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Sacramento’s Drone Wars

League Opposes AB 2320, Supports SB 868

April 6, 2016
Drone regulation in California’s Capitol is rapidly becoming a new battleground for local government.
Cities’ regulatory authority is under attack from some groups representing the unmanned aircraft systems industry that prefer to deal with one-size fits all state regulation. The irony is that the industry apparently does not support the most comprehensive of the regulatory drone bills introduced this year, SB 868 by Sen. Hanna Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

Modeled in part on a regulatory structure recently enacted by the city of Chicago, SB 868 creates a comprehensive set of state operating regulations for drones that attempt to strike a balance between encouraging innovation and protecting public safety.
Among other things, SB 868:
  • Prohibits drone flights without permission from the relevant authorities within 500 feet of critical infrastructure, 1,000 feet of a heliport, or within 5 miles of an airport;
  • Limits disruptive drone use within the immediate airspace of private property without permission;
  • Limits drone use over state parks, wildlife refuges, the Capitol, or other designated safety areas, without a permit or permission;
  • Prohibits the weaponization of drones;
  • Prohibits the reckless operation of drones and drone interference with manned aircraft;
  • Requires commercial drone operators to obtain liability insurance; and
  • Continues to allow local governments to regulate drone use in their communities. 
In the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday, April 5, industry representatives lined up in opposition to the measure, which is supported by the League of California Cities®. They claim that the bill, which in part will bring California into conformity with federal regulations, is pre-empted by federal law, despite a December 2015 document published by the Office of the General Counsel of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) indicating that the federal government clearly contemplates at least some state and local regulations pursuant to local land use and police power. The Senate Transportation Committee approved the bill over the industry’s objections by a vote of 7-2.
The League has taken a policy position calling for much tighter state regulations, starting with a mandatory point-of-sale registration requirement that would require registration with the FAA before a buyer can leave a store with a drone, and for online purchases, to require an internet browser to be redirected to the FAA website for registration purposes before the purchase can be completed. This is intended to give the federal registration requirement some teeth and provide a meaningful deterrent to the irresponsible use of drones, which is absent from existing law. None of the drone bill authors has yet to amend this provision into their legislation, but the League continues to advocate for this as one of the most meaningful provisions that could be put into state law.
Consistent with a position taken in a letter issued by the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors in mid-March to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the League has publicly rejected pre-emption of local ordinances in any state regulatory framework.
In response, this week in the Assembly, Assembly Member Ian Calderon (D-Whittier) and Assembly Member Evan Low (D-Campbell), the authors of AB 2320, amended the bill to completely pre-empt local regulation by cities and counties.
Initially, AB 2320 contained only modest regulations prohibiting use of drones by sex offenders and persons subject to restraining orders. Within 24 hours, the League took an oppose unless amended position, charging that the bill now violates cities’ constitutional police power under Article 7, Section XI of the California Constitution. The League will issue an action alert on April 7 to mobilize members to address this unjustified attack on cities’ regulatory authority.
Cities are encouraged to send in letters of opposition to AB 2320. A sample letter can be found on the League’s website at www.cacities.org/billsearch by putting the bill number into the search function.
The League will continue to push for stronger regulations of unmanned aircraft systems, including mandatory point-of-sale registration, and to work with authors who favor meaningful regulations such as Sen. Jackson and Assembly Member Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), whose AB 2724 will among other things, require drone operators to obtain liability insurance. 

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