Like a bloodhound, new laws always track just behind new advances in technology and the drone sector is the latest object of pursuit for federal and state regulatory.
States have especially been busy players in the high-stakes game that is the rise of commercial drones. The emerging industry has an immensely widespread reach; new job sectors, privacy issues, protection of hunters, law-enforcement limits and safety concerns are all points of contention.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures: “In 2013, 43 states introduced 130 bills and resolutions addressing UAS issues. At the end of the year, 13 states had enacted 16 new laws and 11 states had adopted 16 resolutions.” In 2014, 35 states debated UAV regulations, with 10 states enacting or changing their drone laws.
State Drone Laws
The following states have either passed UAV-related bills, have established commission or tasks forces to study the issue or have bills currently under consideration.
Alabama (Hunting): In February 2014 , the Alabama state legislature proposed a bill that would outlaw intentional drone use in order to harass a hunter or fisherman. The bill passed in the state Senate but remains open in the House.
Alaska (Task Force): Alaska has a state-appointed Legislative Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft Systems. As of 2014, Alaska had enacted into law protocols for the use of UAVs by law enforcement. Under HB 255, police must provide training certification for its pilots; obtain proper FAA authorization for each flight and maintain a log of all flights. The law also includes protocols on record retention for data obtained by drones. Alaska is also home to the second of six official FAA UAS test sites.
Arizona (Law Enforcement): As of February, an Arizona bill that would curtail police use of drones was languishing in committee. The bill would make it “unlawful for a law enforcement agency or a state, county or municipal agency to use a drone to gather, store or collect evidence of any type, including audio or video recordings [and prohibit] surveillance of citizens unless the citizen is specifically named on a valid search warrant.” A similar bill passed in Florida in 2013.
Arkansas (Law Enforcement/Privacy): Two bills in “The Natural State” died of natural causes in mid-2013. A house bill would have regulated how much drone-recorded imagery police could retain of areas that had not been targeted. The bill also prohibited UAV weaponization. A senate bill would have prohibited shooting video via drone of a person or their property.
California (Law Enforcement): A bill zipping through committee hoops in California also deals with data retention obtained by drones as well as law enforcement issues. Assembly Bill 1327 (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) states that: “All data which is collected by public drones would need to be destroyed within six month. The ‘weaponization’ of drones would be illegal. Law enforcement would generally be required to obtain a warrant to use a drone. A warrant would not be necessary in certain emergency situations such as search and rescue.”
In September 2014, California governor Ed Brown signed into law AB 2306 which amends existing privacy laws to prohibit anybody from using a drone to take pictures of a person “under circumstances in which [they] had a reasonable expectation of privacy,” and where said picture could not have been taken without trespassing if the drone hadn’t been used.
Colorado (Hunting): You won’t (or shouldn’t) see any drones used to aid hunters in Colorado after the state’s Parks and Wildlife Commission passed a measure in January that bans the use of drones to help hunters in any way (including scouting). Hunters will have to rely on good, old-fashioned tracking and shooting skills to bag that “wascally wabbit.” The National Association of Drone Sportsmen opposed the regulation calling it “regulatory overreach in an attempt to demean, malign and demonize hunters (a.k.a. gun owners) for something they are not even doing.” NADS chief Steve Gill told the Denver Post: “I believe you ought to hunt fairly. But we’ve got enough regulation in business and in life to not spend our time trying to regulate things people aren’t actually doing yet.”
Connecticut (Law Enforcement): A Connecticut House bill referred to the judiciary committee “criminalizes the weaponization of drones and prevents government from using them unless a proper warrant is issued, except for certain emergency situations,” according to the Tenth Amendment Center. Like the Arkansas bill, the measure regulates what and how recorded data by drones may be collected, stored and retained.
Hawaii (Research): In 2013, the state legislature granted $100,000 to advance new training programs in unmanned aviation.
Idaho (Law Enforcement): With the passage of a bill in April, 2013, Idaho became the second state to pass a bill aimed specifically at law enforcement use of drones (and the first to be signed into law). The Idaho Statesman points out that the bill allows for many exceptions since it “exempts emergency responses for safety, search and rescue operations, and controlled substance investigations.”
