Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 142, which would have restricted unmanned vehicle use in the state. In a progressive move, Governor Brown wrote in a veto letter to the California State Senate that the bill “while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.”
State and local legislation throughout the country has become a political hot spot as government agencies grapple with how to manage and govern the explosion of commercial and hobby UAVs. With more than a million small UAVs sold in the U.S. during the last two years, and FAA regulations for recreational drone use no closer to fruition, constituent pressures are at an all time high.
California’s Senate Bill 142 sought to amend the state’s wrongful occupation of real property laws to include UAVs. Had it passed, the law would have extended liability for wrongful occupation of real property and damages to UAV operators flying their aircraft less than 350 feet above ground level over private property without permission of the property owner.
The bill’s author, California Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, representing district 19 (which includes Santa Barbara), repeatedly referred to concerns over privacy and lack of oversight for recreational drone operators as motivation for the bill’s creation. While the FAA regulates commercial UAV use, its Modernization and Reform Act only includes a requirement to operate recreational UAVs “in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines.” Senator Jackson wrote in her judiciary of the bill, “the lack of more comprehensive rules establishing clear boundaries for when, where, and how these craft are to be operated has raised concerns.”
While SB 142 is dead, the issue is far from resolved. In his letter to the senate, Governor Brown wrote “drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination.” He closed his letter with encouragement to lawmakers — “let’s look at this more carefully.”