PHOENIX — New legislation creating a comprehensive state policy on drone use that includes a ban on cities and towns making their own rules was approved Tuesday by an Arizona Senate committee, but major changes are expected as it winds its way through the Legislature.
The action on Senate Bill 1449 came as negotiations continue between the sponsor, cities and towns, commercial interests such as online retail giant Amazon, and other groups.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he’s working to allow some local rules on the remotely controlled vehicles despite an outright ban on such rules in the version that passed the Senate Transportation Committee. He’s also trying to ensure that companies that want to use drones commercially are not hampered by multiple rules in different cities and towns.
“We’re trying to make sure that we can have commerce with drones, that we don’t have 91 different laws that make it impossible for companies to use drones for deliveries,” Kavanagh said, referring to the number of cities and towns in Arizona. “That was a major concern as individual cities began either passing or talking about passing drone legislation.”
Changes are expected in the coming days and weeks as the legislation is refined.
Paradise Valley passed a drone ordinance in December and Glendale and Phoenix have rules in the works.
The Paradise Valley law makes reckless operation or unauthorized videotaping of someone in their backyard a misdemeanor. It also requires commercial operators to notify the city when they plan to operate a drone.
“PV recognized that this issue is bigger than us but in the absence of regulation we felt we needed to act,” Town Manager Kevin Burke testified. He said the city rules were designed to promote safety, privacy and simplicity.
Kavanagh is working to include some of those concepts in statewide legislation while not stepping into areas where Federal Aviation Administration rules apply. The FAA requires registration of drones and prohibits operation by hobbyists above 400 feet and near airports, sports venues and other areas.
“We want to make sure that within the very small window that the FAA gives you we can include in there protection of people’s privacy,” Kavanagh said. “We want to also deal with public safety, protecting critical infrastructure from damage from drones. We’re going to deal with people flying drugs over prisons.”
The bill makes it a crime to use drones if they interfere with law enforcement or fire operations or if they are used to photograph sensitive locations such as nuclear power plants.
The bill also makes it a crime to videotape people in their yards in some cases.
The Arizona League of Cities & Towns opposes the bill because it pre-empts local control but is working to get Kavanagh to allow some local regulations.
“What we’re trying to do is work with the proponents of the bill, primarily the commercial users of drones, and craft legislation that allows for the full use by the commercial enterprises but also protect public safety and privacy of our citizens in the municipalities,” said Dale Wiebusch, a League lobbyist.