Virginia Drone Regulations First in Nation, Other States Could Follow

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 UAV drone hexarotor flying in blue sky by Stephane Bidouze via Shutterstock.com
UAV drone hexarotor flying in blue sky by Stephane Bidouze via Shutterstock.com

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support on Tuesday to put the first state regulations on domestic drone use. If signed by Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia would place a moratorium on law enforcement drone use until July 1, 2015. Tweet the news:

The Virginia House bill, HB 2012, passed 83-16 with one delegate absent. The State Senate version, SB 1331, passed 36-2. Section one of both bills reads:

“No state or local agency or organization having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement or regulatory violations, including but not limited to the Department of State Police, and no department of law enforcement as defined in § 15.2-836 of any county, city, or town shall utilize an unmanned aircraft system before July 1, 2015″

Section two of the House bill offers certain exceptions to the domestic use of drones; only if the state issues an Amber Alert or conducts a search and rescue operation may law enforcement deploy a drone. Weaponized drones are outright banned from usage.

The Senate bill also includes language that allows state or local law enforcement to use drones “if its deployment is necessary to protect life, health, or property.”

Virginia’s future with drone regulation is now in the hands of Governor Bob McDonnell. Last May, Gov. McDonnell expressed strong support of its use for law enforcement, albeit, on a local radio show:

“I think we ought to be using technology to make law enforcement more productive, cuts down on manpower and also more safe, that’s why we use it on the battlefield. If you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money … it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) played a vital role in the legislation by gaining bipartisan support. Republican Delegate Benjamin Cline introduced the House version of the bill while Democratic Senator Donald McEachin introduced the Senate version. Del. Cline recognizes that the root of the issue is due process rights and judicial involvement. Tweet at the ACLU:

US News quoted Virginia Director of the ACLU, Claire Gastanaga, saying that the legislation, “preserves the status quo, and allows us to go slow, and gives us the time to show everyone why we’d want to require a warrant to use this technology.” Gastanaga stated that reaching a moratorium was also the furthest middle-ground that lawmakers on both sides of the issue could reach.

Montana is also proposing drone regulation. Republican State Senator Matthew Rosendale is leading the legislation that would require warrants for law enforcement use. The state Senate also supports the ban on evidence obtained by drone surveillance from being used in court.

Oklahoma State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft is collaborating with the ACLU for state regulations similar to Montana and Virginia. Rep. Wesselhoft’s main concern is privacy:

Privacy is not a partisan issue, and I am confident we will find bipartisan agreement that our laws should keep pace with technology.

Our legislation gives some protection of personal liberties when it comes to drone technology. Tweet quote:

Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, and Maine are all considering state regulations on unmanned aerial vehicles.

Controversy over use in foreign affairs has continued, especially now that NBC leaked the Department of Justice white paper on targeted drone strikes. Domestic and foreign drone use are different, but both questionably violate due process rights.

Although Virginia is only pushing for a moratorium on drone use, the point is to continue the conversation on better regulations. Other states may follow suit if Virginia’s governor decides to sign the bill.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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  1. Brent Stewart I think drones would have their place in our society. Could make high speed police chases nearly obsolete and could patrol high crime areas unnoticed.
  2. Chris Crumley The bill is addressing government use of drones but could easily influence legitimate business and hobby flying of small Radio Controlled (RC) aircraft. Small RC aircraft (drones if you will; or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles-UAV) with cameras are useful tools in movie production, real estate photography, architectural photography and other logical and legitimate and productive uses. Let's be sure the political system has all the facts before they create legislation that is overreactive and not well-thought-out.
  3. Aaron Thomas Hell no!
  4. Terry Stengele Vance .... would not bother me a bit if drones were in my neighborhood as I have nothing to hide and everything to gain with surveillance of others who might be doing illegal acts in my neighborhood. Only the guilty who have something to hide have fears of surveillance drones unless someone is just out and out paranoid like this freak in Alabama Jimmy Dykes who killed the bus driver and took a young boy hostage. Now those freaks are the people to fear .... not the American government.
  5. Terry Stengele Sorry Joe, but I think it is a little paranoid to think the government is going to kill you. You have been reading too many conservative blogs! They always have such ridiculous inflammatory headlines such as .... "Hoard all your guns before the government takes them from you"! or "Obama and his socialistic thugs will take all your weapons!" Such garbage!
  6. Susan Crouse They don't need drones. They have the Patriot Act.
  7. Joe King The Patriot Act has been interpreted by the govt that they can KILL you without a warrant. They simply deem you a terrorist without a definition of what that is! It is their whim.
  8. Michael Higham Indeed there has to be a balance, and I totally agree with you on all levels. I'm sure lawmakers have the same sentiments because they are careful to include exceptions of drone use, like when there is an amber alert or in the case of a major disaster or life-threatening emergency. I think the main concern is with unwarranted drones flying around our skies just to keep watch.
  9. Myra Johnson Are these the same states that have aerial traffic speed enforcement?
  10. Alex Gauthier i think having preemptive legislation is the way to go, rather than trying to regulate them when there's a million drones in the sky and no rules to restrict them
28 comments
Brent Stewart
Brent Stewart

I think drones would have their place in our society. Could make high speed police chases nearly obsolete and could patrol high crime areas unnoticed.

