Drones: Senators Introduce Drone Bill for State and Local Governments

If the federal government is unable to bring law and order to drone-filled skies, maybe local and state governments can.

That’s one of the takeaways from a new bill introduced Thursday by a group of high-ranking Democratic and Republican members of Congress including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

The senators are pitching the Drone Federalism Act as a way for local governments, including Native American tribal authorities, to create drone rules specific to their regions without butting heads with the federal government.

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“State, local, and tribal governments have a legitimate interest in protecting public safety and privacy from the misuse of drones,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This bill allows communities to create low-altitude speed limits, local no-drone zones or rules that are appropriate to their own circumstances.”

The proposed legislation comes amid a trying time for federal drone policy makers.

Last week, a federal appeals court in Washington D.C. ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration lacks the authority to regulate drone use by hobbyists. Because of the court ruling, hobbyists no longer have to register their drones in a national database, as the FAA previously required.

The FAA can still regulate how businesses use drones for purposes like inspecting oil rigs, but it cannot oversee “model aircraft,” according to the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act and affirmed by Washington, D.C appeals court judges. The 2012 bill lumped drones used by hobbyists into the category of “model aircraft.”

Meanwhile, several state and local governments have been crafting their own drone rules in recent years. These governments believe that the FAA’s drone rules for hobbyists—which the appeals court recently nullified—failed to account for issues relating to privacy and trespassing, as in the case of someone flying a…

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