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Police drone bill clears House panel

A bill designed to allow law enforcement to use unmanned aircraft as a “tool in the toolbox” passed a House committee Wednesday morning.

A bill designed to allow law enforcement to use unmanned aircraft as a “tool in the toolbox” passed a House committee Wednesday morning.

HB 75 would allow law enforcement to use drones to get perspective on traffic accidents, to collect evidence at a crime scene, and to assist in crowd control at public events, such as concerts.

Bill sponsor state Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican in his second term, says police organizations support the bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union previously expressed concerns about drones being used to circumvent judicial warrant requirements.

After the bill was filed last year, Yarborough said he’d support language to firm that up, even though he contends that Florida Statute 934.50 ensures that the bill would not be used for warrantless surveillance.

An amendment was floated from Rep. Michael Grieco, a Democrat from Miami-Dade, addressed the use of the term “crowd control” regarding protests, preferring blander language like “crowd safety.” As well, the amendment firmed up language ensuring that civil liberties protections are secured.

Yarborough deemed such an “unfriendly amendment,” noting protections afforded by statute.

“You cannot use an unmanned aircraft for any unlawful purpose,” Yarborough said.

The amendment failed.

The question of the “plain sight doctrine” was floated by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers Republican. Yarborough said he needed to “brush up” on that point of law, but stressed the bill wouldn’t allow more police latitude than already exists.

Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Republican from Howey-in-the-Hills, quibbled with the phrase “traffic management,” noting that the elasticity of phrasing “concerns” him.

Yarborough again said he was amenable to tweaking the language as needed.

The Florida League of Cities, Florida Police Chiefs’ Association, Florida Sheriffs’ Association, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, along with drone advocacy organizations, waved in support. The ACLU waved in opposition.

The Senate version of this bill (SB 132) is being carried by Sen. Darryl Rouson. It will be heard by Criminal Justice next week.

 

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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