After resisting for years all manner of federal court solutions to horrible overcrowding in California prisons, Governor Brown found a new way to address the problem: he vetoed three pieces of legislation that would have regulated the use of drones.
They were among nine bills that Brown rejected in one fell swoop with the veto message, “Over the last several decades, California’s criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every conceivable form of human misbehavior. During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded.”
Had exploded, actually. A court-ordered reorganization reduced the prison population from 165,000 to 120,000 the past four years by accelerating parole of the least threatening inmates and changing sentencing laws for some crimes. Still, the state has still not reached the court’s mandate that prisons hold no more than 137.5% of the penal system’s design capability.
So, Brown drew a line in the sand. “Each of these new bills creates a new crime—usually by finding a novel way to characterize and criminalize conduct that is already proscribed.”
Not exactly. Senate Bill 168 would have provided tougher penalties for people interfering with firefighters if they did it with a drone. It also would have expanded immunity protections for emergency responders who damage a drone while working.
Senate Bill 170 would have made it a misdemeanor for knowingly flying a drone over a prison or jail. Senate Bill 271 would have made it against the law to fly less than 350 feet over a K-12 school. Police, as usual, would have been exempted and the media would have been allowed to zoom in as long as the school didn’t tell them to cut it out.
All three bills were directed at hobbyists, who dominate the soon-to-be-booming industry that commercial interests are dying to enter. Lawmakers, the courts and the public are still in the early stages of wrestling with issues of privacy, safety and common sense. It is not at all clear that current law covers all this.
The governor vetoed a fourth drone bill last month. Senate Bill 142 would have made it a trespass to fly a drone, without permission, over private property at an altitude under 350 feet. In that veto message (pdf), the governor again noted a “novel” wrinkle in the debate. But in that case, the novelty wasn’t creation of duplicative laws; it was the drones themselves.
“Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination,” Brown wrote then. Still, he expressed a fear that new laws would “expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.”
Nobody wants to see the prison system cluttered with drone-flying scofflaws.