Drone bills zoom through House committee

Sponsors say technology can help fight fires and combat invasive species.

Two bills regarding the use of drones flew through the House State Affairs Committee Thursday.

One bill (HB 659) would allow drones to fighting wildfires and eradicate invasive plants. Another (HB 1433) authorizes greater use of drones for law enforcement purposes.

Neither piece of legislation proved especially controversial in the committee. No witnesses stood up to raise privacy concerns for Burmese pythons or Brazilian peppers.

Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton did query Rep. Jason Fischer, the sponsor pushing for greater drone authorization for firefighters, about how exactly a flying robot would assist in extinguishing a blaze.

Fischer said the modern technology had uses in containing the expansion of wildfires, but deflected on specific examples.

“I’d love to sit down with you with some of these agencies to show how this technology can be used for suppression and containment,” the Jacksonville Republican said.

The Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association has historically supported the measure.

With the support of the State Affairs Committee, the legislation now heads for the House floor.

Companion legislation in the Senate (SB 822) has moved through two committees and still must clear the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee.

The police drones bill still must win approval from the House Judiciary Committee, its final stop before the floor.

That legislation allows wider use of drones but doesn’t allow them to be used for citations . It reflects recent changes in authorization approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Senate version of that piece of legislation (SB 520) has one more committee stop in Rules. But a similar bill there failed to be heard before the end of the Legislative Session last year.

The wider application of drones has spurred more innovative use of the airborne technology, but also stirs concern of a growing surveillance state.

Lawmakers backing the legislation have seen little pushback from colleagues, and argued innovations simply provide more tools for agencies of all local government to employ in their public good missions.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

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