Proposed Calif. Drone Law Shot Down

"Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination," says California Governor Jerry Brown in his veto message. "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."

Photo Caption: (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The drone industry scored a major win in California late on Wednesday. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 142 that would have limited the use of drones from flying less than 350 feet above private property without the owner’s express consent.

Brown admits in his explanation that increased drone use raises concerns, but he says the issue must be approached more carefully.

“I am returning Senate Bill 142 without my signature.

“This bill would enact trespass liability for anyone flying a drone less than 350 feet above real property without the express permission of the property owner, whether or note anyone’s privacy was violated by the flight.

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“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.

“Before we go down that path, let’s look at this more carefully.”

The proposed legislation, which passed the California Assembly in August by a 56-13 margin, was positioned by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson as a privacy issue. “Drones are a new and exciting technology with many potentially beneficial uses,” Senator Jackson said when the bill was introduced. “But they should not be able to invade the privacy of our backyards and our private property without our permission.”

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Major tech groups and advocacy groups disagreed, however. TechNet, a lobbying group that represents Amazon and Google, said “it’s fundamentally a ban on commercial use” of drones. And it certainly wouldn’t help Amazon and Google’s drone delivery programs. How can a drone deliver a package to your door if your neighbor’s yard is a no-fly zone?

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates drones will generate $14 billion in economic impact in California over the next ten years. At the time the bill was introduced, the CEA said “this is problematic for this growing industry, and just not the kind of good public policy we need right now.”

And the National Press Photographers Assn. said news photographers using drones could be sued if the vehicles strayed onto someone’s property while “gathering newsworthy information at a different nearby location.”

Diana Cooper, Head of the Unmanned Aerial Systems and Robotics Practice Group at LaBarge Weinstein LLP, wrote earlier in September that Senate Bill 142 missed the mark. Here was Cooper’s explanation:

“The Bill may have unintended consequences for safety by failing to consider that the FAA currently limits operations above 400 feet AGL. By establishing an arbitrary 350-foot limit above real property, the Bill would confine drone operations to a narrow 50-foot corridor, which would result in increased congestion, move many operations closer to manned aircraft than needed and may lead to an increased risk of accidents.

“The Bill is over-broad in its attempt to achieve privacy – it does not even distinguish between drones that have cameras and those that do not. The Bill is also ineffective, for instance it does not restrict operators from capturing images and videos of private property that are taken from a vantage point just outside of the owner’s property line. And since Congress has mandated the FAA to integrate drones into the national airspace, the Bill may trigger a constitutional challenge based on federal preemption.

“California has existing laws that can be applied to drones, including trespass and anti-paparazzi laws. Nevertheless, if California lawmakers are resolved that current laws are insufficient to protect against the risks posed by drones, they should dispense with the current Bill and introduce legislation that is narrowly tailored and likely to be effective in achieving its purpose.”

Surely there will be future legislation introduced about drones, but for today, at least, drone enthusiasts can rejoice.

Update at 12:50 PM EDT: The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of drones, released the following statement in support of Brown’s decision to veto Senate Bill 142:

“We applaud Governor Brown for vetoing this unnecessary and restrictive legislation,” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of (AUVSI). “While the industry supports the safe, non-intrusive use of UAS technology, SB 142 would have stifled innovation, hampered economic growth and created inconsistencies with federal law.

“SB 142 was also in direct contradiction with federal law because only the FAA can regulate airspace; states and municipalities cannot. According to the U.S. Code, ‘The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.’”

“The defeat of SB 142 does not remove the urgency for the FAA to finalize its long awaited rules on small unmanned aircraft. There is much uncertainty about where operators should and shouldn’t fly; until the FAA acts, legislation such as SB 142 will continue to exacerbate this confusion,” says Wynne. “For the safety of our skies and to ensure that there is no confusion between state and federal law, we need Washington to make finalizing these rules a top priority.”

[Source:] USA Today

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe:  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


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