A bill to ground unmanned aircraft in the commonwealth passed a House of Delegates panel this evening.
The House Courts of Justice Committee approved sending HB2012 to the House floor by a 9-4 vote. The bill, sponsored by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County, prohibits state and local law enforcement from flying drone aircraft until after July 1, 2014.
The hope is that, in the interim, lawmakers will develop regulations on drone use, something legislators, law enforcement, civil rights groups and agricultural associations couldn’t agree on this session.
Limitations — such as requiring a search warrant to surveil someone or collect evidence for a criminal investigation — are needed to protect Virginians’ privacy, argued Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, who also sponsored a drone-regulation bill.
“All of us are about to sacrifice our privacy to this new technology,” said Clair Guthrie Gastañaga, president of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union. “The Fourth Amendment should be the floor to protect our privacy, not the ceiling.”
But law enforcement groups said rules like that would prevent them from using the technology to apprehend criminals and protect their officers and the public, especially in emergencies, such as an active shooter.
The sheriff’s office in Russell County already has purchased two drones, and will be unable to use them if the bill passes, said Charlotte County Sheriff Thomas Jones, speaking on behalf of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association.
“The only problem the sheriff’s office has is putting stipulations on when we can use it,” Jones said. “Sometimes we don’t have time to get a search warrant.”
- Kathy Adams, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot