per budget biennium to get rolling.

The governor would appoint an eight-member board for the center. The voting members would include one from a small space exploration firm, one from a medium space firm and one from a large space firm. It would also include two people from space industry associations. Two would represent higher education, and one would represent labor.

The chairpersons and ranking minority members of the state Senate and House technology committees would be non-voting members.
The board would be allowed to create a non-profit corporation to receive and allocate non-state dollars.

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