Illinois (Law Enforcement):
In 2014, Illinois passed SB 2937, which requires police to adhere to search-warrant regulations already in place when using drones. However, the use of drones by law enforcement during a natural disaster or health emergency will be loosened.
The Prairie State passed laws in 2013 banning harassment of hunters by drones as well as requiring warrants for most police use of UAVs. The law takes an added step by requiring the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (CJIA) to “publish on its publicly available website a concise report that lists every law enforcement agency that owns a drone, and for each of those agencies, the number of drones that it owns.”
Iowa (Law Enforcement): As reported in DRONELIFE in April 2014, an Iowa Senate bill prohibits “state or local law enforcement authorities from using unmanned aerial vehicles for traffic enforcement [and] states that evidence obtained by law enforcement using an unmanned aerial vehicle is not admissible in a criminal or civil trial unless it was obtained legally pursuant to a search warrant or in a manner that is consistent with state and federal law.” The bill was signed into law in May, 2014.
Louisiana (Law Enforcement): The Louisiana State Senate failed to pass legislation in April, 2014 that would have implemented extensive drone regulation in the Bayou State. In June 2014, the state of Louisiana did enact HB 1029, establishing the “crime of unlawful use of [a UAV].” Unlawful use is defined as conducting “surveillance of a targeted facility without the owner’s prior written consent and is punishable by a fine of up to $500 dollars and six months of jail time.
Maryland (Research/Privacy): The Maryland General Assembly appropriated $500,000 in 2013 to launch one of six federally sanctioned UAS test sites. Although the state lost its bid to Virginia, the Baltimore Sun reports: “Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey signed an agreement this year to collaborate on drone research.” In 2013, the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee killed a bill that would have prohibited “any agent of the state or a political subdivision of the state from operating a drone for the purpose of receiving or disclosing information acquired through the operation of the drone except under specific circumstances.”
Massachusetts (Law Enforcement): As earlier reported in DRONELIFE, a bill that would “ban the use of weaponized drones in Massachusetts’ and … limit the government’s use of drones to special circumstances,” is being debated in committee. Circumstances include: “the execution of a warrant; observation, as long as the information cannot be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding or investigation or used for any intelligence purpose; and emergencies, such as when a threat to human life or safety is imminent.”
Michigan (Law Enforcement/General Regulation): State Rep. Tom McMillin has introduced two House bills that take regulation a step further, requiring state officials to get legislative approval before acquiring a UAV. The bills make provisions for the authorization and regulation of the use of unmanned vehicles and make it illegal to arm a drone aircraft with legal force within state boundaries. Under the measure, an individual must also give consent before they can be recorded by drone aircraft.
Montana (Law Enforcement/Privacy): According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a Montana State Senate bill “limits when information gained from the use of unmanned aerial vehicles may be admitted as evidence in any prosecution or proceeding within the state.” The bill was signed into law in 2013.
Nevada (Research): In 2013, Nevada appropriated $4 million in expectation of being chosen as one of six FAA drone test sites – a designation it received in June.
North Carolina (General Regulation/Safety): In June, the Tar Heel State passed a sweeping measure that will allow and regulate drone use, paving the way for specific state regulation of UAVs. House Bill 1099, which passed without discussion, permits commercial use of drones in North Carolina with some caveats. The measure prohibits using a drone to damage or disrupt any manned aircraft operation; deploying any drone armed with any weapons; photographing or recording any persons with a drone or publishing drone-recorded photos without consent (unless the photos are recorded at “newsworthy events or events to which the public is invited”). The bill also provides protections to citizens in the case of law-enforcement searches, surveillance and investigation. The bill may have been sparked by a report of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) indicating that drone-based industries “could create roughly 7,500 jobs in North Carolina by 2017.”
One key provision of the law recently went into effect in December, 2014 and bars animal-rights activists such as PETA from using drones to monitor hunters.
North Dakota (Research/Law Enforcement): In 2013, the North Dakota legislature approved $1 million from the state’s general fund in its bid for FAA approval as a UAS test site. The appropriation proved to be money well spent as the “Peace Garden State” became the first test site to garner federal approval. A provision in the law also triggered an additional $4 million in state funds should the test site get off the ground. North Dakota’s innovative approach has led to some pundits dubbing the state the “Silicon Valley for drones.” In 2013, the state passed a bill limiting law-enforcement use of drones similar to that passed by other legislatures.