Terry Stengele
Terry Stengele

Vance .... would not bother me a bit if drones were in my neighborhood as I have nothing to hide and everything to gain with surveillance of others who might be doing illegal acts in my neighborhood. Only the guilty who have something to hide have fears of surveillance drones unless someone is just out and out paranoid like this freak in Alabama Jimmy Dykes who killed the bus driver and took a young boy hostage. Now those freaks are the people to fear .... not the American government.

Terry Stengele
Terry Stengele

Sorry Joe, but I think it is a little paranoid to think the government is going to kill you. You have been reading too many conservative blogs! They always have such ridiculous inflammatory headlines such as .... "Hoard all your guns before the government takes them from you"! or "Obama and his socialistic thugs will take all your weapons!" Such garbage!

Susan Crouse
Susan Crouse

They don't need drones. They have the Patriot Act.

Joe King
Joe King

The Patriot Act has been interpreted by the govt that they can KILL you without a warrant. They simply deem you a terrorist without a definition of what that is! It is their whim.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

Indeed there has to be a balance, and I totally agree with you on all levels. I'm sure lawmakers have the same sentiments because they are careful to include exceptions of drone use, like when there is an amber alert or in the case of a major disaster or life-threatening emergency. I think the main concern is with unwarranted drones flying around our skies just to keep watch.

Myra Johnson
Myra Johnson

Are these the same states that have aerial traffic speed enforcement?

Linda Lebelle
Linda Lebelle

Thank you John Whitehead and the Rutherford Institute.

Tom Myddelten
Tom Myddelten

Ah, good catch, context is important. I took that statement from the article not the Bill. The wording in the bill as you stated, makes it less of an issue.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

I can see that being an issue, but the preceding language states that drones will only be deployed in an emergency or rescue situation. Again, that might be a loophole itself. Not sure.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

I don't think so. Unless your RC helicopter is pretty high powered with a high resolution camera. The Virginia bill's language only regulates state and local law enforcement

Terry Stengele
Terry Stengele

I think drones can be a great source to gather intelligence on criminal activities. I don't have a problem with them being allowed by a warrant issued by a judge for such activities. I am always suspicious of people who are so afraid of government activities that are designed to protect citizens from criminal activities. Our laws are way to protective of criminal's and mentally ill people's rights and that's why we face such crazy shootings as the recent school shootings. There has to be a balance of rights and I think the pendulum has swung too far to protect the criminals versus our rights to life, liberty and the pursuits to happiness.

Tom Myddelten
Tom Myddelten

“if its deployment is necessary to protect life, health, or property.” Seems like a loophole to me.

Bill Braman
Bill Braman

the socialist govt. will come up with an excuse but beware

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

Yup, State Sen. Matthew Rosendale is leading the way for Montana. They're also seeking the ban of evidence obtained by drones from being used in court. Of course, if drones are regulated then it would be difficult to use them to gather intelligence. However, most states are leaving drones available for emergency and rescue situations. Do you think drones would still be necessary at that point?

Vance Grossie
Vance Grossie

lets see how you feel when they are over your house..

Lucas Eaves
Lucas Eaves

Interesting. I do really think that we should be careful with the introduction of drones. They will be use in the future, that is a certainty but we need to put the proper protection from abuse before we start using them.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith

Montana is also taking legislative steps to limit the use of drones in their state, and I believe all states should follow suit. Drones have two purposes and two purposes only: to seek out and destroy enemy targets and two gather intelligence. Why would such a device be needed over Main Street, USA?

Noël Barna
Noël Barna

Yep. Drones were made to kill they have no business flying around cities and Towns.

Chris Crumley
Chris Crumley

The bill is addressing government use of drones but could easily influence legitimate business and hobby flying of small Radio Controlled (RC) aircraft. Small RC aircraft (drones if you will; or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles-UAV) with cameras are useful tools in movie production, real estate photography, architectural photography and other logical and legitimate and productive uses. Let's be sure the political system has all the facts before they create legislation that is overreactive and not well-thought-out.

Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier

i think having preemptive legislation is the way to go, rather than trying to regulate them when there's a million drones in the sky and no rules to restrict them