Before Amazon or some other company launches a fleet of delivery drones over Rhode Island, two legislators want to lay the groundwork for how unmanned aerial vehicles operate in the state.
“The future isn’t that far away when it comes to the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – for any assortment of activities, from deliveries to news coverage and beyond,” said Rep. Stephen R. Ucci (D-Dist. 42, Johnston,Cranston). “There are going to be many applications for these craft, from law enforcement to search and rescue operations to wildlife tracking. People are going to be operating these unmanned craft the one they once flew model airplanes. As a state, we need to be prepared, we need to understand this new technology and we have to consider if or how we, as a state, want these craft regulated.”
Representative Ucci, along with Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence), have introduced two pieces of legislation regarding unpiloted, unmanned aerial vehicles. One (2015-H 5292) gives the state the exclusive legal authority to regulate the unpiloted craft. The other (2015-H 5293) establishes a legislative commission to study and make recommendations to regulate drones and their aerial kin.
“Unmanned aircraft systems, commonly called unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, continue to be the subject of lots of attention – because of their use in war, because of their possible commercial applications,” said Representative Corvese. “In the interest of the safety and security of the people of our state, and also and especially their privacy, legislative and governmental attention is needed, as well.”
A number of states enacted unmarked aircraft systems legislation last year and the two legislators want Rhode Islandto be among the many more state legislatures that are debating the issue this year.
“In regard to how we regulate or control or allow these craft to operate in our state, we need to get in on the ground floor, so to speak,” said Representative Ucci. “Rather than trying to regulate after the fact, or play catch-up with the technology, now is the appropriate time for a thorough and comprehensive study of this issue.”
The study commission proposed in the Ucci-Corvese bill would create an 11-member panel that would report its findings and recommendations by early next January. Membership of the panel would be five members of the House of Representatives to be named by the Speaker of the House; the Attorney General; the president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns; the executive director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency; the president of the University of Rhode Island; the president of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, and a representative of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
Representative Corvese said the second bill, to give the state exclusive regulatory authority over the aircraft, “is to ensure we take a unified, statewide approach to the issue, rather than having individual communities adopting a variety of different kinds of ordinances. We need a consistent approach and consistent regulations for issues that are common across the state – such as how they can be used by law enforcement or other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public.”
Both bills have been referred to the House Committee on Corporations. Among the other co-sponsors of the bill to create the study commission are Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly), Rep. Raymond A. Hull (D-Dist. 6,Providence, North Providence) and Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston). Other co-sponsors of the regulatory legislation are Rep. Daniel P. Reilly (R-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown), Rep. Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence) and Rep. Thomas Winfield (D-Dist. 53, Smithfield, Glocester).
Last year Indiana enacted a law creating warrant requirements and exceptions for the police use of unmanned aircraft and real time geo-location tracking devices. That new law also creates the crime of “Unlawful Photography and Surveillance on Private Property,” making it a misdemeanor for knowingly and intentionally electronically surveying the private property of another without permission.
Both Alaska and Illinois last year enacted legislation creating procedures and standards for law enforcement’s use of unmanned aircraft. Legislation dealing with public, private and commercial use of the aircraft was also enacted in Iowa,Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin and other states.
“We need rules so we can benefit from this technology, without it becoming an imposition to our safety or our privacy,” said Representative Ucci.