Drone Laws in the States

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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.”

Although the numbers are still being tallied, 2014 looks to be just as busy, with several bills still being debated. 

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, the Alabama state legislature passed a bill that outlaws intentional drone use in order to harass a hunter or fisherman. 

Alaska (Task Force): In January, the “Last Frontier” established a Legislative Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft Systems which has released an Interim Report to the Legislature. At the federal level, the FAA has authorized the second of six UAS test sites, allowing university wildlife research.  

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.” 

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): The Prairie State passed similar laws in 2013 banning harassment of hunters by drones as well as requiring warrants for most police use of UAVs. The new 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, 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 passed the House on April 25. 

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.”

Read the entire article by Andrew Amato at DroneLife.com