A newly passed bill awaiting signature by governor Jerry Brown seeks to impose a restriction on pilots of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), which would prevent them from being flown at an altitude lower than 350 feet above private property. The measure is one of a handful currently being explored by the state legislature, which is split between protecting privacy concerns and the business interests of current and would-be operators in the rapidly expanding drone industry.
Senate Bill 142 passed the state Assembly last Monday (August 24) and the Senate on Thursday. According to the Sacramento Bee, bills that would also prohibit drones from flying over schools and prisons are also in the works.
Local activists have long debated use of the flying machines. A particularly vocal group of East County citizens expressed privacy and safety concerns when the Federal Aviation Administration was considering selecting large swaths of San Diego for drone-testing grounds in late 2013 (the FAA eventually passed on the San Diego site).
"This bill establishes clear rules so that we can properly balance privacy and innovation," says Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, the bill's author.
"The technology has gotten ahead of the law," Sen. Ted Gaines, the author of several other drone-regulation bills, told the Bee. "I’m not anti-drone. I just want to make sure people’s privacy is protected, that public safety is protected."
Industry advocates, including Brian Wynne of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association, blasted the bill as "innovation-stifling and job-killing."
Industry insiders warn that such restrictions would render Amazon's much-touted drone-delivery program dead on arrival and create a nightmare patchwork of legal challenges from other businesses such as aerial photographers.
"Drones hold the power to create new businesses, improve our lives and transform the way we do business,” Wynne and Shapiro say in a joint statement decrying the new law. “The safe integration of UAS into our transportation system will displace noisy trucks, reduce urban traffic and cut our fuel consumption and carbon emissions.”
Brown's office has not offered any commentary on the bill indicating whether he intends to sign the new legislation.