A bill that would ease construction of drone ports and limit local government restrictions is now ready for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.
House lawmakers Thursday voted unanimously for SB 1068, which aims to make Florida more hospitable to the growing drone delivery industry.
The measure passed with no discussion and only a brief comment from Jacksonville Rep. Wyman Duggan, who sponsored an identical version of the bill in the House with North Fort Myers Rep. Spencer Roach, a fellow Republican.
“This bill updates the state’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act to provide regulations related to drone delivery services,” Duggan said before the 110-0 vote.
Drone ports — fixed or mobile locations for the housing, maintenance, fueling and piloting of commercial drone fleets — began facilitating deliveries in December across Florida at Walmart stores in Brandon, Clermont, New Port Richey, Tampa and Valrico.
Walmart now uses delivery drones, operated through its DroneUp network, to deliver goods within a one-mile radius of seven stores in those areas. Walmart Plus members get free deliveries, while nonmembers pay $3.99 per delivery.
To ensure Florida is able to continue welcoming the burgeoning service, a statewide standard must be set, and that requires superseding some aspects of local oversight, according to Tampa Republican Sen. Jay Collins, the bill’s sponsor.
“This is a preemption bill,” he said while discussing the measure last month. “Creating a uniform and predictable framework of regulation is necessary to ensure a safe and successful drone delivery industry.”
The legislation defines the terms “drone port” and “drone delivery service” in state statutes, with a drone port defined as “a standalone building” up to 36 feet tall and 1,500 square feet or less, located in a nonresidential area used to launch and land small, unmanned aircraft that deliver goods.
SB 1068 prohibits local governments from withholding development permits, tax receipts necessary for companies to do business or “other use approval” from drone delivery service companies for noncompliance with most local regulations. Counties and cities may still enforce minimum setbacks and landscaping regulations that are “generally applicable to permitted uses in the drone port site’s zoning district.”
The bill also exempts drone ports from most fire safety mandates in the Florida Building Code, which Roach said previously would help save companies “over $1 million” per structure. However, an amendment to the bill this month requires drone ports taller than one story to include at least one stairwell.
Duggan said the change stemmed from conversations he’d had with the Florida League of Cities, which joined Americans for Prosperity, the Florida Fire Chiefs Association and DroneUp in supporting the bill.