Newly announced GOP presidential candidate and Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill into state law on Thursday that protects private companies that orchestrate spaceflights from liability lawsuits if a crew member gets injured or dies as a result of an accident.
The legislation became law exactly one day after DeSantis announced his 2024 presidential campaign in a Twitter Spaces event hosted by Twitter owner Elon Musk, who also owns the private spaceflight company SpaceX.
“Twenty-four hours after appearing with Elon Musk to announce his campaign for president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis just signed a bill into law that will shield Musk’s SpaceX and other private space companies from negligence lawsuits after an explosion or a crash,” wrote Jason Garcia, an investigative reporter from Florida.
The text of the legislation gives tremendous leeway to private spaceflight companies, specifically shielding them from lawsuits relating to “injury to or death of a participant or crew resulting from spaceflight activities” as long as certain warnings were made to crew members prior to launch. Lawsuits could only move forward in certain situations, including cases in which companies had “actual knowledge of an extraordinarily dangerous condition” that is not inherent to space travel before an accident took place.
The bill’s signing comes almost exactly a month after a large, unmanned SpaceX rocket exploded over the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, resulting in catastrophic environmental damage, including a fire at a nearby state park.
Although the Florida legislature passed the bill prior to DeSantis’s presidential announcement, observers noted that the governor’s signing of the bill a day after Musk helped launch his campaign gave the appearance of a quid pro quo.
“What did Elon Musk get for putting the full force of Twitter — broken though it may be — behind Ron DeSantis?” the Twitter account for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked. “DeSantis just signed a bill that could potentially shield Musk and SpaceX from being sued for accidents that injure or kill crew members.”
The Twitter Spaces event in which DeSantis announced his 2024 campaign was rife with glitches and technical difficulties. At one point, the event required a complete restart, resulting in hundreds of thousands of listeners dropping off before DeSantis even said a word on the broadcast.
Observers have noticed a decline in Twitter’s quality in the months since Musk purchased the site, including more frequent outages and difficulties loading media in tweets. Musk’s loosening of restrictions on what content can be shared has also led to a spike in hateful posts from far right users.
Anonymous Twitter employees indicated that mismanagement of the social media website was partially responsible for the glitches, telling The New York Times that preparation for the Twitter Spaces event was lacking, and that no planning had been made to account for “site reliability issues” before the launch of the broadcast.
“The technical problems on Wednesday showed how Twitter is operating far from seamlessly, turning what was supposed to be a crowning event for Mr. Musk into something of an embarrassment,” Times technology reporter Ryan Mac wrote.