Legislators in the Georgia State House, have been gussying up HB 779, (for details see http://byteclay.com/article/georgia-proposes-drone-killing-legislation ) in an attempt to make it fly. Unfortunately, their early attempts are analogous to patching holes in the wings of an aircraft that doesn’t have an engine; although the patched wings may make the aircraft capable of flying, without an engine it will never get off the ground.
The latest substitute bill demonstrates that the authors have begun to address the missing engine; virtually all of the drone-killing language of the initial bill is gone. Whereas it appeared the authors and proponents of the original HB 779 either didn’t understand the killing effect of the legislation, or didn’t care, the substitute bill takes a different tack. Rather than over-reaching in all directions, the substitute bill addresses specific areas of concern; it delineates the manner in which law enforcement can and cannot use data collected by a drone; declares as illegal use of a drone to interfere with hunting, to interfere with or obstruct a police officer, fire fighter or park ranger or emergency medical personnel and establishes penalties.
Unfortunately, the substitute bill still declares it illegal for a drone to take off or be recovered from private property without authorization from the owner or lawful occupier. Oddly enough, this section of the bill doesn’t apply to packages being retrieved or delivered by commercial operators. So although it would be unlawful for an individual to retrieve his or her drone from private property, (without prior authorization) it would be legal for a commercially operated drone to perform the retrieval.
Juxtaposed with HB 779 and its various substitute bills is Senate Bill (SB) 325, which calls for a measured, sensible approach to evaluating potential “unmanned aircraft system” legislation. SB 325’s stated purpose is, “To amend Chapter 2 of Title 6 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to regulation of aeronautics, aircraft, and airports generally, so as to provide legislative findings; to provide definitions; to provide for preemption of prohibitions, restrictions, and regulation of the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft systems in the State of Georgia; to provide for the establishment of the Georgia Unmanned Aircraft Systems Commission and its composition, duties, and activities; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes”.
Rather than an overzealous push for rules and regulations, SB 325 calls for the establishment of a 15-member commission to evaluate the benefits that the unmanned aircraft industry will bring to the state. and to identify policies that address concerns about privacy and public safety. The commission is also charged with providing an annual report to the General Assembly.
Assuming SB 325 passes in the Senate, it all but assures that HB 779 will either die in the House, or undergo yet another dramatic rewrite. The only thing the House and Senate bills have in common is their focus on unmanned aircraft. SB 325 seeks to evaluate before legislating, HB 779 seeks to legislate before evaluating.