Bill aims to protect schools and jails from drones moves closer to legislative approval

Bill aims to protect schools, jails from drones moves closer to legislative approval

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - As some local students played on the school yard, a group of state lawmakers focused on what should not happen over their heads.

A bill to limit where drones could be flown was being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee C inside the state Capitol.

"I'm kind of afraid for my kids when they're flying them over schools," said parent Ashley Fleming as she waited outside a local school.

HB19 would prohibit the use of unmanned aircraft systems, including drones to conduct surveillance, gather information, photograph or video a school, school premises and correctional facilities, including state and local prisons and jails.

"They didn't want a sex offender, or something like that being over on this property, over here and flying the drone over," said the bill's author, Rep. Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles.

Some parents in New Orleans said they are supportive of the proposed law.

"Because it's their safety, to me the number one issue is their safety," said Latoshia Williams.

"I think it should be a private moment while they're playing on the play yard," said Fleming.

Already the Federal Aviation Administration has said unmanned aircraft should be flown away from populated areas. The proposed Louisiana law includes some exceptions, one specific to schools.

"Does not include the football coach bringing his drone up and watching football practice of his own team," Dwight told the panel of state senators.

But there was pushback from New Orleans Sen. Troy Carter, a Democrat.

"The suggestion that somehow the drone was going to fly over a stadium and record a whole game, at max the battery life on those things are like 15 minutes," said Carter.

The state Corrections Department chief is all for the bill.

"He has some concerns about drone use over the prison facilities. We had an incident a couple of months ago where there was a drone over one of the private facilities, not only for surveillance but concerns about drug smuggling, as well as weapons, and we're seeing this across the country," said Natalie LaBorde, of the Department of Corrections.

Carter tried to push the pause button on the legislation by making a motion to defer a vote by the senate committee, but he was outnumbered. Carter thinks at the state level the proposed law is a little premature.

"Jumping the gun just a little bit, preceding what I think will make a lot of sense once the federal government is finished regulating this," he said.

In the end, the senate committee allowed the legislation to take flight to the full Senate.

That is good news for some who said just having drones in the air in their neighborhood is unnerving.

"Kind of uncomfortable, it's kind of eerie, you never know what they've seen, who they're watching or what they're using the footage for," said Fleming.

A first-time violator would be fined up to $500 and not imprisoned for more than six months. A conviction for a second or subsequent offense could result in fines up to $5,000 and up to a year in prison.

The bill also provides exceptions to the proposed drone-use prohibition for businesses regulated by the Louisiana Public Service Commission and the Federal Communication Commission, including public utilities; persons using unmanned aircrafts in compliance with federal law and the FAA regulations, and institutions of higher education conducting research with university sanctioned initiatives.

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