Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, have a host of applications: law enforcement, land surveillance, wildlife tracking, search and rescue operations, disaster response, border patrol and photography among others. Many state legislatures are debating if and how UAS technology should be regulated, taking into account privacy concerns, the benefits of their use and their potential economic impact.
In 2013, 43 states introduced 118 bills and resolutions concerning UAS issues. So far, 16 bills have been enacted in 13 states and 14 resolutions have been adopted in 10 states. Common issues addressed in the legislation include defining what a UAS or drone is, their use by law enforcement or other state agencies, their use by the general public, the formation of study committees and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test site application process.
The 2012 Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act includes “language” requiring the FAA to “establish a program to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system at six test ranges.” Several states, including *Arizona and *California, have introduced resolutions supporting their state’s efforts to be chosen as a test site. Also, *Maryland, *Nevada and *North Dakota have legislatively appropriated funds for the development and potential operation of a UAS test site.
*[Unfortunately, in the State of California, the Hearing Committee of this bill and opposition to it, has been repeatedly ‘postponed,’ and ‘Held under submission’ since 5/24/13]
As of July 2012, 201 authorizations have been made for 106 government entities, law enforcement and others to operate UASs. A recent FAA list, spurred by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, indicates that an additional 81 public entities have applied to the FAA for authorization to use UASs. More information about the FAA’s programs and initiatives can be found here.
2013 State Enactments (Listed Alphabetically)
Florida SB 92 defines what a drone is and limits their use by law enforcement. Under this legislation, law enforcement may use a drone if: they obtain a warrant; there is a terrorist threat as determined by the United States Secretary of Homeland Security; or a law enforcement agency determines “swift action” is needed to, among other things, prevent loss of life or serious property damage, or to search for a missing person. The law also enables someone harmed by an inappropriate use of drones to “pursue civil remedies” and prevents evidence gathered in violation of this code from being admitted in any Florida court.
The Hawaii Legislature passed SB 1221, which appropriates $100,000 in funds for two staff positions, contracted through the University of Hawaii, to plan for the creation of three degree and training programs on advanced aviation. One of the programs is a professional unmanned aircraft systems pilot program administered through Hawaii Community College.
On April 11, 2013, Idaho became the second state to enact a drone law. SB 1134 defines an “Unmanned Aircraft System,” requires warrants for their use by law enforcement, establishes guidelines for use by private citizens and provides civil penalties for damages caused by improper use.
Illinois has enacted two UAS bills in 2013. Both new laws define “drone” as any aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator. Illinois HB 1652 prohibits anyone from using a drone to interfere with hunters or fisherman. SB 1587 allows drones to be used by law enforcement with a warrant, to counter a terrorist attack, to prevent harm to life, or to prevent the imminent escape of a “suspect among other situations.” If a law enforcement agency uses a drone, the agency must destroy all information gathered by the drone within 30 days, except that a supervisor at the law enforcement agency may retain “particular information” if there is reasonable suspicion it contains evidence of criminal activity.
The law also requires the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (CJIA) to report on its website every law enforcement agency that owns a drone and the number they own. Each law enforcement agency is responsible for giving this information to the Illinois CJIA.
Maryland’s legislature, through HB 100, appropriated $500,000 for the state’s unmanned aerial system test site.
Montana SB 196 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 information can be used when it was obtained pursuant to a search warrant, “or through a judicially recognized exception to search warrants.” The new law defines “unmanned aerial vehicle” as “an aircraft that is operated without direct human intervention from on or within the aircraft,” not including satellites.
*Nevada AB 507 appropriated $4,000,000 to the interim Finance Committee for allocation to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program. The funds can only be appropriated if Nevada is selected as a Federal Aviation Administration test site.
North Carolina SB 402 places a moratorium on UAS use by state and local personnel unless the use is approved by the Chief Information Officer for the Department of Transportation (CIO). Any CIO granted exception has to be reported immediately to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology and the Fiscal Research Division. The CIO may determine that there is a need to develop a UAS program within the State of North Carolina. This effort must include the CIO and the Department of Transportation Aviation Division Director.
