Regulating Drones Clears Iowa House, Faces Stiff Headwind

By James Q. Lynch, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Legislation creating parameters for the use of drones – unmanned aerial vehicles – handily won approval in the Iowa House, but likely will have to weather turbulence if it is going to land on the governor's desk this year.

After lengthy debate, House File 2289 was approved 87-12 by the House, but that lopsided margin may not accurately portray the challenge in getting any drone legislation approved.

In fact, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, calls chances of getting the bill to the governor's desk "slim."

"I think there are a lot of diverse interest groups that are affected by it," he said. "I don't feel a groundswell of public support for regulation of drones. I have some people who think we're in search of a problem here."

Floor manager Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said his constituents are concerned about the use of drones and want protections. He acknowledged that attitudes may change and in five or 10 years and the Legislature may return to the issue and remove some of the restrictions in the bill.

"But right now my constituents are concerned about what is the government doing with them, what do you intend to do with them and then what (do) other individuals get to do," he said.

It's too soon to regulate drones, which have many positive uses, Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said. She thought a study might be more appropriate.

Klein thinks the Legislature has a responsibility to address the use of drones now rather than wait until there is an "unfortunate incident" involving bullying or harassing and try to repair the damage.

Although some opponents questioned why the state was restricting the use of drones, Klein had a different perspective.

"We're expanding our personal privacy rights" rather than expanding regulation, he said.

Hogg promised the Senate will look at HF 2298 along with Senate File 2314. However, he's still skeptical.

"If we can do something narrow, we might be able to get that done," he said. "We will take a careful look at what the House passes, but I still think the prospects of us actually getting legislation to the governor's desk remain slim."

FYI:

• The bill adds language to make it illegal to use an unmanned aerial vehicle – drone – in a way defined as stalking, to use in terrorism or to arm with dangerous weapons.

• State agencies would be allowed to use drones for surveillance and retain the data it records if a search warrant is obtained. In emergency situation, an agency may use a drone if within 48 hours of the emergency it files a sworn statement with a district court detailing the reasons for using the drone.

• HF 2289 also requires state agencies to get approval from the Legislature before buying a drone. Local government agencies would be required to get similar approval from their governing bodies.

• Individuals could use drone over their own property, but it would be illegal to take picture and record information over another's property without permission.

• Violations would be aggravated misdemeanors. If the drone causes injuries, it would be a Class D felony. If it causes death, the owner could be charged with a Class C felony.
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