California lawmakers during the finals days of their legislative session have been pondering a raft of proposals to constrain the use of drones. They finally passed one and Governor Jerry Brown promptly vetoed it (pdf).
Senate Bill 142 would have made it an illegal trespass to fly a drone over private property at less than 350 feet. It also would have made drone operators liable for damage and injury caused by their machines. Brown wrote in his veto message, “Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination. This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.”
Instead, private property owners will have little recourse if a drone swoops overhead, snapping pictures, invading their privacy and otherwise making a pest of themselves.
“Before we go down that path, let’s look at this more carefully,” Brown wrote. That is kinda the same argument that proponents of drone legislation are making. They want rules and regulations for governing drone use before they are everywhere.
But that’s not how California rolls on public safety issues, whether its laws governing drones, fracking, building in earthquakes, empowering Uber and Airbnb in the sharing-economy, or indiscriminately sucking water out of the ground.
The bill faced strong opposition from commercial interests, led by Amazon and Google. The drone industry warned that the legislation would expose the industry to lawsuits and stifle innovation in the burgeoning multi-billion-dollar industry.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), said she would reintroduce her legislation next year. SB 142 was not the only drone bill considered by lawmakers this session.
Senate Bill 170 would make it a misdemeanor for knowingly flying a drone over a prison or jail. Senate Bill 271 would make it against the law to fly less than 350 feet over a K-12 school. Assembly Bill 856 would make a person liable for physical invasion of privacy, as if they’d walked onto the property, for using a drone to record sound or visual images of a person engaging in “personal or familial activity.” All three cleared the Legislature.
Senate Bill 262 would have required cops to clear drone surveillance of private property with local governing bodies. Assembly Bill 56 would have made cops get a warrant for drone surveillance of private property and require them to destroy any recordings made within one year. Senate Bill 168 would increase fines for drone operators that interfere with emergency operation and protect folks who shoot down drones from civil liability. They have not cleared the Legislature.
Oregon passed a law in 2013 similar to the legislation Brown vetoed, according to Courthouse News Service, while Florida and Arkansas has passed laws prohibiting drones from taking pictures of private property.