*North Dakota law, SB 2018 grants $1 million from the state general fund to pursue designation as a Federal Aviation Administration unmanned aircraft systems test site. If selected, the law would grant an additional $4 million to operate the site.
Oregon’s HB 2710 defines a drone as an unmanned flying machine, not including model aircraft. The law allows a law enforcement agency to operate a drone if it has a warrant and for enumerated exceptions including for “training purposes.” It also requires that a drone operated by a public body be registered with the Oregon Department of Aviation (DOA), which shall keep a registry of drones operated by public bodies. The law grants the DOA rulemaking authority to implement these provisions. It also creates new crimes and civil penalties for mounting weapons on drones and interfering with or gaining unauthorized access to public drones. Under certain conditions a landowner can bring an action against someone flying a drone lower than 400 feet over their property.
The law also requires that the DOA must report to legislative committees on the status of federal regulations and whether UAV’s operated by private parties should be registered in a manner similar to the requirement for other aircraft.
Tennessee law SB 796 addresses the use of drones by law enforcement. The new law enables law enforcement to use drones in compliance with a search warrant, to counter a high-risk terrorist attack, and if swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life. Evidence obtained in violation of this law is not admissible in state criminal prosecutions. Additionally, those wronged by such evidence can seek civil remedy.
*Texas recently enacted HB 912, which enumerates 19 lawful uses for unmanned aircraft, including their use in airspace designated as an FAA test site, their use in connection with a valid search warrant and their use in oil pipeline safety and rig protection. The law creates two new crimes, the illegal use of an unmanned aircraft to capture images and the offense of possessing or distributing the image; both offenses are class C misdemeanors. “Image” is defined in the law as any sound wave, thermal, ultraviolet, visible light or other electromagnetic waves, odor, or other conditions existing on property or an individual located on the property. Additionally, the measure requires the Department of Public Safety to adopt rules for use of UAS by law enforcement and mandates that law enforcement agencies in communities of over 150,000 people make annual reports on their use. Texas HCR 217 altered reporting requirements from the original HB 912.
On April 3, 2013, Virginia enacted the first state drone laws in the country with the passage of HB 2012 and SB 1331. The new laws prohibit drone use by any state agencies “having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement or regulatory violations” or units of local law enforcement until July 1, 2015.
Numerous exceptions to the ban are enumerated including enabling officials to deploy drones for Amber Alerts, Blue Alerts, use by the National Guard, by higher education institutions and search and rescue operations. The enacted bills also require the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and “other state agencies” to research and develop model protocols for drone use by law enforcement in the state. They are required to report their findings to the General Assembly and governor by Nov. 1, 2013.
2013 Adopted Resolutions
*The Alaska Legislature has adopted a resolution this year, HCR 6, creating a legislative Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force tasked with reviewing Federal Aviation Administration regulations on drones and creating written recommendations and legislation that “protects privacy and allows [for] the use of unmanned aircraft systems for public and private applications.”
In addition to members of the legislature, the task force will be comprised of a member representing the commissioner of public safety; the adjutant general of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs; the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at University of Alaska Fairbanks; the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the state Aviation Advisory Board. The task force must provide an initial report of its findings by Jan. 15, 2014, and a final report by July 1, 2014.
- Congressional Resarch Service Report – Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses, pdf
- Airline Safety Forum, video, July 2013 – Mr. James H. Williams, Manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, Aviation Safety Organization, Federal Aviation Administration
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site Selection (UASTSS) (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- An Act to Relating to Unmanned Aircraft Systems (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- To amend the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Domestic Drone Information Center (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Congressmembers sign letter of support for Cal UAS, San Diego (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Federal Government Shackles Unmanned Aerial System Industry (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2013HR 1262 (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)