CA Ban on Low Drones Over Homes Put to Gov.

      SACRAMENTO (CN) – The California Senate on Thursday limited drones from flying lower than 350 feet above private property, and sent the bill to Gov. Jerry Brown.
     The Senate approved Senate Bill 142 by a 21-10 vote, despite bipartisan concern about regulating the budding drone industry. If signed by the governor, the bill would make it a trespass violation to fly an unmanned drone over private property without consent.
     The bill’s author, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said a drone buzzing by her while she was on vacation in Hawaii inspired her to introduce the legislation.
     “Drones are a new and exciting technology with many potentially beneficial uses. But they should not be able to invade the privacy of our back yards and our private property without our permission,” Jackson said in a statement Thursday.
     Jackson said the bill is meant to prevent invasion of privacy by creating a “no-fly zone” above private property. It will not affect public areas such as parks, schools or beaches, and is similar to an Oregon law prohibiting drones from flying lower than 400 feet above private residences, she said.
     “This bill establishes clear rules so that we can properly balance privacy and innovation,” Jackson said.
     Throughout this year’s already devastating wildfire season, firefighters have complained about unmanned drones interfering with aircraft fighting fires. In several cases, firefighters were forced to ground or delay takeoffs of planes battling California’s notorious wildfires.
     Drone industry groups and critics blasted the bill Thursday, saying it was unnecessary and would expose the state to lawsuits.
     “SB 142 would damage California’s leadership and handcuff innovation, just as this largely California-based and dynamically expanding industry is poised to bring major job growth to the state – adding roughly 18,000 new jobs and more than $14 billion in economic impact in the first decade once federal guidelines are implemented,” the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Consumer Electronics Association said in a joint statement.
     Six of 10 drone manufacturers that have raised the most venture capital funding are in California, according to CB Insight, a private research group that tracks startups.
     As with most bill proposals, Brown has not issued comment on the drone regulation.
     If signed, the bill could affect drone-delivery options proposed by and others. Amazon says it is developing programs to deliver small packages to customers via unmanned drones instead of traditional delivery methods.
     Jackson said that under SB 172, drones in theory could still deliver packages to private doorsteps.
     The Federal Aviation Administration proposed drone regulation in February and studied the number of midair encounters pilots had with drones. Between November 2014 and Aug. 20 this year, there were 171 air traffic reports of possible encounters with drones, some of them above 10,000 feet.
     “Because pilot reports of unmanned aircraft have increased dramatically over the past year, the FAA wants to send a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal,” the FAA report states . “Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.”
     Forty-five states have considered laws regulating drones this year. Florida and Arkansas have prohibited photography of private property from drones.

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