The US National Conference of State Legislation publishes regular updates on the status of legislation controlling the use of Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). An earlier map was published in July 2103.Many states are debating if and how this emerging technology should be regulated, taking into account privacy concerns, the benefits of their use and business interests. Forty-three states have introduced 115 bills and resolutions concerning UAS issues. Thirteen bills have been enacted in 11 states, and resolutions have been adopted in 14 states.
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 6 test ranges.” Several states, including Arizona and California, have introduced resolutions supporting their state’s efforts to be chosen as a test site. 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.
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.
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.
A new Florida law, SB 92, defines what a drone is and limits their use by law enforcement. Under this law, 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.
Montana became the fourth state to enact law on this issue. SB 196 limits when information gained from the use of unmanned aerial vehicles can 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.
A new North Dakota law, SB 2018 grants $1,000,000 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 $4,000,000 to operate the test site.
A recently enacted 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 nineteen 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.
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 to be planned for is a professional unmanned aircraft systems pilot program administered through Hawaii community college.
The Alaska Legislature has adopted a resolution this year, HCR 6, creating a legislative Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft Systems 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 their findings by Jan. 15, 2014, and a final report by July 1, 2014.
Pending State Legislation
The pending measures focus on a variety of issues including:
- Defining what a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle is.
- The use of unmanned aerial vehicles by law enforcement and other state agencies.
- Their use by the general public.
- Formation of study committees.
- Bans and moratoriums.
- Resolutions requesting to be an FAA test site.