Bills to regulate drones hovering in Louisiana Legislature
Amid booming sales of drones (unmanned aircraft) across the nation, states are trying to figure out how to regulate their commercial and recreational use. In many cases, lawmakers at the state and federal level are debating whether regulations are needed, given that most statutes already address any crime in which a drone might be used as a tool to carry out the offense.
This also is the case in Louisiana, where a few bills addressing drone issues are winding through the 2016 legislative session. To date, the state has few laws on the books that deal with drones; and within the current session, there doesn’t seem to be a huge groundswell of support for changing the drone regulatory landscape.
But the bills are there.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, has authored two bills which criminalize unwanted drone flying on private property. Basically, if the laws are passed, flying drones on private property could result in misdemeanor charges of criminal trespassing.
Claitor said in a recent committee hearing that the bills were about protecting citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights and privacy. He brought personal drones to the meeting to show lawmakers how cheap and accessible they are.
But his bills (SB 141 and 124) have received opposition from Chinese drone company DJI Technology, shipping giant Amazon and representatives of news media. They all agreed one of problems was that a blanket prohibition on flying drones would disrupt legitimate drone activities, such as newsgathering and the shipping of packages.
Opponents of Claitor’s bills have suggested that legislators instead support a bill from State Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, which criminalizes abusive or nuisance use of drones. Amid the opposition, Claitor has opted to defer action on his bills.
With his bill, Hunter’s primary concern appears to be the use of drones for “Peeping Tom” purposes, or video voyeurism. Many agree that current laws cover Peeping Toms, but Hunter’s bill is aimed at closing any legal loopholes. Currently, people are allowed to take photos of others in a public setting. But photographing people in private settings (such as through house windows or into backyards) can amount to invasion of privacy.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, is pushing a drone bill that would expand current law, making it a crime to fly drones over a crime scene. Representatives from police unions and the sheriffs’ association have said they worry that drones will impact officers’ safety and the integrity of their crime scenes.
Opposition to White’s bill has included news organizations and others (such as law-enforcement watchdog agencies) who hope to use drones with cameras at crime scenes to aid their reporting and information-gathering efforts. If law enforcement deemed that drones are in the way, they could, under White’s bill, shoot them down.
A few other states have taken action in recent years to limit law enforcement’s use of drones. The popular course of action has been to require that law enforcement cannot use a drone in an investigation without first obtaining a warrant.
In the Bayou State, State Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville, has authored a bill that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before conducting drone surveillance over private property — in most situations. However, the legislation would allow police to deploy a drone without a warrant in cases where an officer has probable cause to believe the target has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and a warrant cannot be obtained quickly (within the time constraints of the investigation).
As states such as Louisiana grapple with drone regulations, or the need for them, the Federal Aviation Administration has been working on a few rules of its own. However, they mainly deal with registration requirements for unmanned aircraft of a certain size or weight (large drones) and the need to keep them out of restricted airspace where they could hinder manned aircraft.
I’ll keep up with the drone issue in the near future and post any relevant updates as they may relate to changes in state and federal criminal law.