Texas HB 1643 adds “concentrated animal feeding structure” to the list of 14 “critical infrastructure facilities” over which drones are not allowed to fly. The list also includes energy and telecommunications facilities, any of which are “completely enclosed by a fence or other physical barrier that is obviously designed to exclude intruders, or if clearly marked with a sign or signs that are posted on the property, are reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders, and indicate that entry is forbidden.”
According to Texas government code, sec. 423.0045 it is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 180 days in jail to operate a drone under 400 feet above ground level over a critical infrastructure facility, or to allow a drone to “disturb or interfere with the operations of a facility.”
The Argument For
Proponents of the bill say that it protects factory farms from the potential of attack: “It is not always possible to know the intent of a drone’s operator, which causes concerns for farmers and ranchers upon seeing one,” says the bill analysis. “With the speed at which drone technology is evolving and the ease with which drones can be acquired, the opportunities for nefarious uses have increased, including poisoning a food supply at a feed lot.”
The Argument Against
With over 78% of Texas land mass covered in farm land – much of which gets significant benefit from drone technology – the bill could open Texas up to unintended consequences as the commercial and beneficial uses of drones expand. Opponents of the bill say that the existing laws, including one making it illegal to fly drones over private property, render this one unnecessary. They also point out that the FAA claims sole jurisdiction over regulation of airspace.
“Although concerns about people poisoning the food supply or harassing cattle are valid, there are more effective ways to address the problem than banning drone overflights and imposing an excessive penalty,” say opponents of the bill. “…The bill unnecessarily would increase the scope of state government. The regulation of airspace should remain the purview of the federal government to preserve a consistent system that enhances safety.”