Paul Wellman

New Rules Would Limit Unsafe Drone Use

Critical Infrastructure, Private Property, State Parks, and More Proposed Off-Limits in Jackson’s Bill

A new bill authored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson aims to restrict drone use near critical infrastructure, private property, state parks, and the State Capitol.

Introduced Wednesday, the State Remote Piloted Aircraft Act (SB 868) is in part modeled after the City of Chicago’s drone ordinance. In November 2015, the city created no-fly zones over hospitals, police stations, churches, schools, and private property without the owner’s approval and prohibited the flying of drones within five miles of city airports — making Chicago the first American city to regulate drones.

Specifically, SB 868 would limit drones from going within 500 feet of critical infrastructure — including bridges, hospitals, power plants, water-delivery systems, and oil refineries — within 1,000 feet of heliports, and within five miles of an airport without permission. Reckless operation of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that interferes with passenger-carrying planes or firefighting aircraft would be outlawed. Over state parks and wildlife refuges and within 500 feet of the State Capitol without a permit, drone use would be similarly prohibited.

As stated in a press release from Jackson’s office, SB 868 aims to “limit drone use within the immediate airspace of private property,” without specifying an exact distance. Unlike the City of Chicago’s ordinance, Jackson’s bill would prohibit the “weaponizing” of drones — essentially turning drones into aerial bombs or guns. Additionally, the bill would require commercial drone operators to obtain liability insurance.

In September 2015, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Jackson’s SB 142, which would have created a 350-feet no-fly zone over residential properties, as well as extend trespassing laws to drone operators. Unlike that bill, SB 868 would allow drone use for newsgathering purposes. The new bill would let local governments create further drone regulations in their communities.

“From helping farmers to responding to disasters, there are many innovative and extremely valuable uses for drones, and those uses should be encouraged and allowed to continue,” Jackson said in a prepared statement. “But irresponsible or even dangerous operators and their drones should not be able to threaten our safety, our private property, the critical infrastructure we need to keep our state running or our beloved public parks and wildlife refuges.”

The first hearing of the State Remote Piloted Aircraft Act hasn’t yet been set.

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