Sen. Manny Diaz’s bill to allow state agencies and local governments to use drones to assess damage after natural disasters passed swiftly through its first committee hearing Tuesday.
The bill (SB 518) earned unanimous approval from the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security. The legislation would expand the authorized use of drones in response to natural disasters including hurricanes, wildfires and floods.
“The bill is very carefully crafted and really designed to help the Department of Emergency Management survey damage from a natural disaster,” Diaz said at the meeting. “It’s oftentimes hard to reach some of the damage especially in a wildfire, and even in hurricane. If you have blocked streets, loss of landmarks, it’s hard to get a far scope of the damage that has gone on.”
Current state law prohibits individuals, state or local entities from using a drone to capture images of private property in order to protect a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
However, those prohibitions are subject to exceptions, and the bill would add an another to allow state and local entities to use drones as part of natural disaster response.
“This would simply allow the agency to be able to oversee, using a drone, to see the extent of the damage where it is, if there are people that need to be rescued,” Diaz said. “It’s intended to be a very narrow exception to the statute.”
Rep. Alex Andrade filed the House version of the bill (HB 433), which has passed through one of its two committee assignments.
Diaz’s proposal isn’t the only measure that will test the Legislatures’ position on drone use.
Sen. Tom Wright, chair of the committee, is sponsoring legislation that would allow law enforcement to use drones for tasks including traffic management, evidence collection and crowd monitoring.
The bill (SB 44) has cleared all of its committees of reference, and is now waiting to be heard on the Senate floor.