Virginia Eyes New Laws on Drones

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By Craig Zirpolo | Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As the federal government establishes national guidelines for commercial drones, the General Assembly is considering whether and how to restrict drones in Virginia.

At the start of the legislative session, five bills regarding drones had been submitted – two affecting hobbyists and the others affecting government agencies.

House Bill 2017, proposed by Del. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and Senate Bill 937, proposed by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, sought to allow local governments to ban individuals from flying drones under 55 pounds. However, both measures are dead for this session.

The Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee tabled HB 2017. Wexton asked that her bill be withdrawn.

Virginia currently has a moratorium on drone use by government agencies. The moratorium, which the General Assembly approved in 2013, will expire in July. Legislators are pondering what to do next.

HB 2125, submitted by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County, would let law enforcement agencies use drones for surveillance as long as they obtain a warrant for each flight.

The bill contains an exception for specific emergencies. No warrant would be needed, for example, to use a drone during an Amber Alert, when police are searching for a missing child. The bill also would allow colleges and universities to use drones for research.

Del. C Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, filed a similar bill – HB 2077. The Criminal Law Subcommittee folded Gilbert’s bill into Cline’s. On Feb. 10, the House unanimously passed HB 2125; it is now before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

SB 1301, an identical bill sponsored by Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, passed the Senate, 21-17, on Feb. 10. It has been sent to the House Courts of Justice Committee. On Friday, the committee unanimously approved it, clearing the way for a vote by the full House.

HB 2125 and SB 1301 are supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and other privacy advocates.


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