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A drone intended for agricultural use.

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Drones could help fight invasive species, wildfires

HB 659 was sent to the Senate on a unanimous House vote.

A bill allowing the use of drones to mitigate wildfires and eradicate invasive plants and animals heads to the Senate after receiving the House’s unanimous approval Wednesday.

The bill (HB 659), filed by Rep. Jason Fischer, pushes for greater drone authorization for Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Forest Service to combat pythons and fire threats on public land.

“Currently, in the state of Florida, we are facing an epidemic of invasive species destroying our local ecosystems, including the Everglades,” the Jacksonville Republican said, adding that it could save the state some dollars.

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton was the one lawmaker to engage Fischer on the floor.

“I’m a drone operator. Can I take my drone and go python hunting down in the ‘Glades? This is animals in this also?” Newton asked.

But Fischer replied the legislation does not affect private use of drones.

The bill received unanimous approval in all three of its committee stops.

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

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

And its Senate companion (SB 822), filed by Wauchula Republican Sen. Ben Albritton, awaits a hearing in its final committee stop, Senate Rules. It has not been scheduled since it arrived there at the end of January.

Another first responder drone-use bill (HB 1433), submitted by Jacksonville Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough, awaits preliminary approval from the full House. That bill and Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters‘ companion legislation (SB 520) would authorize drones for some law enforcement purposes.

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.

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Florida Politics reporter Jacob Ogles contributed to this post.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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