Ohio: In 2014, Ohio enacted HB 292 which creates the state’s first aerospace and aviation technology committee which will research and develop aviation technology including UAVs.
Oklahoma (Strategy/Emergency Services): In 2012, the Oklahoma Governor’s Office commissioned A Strategic Plan for the Development of an Unmanned Aerial Systems Enterprise. At the local level, Oklahoma City fire officials are “studying the use of drones to battle wild fires, providing real-time video of the fire area and changing wind directions.”
Oregon: UAV laws in Oregon allow law enforcement agencies to use UAVs to track an individual fleeing a crime scene, to survey natural disasters, reconstruct crime scenes, and help with search and rescue. The July, 2013 statute dictates that the state will govern use of drones, not local municipalities. Public bodies, such as universities, must register their drones before takeoff.
Pennsylvania (Hunting): The Keystone State is leading the way in hunter safety and poaching enforcement. Responding to a PETA campaign to deploy drones to watch poachers, state legislators have introduced bills that would prohibit “using an unmanned aircraft in a manner that interferes with another person’s lawful taking of game or wildlife” and apply the same ban to anyone interfering with anglers as well.
Tennessee (Law Enforcement): In 2013, the Tennessee General Assembly passed SB796 (PDF), which allows law enforcement to use drones only with a proper search warrant with the exception of countering “high-risk terrorist attacks” or if “swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life.”
In 2014, Tennessee passed SB 1777, a law that makes it a class C misdemeanor to use drone-captured video footage of a hunter or angler being without their consent, and SB 1892 which also brands as a class C misdemeanor the use a drone to “intentionally conduct surveillance of an individual or their property” and the possession or distribution of images captured in such a manner.
Texas (General Regulation): They say everything’s bigger in Texas and that seems to apply to UAV regulation. In 2013, the state enacted HB 912, an omnibus bill that identifies 19 lawful uses for drones. According to Texas Monthly, the bill contains provisions that fly in the opposite direction of most other state laws in that it opens a wide gap for possible law-enforcement abuse – identifying a “laughably long ‘nonapplicability’ section (38 exceptions!)” for policing agencies. The report adds:
“None of those are quite as depressingly hilarious as a Texas law that’s designed to protect oil pipelines from being photographed by environmentalists while allowing for law enforcement agencies to surveil citizens based on a legal standard that’s only one step up from a hunch, but our law at least also allows for drones to be used by ‘a Texas licensed real estate broker in connection with the marketing, sale, or financing of real property.’”
Utah: Legislation passed in April, 2014 prevents law enforcement from using UAVs for spying on civilians, unless a search warrant has been granted by a judge. However, drones can not be deployed in situations where a warrant is unnecessary (search-and-rescue, speed-enforcement operations, etc). All state government agencies are required make all information about drone use accessible to the public.
Virginia (Law Enforcement): In 2013, Virginia became the first state to pass a law regulating drone use. According to US News and World Report, “the measures require that no state or local law enforcement agency ‘shall utilize an unmanned aircraft system before July 1, 2015.’” The law provides exceptions allowing state officials to launch UAVs including, National Guard deployment, Amber Alerts, search and rescue, as well as use by colleges and universities.
Washington (General Regulation): Legislators in the “Evergreen State” face a forest of complications as the legislature struggles to construct new drone policy. Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed lawmakers’ first effort to regulate UAVs in April. In late June, the Legislature (as reported in the LA Times) took “another stab at creating controls … and focused on privacy issues.” The report added:
“And after three hours of polite but often circular discussion about the gadgets — which can fight fires, film movies, bomb enemies and, perhaps, someday deliver goods to your door — only one thing was abundantly clear: Something has to be done.”
Wisconsin: Weaponizing a drone is considered a felony and law enforcement must obtain a warrant before using a drone to collect evidence in a criminal investigation. No warrant is required in the case of an emergency situation such as search and rescue or prevention of imminent danger.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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