Senate rejects limits on use of unmanned aircraft

The state Senate rejected legislation Monday that would restrict the use of unmanned aircraft in Louisiana.

Senate Bill 330 — which died with 15 voting for it and 21 voting against it — was an attempt to sync Louisiana law with evolving technology.

Other states already have adopted legislation addressing drones. The Federal Aviation Administration is trying to figure out how drones can coexist with commercial airplanes.

Internet marketplace Amazon is exploring the idea of using drones to make deliveries. Google just outmaneuvered Facebook to snap up Titan Aerospace, which manufactures drones.

SB330 aimed to curtail the use of drones on private property for surveillance. It generally would be legal for Homeland Security and law enforcement officials to use drones for legitimate purposes. A number of other exemptions would exist, including using a satellite to capture images for mapping and allowing the property owner to give consent. Civil and criminal penalties would come into play for violators.

“Technology has overrun the law,” state Sen. Dan Claitor told his colleagues in the Senate chamber Monday night.

State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Jeanerette, successfully amended the bill to add in another exemption. Images captured for farming purposes would be OK.

Allain said drones are going to be important for agricultural research. He revealed that he owns a drone.

The Senate adopted Allain’s amendment but balked at an exemption for news gathering purposes. Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, offered the media exemption but admitted he wasn’t thrilled about it.

Other legislators also expressed displeasure.

State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said the amendment would allow photographs to be taken of private homes. He said legislators would be legalizing the types of images found in “repulsive” supermarket tabloids.

“Yes, that’s a possibility,” agreed Claitor, who added that what was envisioned was allowing the media to use drones for legitimate news gathering, such as covering bank robberies.

Claitor then joked that the media could even use drones to photograph congressmen, making an obvious dig at U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister. McAllister, R-Swartz, is weathering a media frenzy after his own surveillance camera captured him kissing a married aide.

State Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, asked Claitor if he even planned to vote in favor of the amendment.

“I’m going to vote for my own amendment, but that doesn’t mean you have to vote for it,” Claitor told him.

The Senate rejected the amendment and moved to the legislation itself.

State Rep. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, faced Claitor at the podium on the Senate floor and began raising concerns. Appel said Claitor could be making Google Maps illegal.

Claitor said Google could continue to map cities as long as it uses satellites to do so. He asked Appel to imagine Google’s street-level, camera-mounted cars driving through a back yard and taking photographs.

“You wouldn’t dream of walking into my backyard uninvited. Just because you can do that with a drone, doesn’t mean you should be able to do it,” Claitor said.