DC Area Drone User Group Message Board Drones and Society › Virginia Legislative Alert

Virginia Legislative Alert

Mary Dotson
user 65813752
Reston, VA
Post #: 12
This week the Virginia General Assembly reached the halfway point and there are two active bills affecting law enforcement use of UAVs (note--nothing currently exists with implications for hobbyist use).

The first bill (HB2012/Cline) stops all law enforcement use of UAVs until 7/1/2015.

The second bill (SB1331/McEachin) in its current form is very similar to HB2012, however it allows exception for public safety use:

Notwithstanding the prohibition in subsection A, an unmanned aircraft system may be deployed before July 1, 2015, in an emergency or major disaster as defined in § 44-146.16, when an Amber Alert is activated pursuant to § 52-34.3, when a Senior Alert is activated pursuant to § 52-34.6, when a Blue Alert is activated pursuant to § 52-34.9, or during a search and rescue operation if its deployment is necessary to protect life, health, or property. In no case may a weaponized unmanned aircraft system be deployed or its use facilitated by a state or local agency in Virginia.

In general, this stops police from using UAVs for surveillance, traffic tickets, etc. but protects public safety applications.

If you live in Virginia, I recommend that you email or call your delegate indicating your support for SB1331. In addition, you should contact your senator indicating that you wish HB2012 conformed to SB1331 (protecting valuable public safety uses).

You can look up who are your legislators here. That link also provides their phone number. Once you know who your legislator is, you can identify delegate email addresses here and senator email addresses here.

Points to mention:


    * Identify yourself as a constituent and a model aircraft hobbyist (note--this terminology appeals more than "drone."
    * You recognize the General Assembly's concern over police use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
    * You do not support legislation, however, that limits the use and development of technology with valuable public safety applications and disaster management, like helping find abducted children.
    * Indicate your support for SB1331 to your delegate and wish for conformance of HB2012 to SB1331 to your senator.


If you can, contact your legislator on this today.

I'll update on how things develop. If these get to committee, it would be good if volunteers (must be Virginia residents) could go down to Richmond on short notice to testify. If this interests, let me know and I'll notify you if there is need.

BTW--as public disclosure, I am a past employee of the General Assembly...and I can witness that the voice of even a small hobbyist group can be very powerful.


Mary Dotson
user 65813752
Reston, VA
Post #: 14
An update...

Today the hearing of HB2012/Cline was announced for tomorrow before the Senate Courts of Justice committee. One interesting thing--the patron of the other bill, Senator McEachin, sits on that committee. I think that with McEachin on the committee, there's a high likelihood that it will be marked up to conform with his own bill (which would be good)--but we'll see.

If anyone feels the temptation to do a last minute road trip, Courts of Justice meets at 8 am in Senate Room B (which is located in the General Assembly Building, across Capitol Square from the Capitol). The bill is low on the docket, so it probably isn't critical to get there exactly by 8 (but you should aim for it). When the bill gets called, Virginia residents can get in line and present short (last time I checked, it was 2 minutes max) speech on the merits/deficiencies of the bill. If you do this, it's good to bring copies of your remarks. You can hand them to the clerk, who will distribute them to the Members.

I'll let all know what turns up!

Matt F
____
Seattle, WA
Post #: 6
Mary,
Thank you for the updates.
I'm not a VA resident, but very interested, since this may have implications for everyone.
Timothy Reuter
user 2271588
Group Organizer
Washington, DC
Post #: 33
Mary,

Thank you for providing this information that is of vital importance to all of us. Please let us know how today's proceedings go. I will have my fingers crossed that it doesn't end up as badly as it sounds it might.

If anyone from our group does present, I think it might be worth mentioning DC DUG in their remarks. We need to let folks know that there are community organizations participating in this space, and it isn't all just big companies and police groups that are interested. Many of us want to start small businesses that will bring jobs to Virginia and other states, we just need regulators to get out of the way so we can get started!

An update...

