Drone Camera Bill Lifts Off in Senate

Florida Drone
Posted at 8:41 AM, Apr 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-14 04:53:51-04

TALLAHASSEE, FL (News Service of Florida) - The Senate has launched a measure that could open airspace for private drone users, while seemingly more-restrictive proposals are ready to go to the House and Senate floors.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday unanimously backed a measure (SB 1178), which outlines 22 different uses in which images could be taken from unmanned crafts.

"This bill doesn't tell you why you should use a drone, this bill identifies lawful uses to capture an image using a drone in the state of Florida," said Sen. Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican who is sponsoring the bill. "It's not intended to say why or tell somebody that they need to go do this or shouldn't do it, we're strictly regulating and establishing the lawful purposes of a drone."

Richter added that his proposal sends a message that Florida wants to welcome the growing drone industry.

However, the flight path for the bill is unknown.

With less than three weeks remaining in the regular legislative session, Richter's proposal still would need to clear two committees. Also, the House companion (HB 979) to Richter's measure has yet to have a committee hearing.

Richter said after the committee meeting that he hasn't set a strategy for the bill, nor has he talked to the author of a separate proposal on drones.

Richter's proposal has some similarities to a measure (SB 766) by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, in that it prohibits the use of aerial drones to capture images that could infringe on the privacy of property owners or occupants.

Hukill's bill, which could be heard on the Senate floor Tuesday, lists far fewer exceptions. The uses include countering the risk of terrorist attacks or if police obtain search warrants that authorize the use of drones, as well as allowing property appraisers to make tax assessments and utilities to maintain and operate their facilities. A similar House bill (HB 649) also has been approved by committees and is ready to go to the full House.

Under Richter's bill, exemptions are offered for such things as military operations and exercises, images captured by satellites for mapping purposes, images by electric or natural-gas utilities, disaster relief, rescue operations and fire suppression.

The move to regulate drones comes from concerns that drones could be used to invade people's privacy. However, critics have called the bill overbroad, as the measure carves out ways that drones can be used and could result in numerous court challenges.

The bills are seen as separate from a 2013 law in which lawmakers prohibited law enforcement from using drones unless a judge has issued a warrant, or in cases where there is a "high risk of terrorist attack," or in cases of imminent danger, such as in a missing-person case where the person is thought to be in immediate danger.

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