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Bill to more tightly control Utah’s aerial drones fails to lift off

First Published      Last Updated Feb 26 2016 02:17 pm

Recreational use » SB210 would allow shooting down offending drones in some cases.

A bill stalled Thursday that seeks to end the Wild West days of recreationally flying unmanned drones with few or no restrictions in Utah — and even would allow law officers to shoot down offending drones in some circumstances.

But enough commercial drone companies, pilots and civil-rights groups raised concerns about SB210 in a hearing that its sponsor, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, withdrew it to allow more rewriting.

His bill seeks to more clearly outlaw using recreational drones for voyeurism, spying in private areas, operating within certain distances of emergency situations, putting weapons on drones, flying over "mass events" with more than 500 people, and creating other safety limitations on use.



It would also allow law officers to "neutralize" drones, essentially shoot them down, when it can be done safely and is necessary to protect people or property.

Harper said he added that provision at the request of Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield. During a meeting about the issue last summer, Oda — a noted gun enthusiast — said, "If a drone comes over my place, it's going to be a very expensive clay pigeon."

However on Thursday, several drone pilots said much of what is proposed is already covered by Federal Aviation Administration rules. They said some proposals might close down a drone photography training program at Utah Valley University, or close some commercial aerial-imaging operations.

"It would make it very difficult to operate," said David Terry, CEO of SilverHawk Aerial imaging.

Harper, however, said his bill aims to exempt FAA-licensed commercial operations such as SilverHawk and the UVU program, and aims instead to rein in recreational drone use.

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, said the bill would outlaw some activities because they are being conducted by drone — but they would be legal if conducted through other technology.

For example, the bill bans drone photography of mass events of 500 people or more, but Boyack says shooting photos from nearby rooftops is legal.

Several other bills affecting drones have also been introduced this year. One to ban their use near wildfires has passed the House.

 

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