Today the hearing of HB2012/Cline was announced for tomorrow before the Senate Courts of Justice committee. One interesting thing--the patron of the other bill, Senator McEachin, sits on that committee. I think that with McEachin on the committee, there's a high likelihood that it will be marked up to conform with his own bill (which would be good)--but we'll see.

If anyone feels the temptation to do a last minute road trip, Courts of Justice meets at 8 am in Senate Room B (which is located in the General Assembly Building, across Capitol Square from the Capitol). The bill is low on the docket, so it probably isn't critical to get there exactly by 8 (but you should aim for it). When the bill gets called, Virginia residents can get in line and present short (last time I checked, it was 2 minutes max) speech on the merits/deficiencies of the bill. If you do this, it's good to bring copies of your remarks. You can hand them to the clerk, who will distribute them to the Members.

I'll let all know what turns up!


Mary Dotson
user 65813752
Reston, VA
Post #: 15
Well, not surprisingly, McEachin offered his own amendments and it passed the committee vote as substitute (15-Y 0-N). In greatest likelihood, it will pass the Senate and go to the Governor's desk for signing.

Now we just have to watch the Senate version...
Mary Dotson
user 65813752
Reston, VA
Post #: 16
It also passed the House committee with a 6-2 margin. With such strong support, it is extremely likely that it will go to the Governor for signing.

That said, a question came up last night at NoVA Labs...both bills prohibit police from using any "weaponized unmanned aircraft system"--just what does "weaponized" mean?
Mary Dotson
user 65813752
Reston, VA
Post #: 18
Hi all,

I just wanted to let everyone know that the two bills (which are now the same) passed the House and Senate votes respectively. After the Legislative session ends (on Friday), the bill heads to the Governor's office for approval, veto or modification (the Governor has a line item veto, unlike the President).
Mary Dotson
user 65813752
Reston, VA
Post #: 26
Big news today! Last night was the deadline for the Governor's amendments to standing bills and at the deadline, he offered substantial changes to the drone bills pending on his desk. The result is much stronger protections for drone research and pretty much opens it up for all law enforcement uses.

Last step for this is the veto session a week from tomorrow (Wednesday, 4/3). So long as it's not overturned, it will become law.

Full text follows:


A BILL to place a moratorium on the use of unmanned aircraft systems.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. § 1. No state or local government department, agency, or instrumentality having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement or regulatory violations, including but not limited to the Department of State Police, and no department of law enforcement as defined in § 15.2-836 of the Code of Virginia of any county, city, or town shall utilize an unmanned aircraft system before July 1, 2015.

Notwithstanding the prohibition in this section, an unmanned aircraft system may be deployed before July 1, 2015, (i) when an Amber Alert is activated pursuant to § 52-34.3 of the Code of Virginia, (ii) when a Senior Alert is activated pursuant to § 52-34.6 of the Code of Virginia, (iii) when a Blue Alert is activated pursuant to § 52-34.9 of the Code of Virginia, (iv) for the purpose of a search or rescue operation where use of an unmanned aircraft system is determined to be necessary to alleviate an immediate danger to any person, or (v) for training exercises related to such uses. In no case may a weaponized unmanned aircraft system be deployed or its use facilitated by a state or local agency in Virginia.

The prohibitions in this section shall not apply to the Virginia National Guard while utilizing unmanned aircraft systems during training required to maintain readiness for its federal mission, when facilitating training for other United States Department of Defense units, or when such systems are utilized to support the Commonwealth for purposes other than law enforcement, including damage assessment, traffic assessment, flood stages, and wildfire assessment. Nothing herein shall prohibit use of unmanned aircraft systems solely for research and development purposes by institutions of higher education and other research organizations or institutions.

2. That the Department of Criminal Justice Services, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and other state agencies, shall develop model protocols for use of unmanned aircraft systems by law-enforcement agencies and shall report such findings to the Governor and the General Assembly on or before November 1, 2013.
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