FRANKFORT — A bill that would define what a drone is and what unlawful use of a drone means passed the House by a vote of 87-3 on Thursday.
House Bill 120, sponsored by Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, would define a drone as an unmanned aircraft that must be registered with and identified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Unlawful use of a drone would include using a drone to harass someone or for acts of voyeurism, forcible entry, theft or burglary. All offenses would be misdemeanor crimes except harassing conduct, which would be a violation carrying a fine.
The bill would not restrict the use of a drone by law enforcement as part of a criminal investigation, or for “any lawful commercial or personal use,” it states.
A proposed amendment to HB 120 sponsored by Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, who had sponsored her own drone legislation earlier in the session, would have removed most of the text in Belcher’s bill and replaced it with provisions that St. Onge said would cover “a wider range for what drones can be used for.” The amendment, narrowly defeated by a vote of 43-44, would have spelled out how drones could be used, and by who, including use of drones by law enforcement.
One provision in the proposed amendment that led to some debate would have prohibited law enforcement from using drones to conduct a search unless officers have a search warrant or “exigent circumstances exist.” Exigent circumstances allow for search and seizure without a search warrant if there is probable cause that a serious crime has been, or will be, committed and there is not enough time to obtain a warrant.
House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, questioned why the amendment addresses exigent circumstances for use of drones without a search warrant when use of drones without a warrant under those circumstances is already allowed. “If there is exigent circumstances there is never a need for a warrant,” said Bell.
St. Onge said exigent circumstances are addressed in current law but that several questions raised about drone use in recent years required clarity in HB 120.
Belcher said she filed HB 120 after a drone was shot down by a man living her hometown. She said HB 120 addresses the use of drones without attempting to limit their use by law enforcement or regulate their use in the private sector “because drones are an evolving technology.”
HB 120 now goes to the Senate for consideration.