Drone bill heads to Gov. Scott’s desk without opposition


Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

A bill that would limit how law enforcement uses unmanned drones for surveillance is headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, who says he’ll sign it into law.

SB 92, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, bans local law enforcement officials from using drones without a warrant or threat of a terrorist attack and prohibits information collected by drones to be used as evidence in court. It passed the House 117-0 on Wednesday, after passing the Senate unanimously a week ago.

“Privacy should be protected and I applaud the House for unanimously passing this bill today,” Scott said in a statement. “This law will ensure the rights of Florida families are protected from the unwarranted use of drones and other unmanned aircraft. I look forward to signing it when it reaches my desk.”

Negron’s bill is similar to legislation filed in Congress by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who filibustered the confirmation of CIA director John Brennan over the potential of U.S. drone attacks on Americans.

Drones, or unmanned flying aircraft, range in size from 6 inches to 246 feet and weigh between 4 ounces and 25,600 pounds, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates their use in the United States. They can be outfitted with cameras so powerful that they can track objects 65 miles away.

This year’s legislation by Negron and House sponsor Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, was popular with both Democrats and Republicans, but it’s not clear what, if any, affect it will have on how law enforcement uses drones.

In Florida, the Miami-Dade Police Department became the first major metro police agency to get permission to operate drones two years ago.

Sheriff’s deputies in Orange County also have approval to operate two drones. As does Polk County, though the sheriff’s office there grounded the program, citing costs. But to actually use them requires so many approvals from the FAA that they rarely get flown.

Negron said he knows the current laws and policies make it difficult to fly drones.

He said he’s more concerned about future regulations that might relax the rules.

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