A House bill that would allow police to use drones more broadly cleared its first committee stop Monday.
The House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee advanced the bill (HB 1049) unanimously. Republican Rep. Mike Giallombardo of Cape Coral is the bill sponsor.
Currently, state law permits law enforcement to use drones under limited circumstances. Use is restricted to search warrants, prisoner escapes and when preventing an “imminent loss of life,” according to statute.
State law also limits police usage to countering terrorist attacks.
The proposal, however, would broaden usage to include traffic management, evidence collection and crowd monitoring of groups of 50 or more.
It would also allow fire departments to utilize drones to survey fire, flood and natural disaster damage.
The bill advanced with an amendment by Giallombardo.
The amendment revised the crowd management provision to require that the head of an agency sign for such use.
It also requires agencies to establish drone policies and implement cybersecurity measures such as encryptions.
Proponents including police and sheriff associations contend that drones are safer, faster and more efficient than manned helicopters.
“I’ve got a number of family members that are in law enforcement,” said Republican Rep. John Snyder of Stuart. “I know this is something they’ve been pushing for a long time.”
Critics including the Florida ACLU fear the bill may encroach on civil rights.
Notably, the bill contains a provision that would prohibit police from issuing citations via drone.
The bill moves next to the House State Affairs Committee and House Judiciary Committee.
A companion bill (SB 44), meanwhile, has been approved by the Senate.
Last Session, the Legislature passed a proposal permitting non-law enforcement employees of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to fly drones.
Today, FWC uses drones over swamps and other places where invasive species like pythons have proven problematic.