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Florida Bill to Ground Drones Continues to Soar

March 11, 2013 - 7:00pm

Police using drones to stalk the Florida skies could be a thing of the past, well mostly, under legislation that moved through the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Its fine to kill terrorists with drones but not monitor Floridians, said the bills sponsor, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Theres a delicate balance between freedom and security weve gone too far toward security and away from freedom.

Supporters of the bill say it is forward-thinking in a legislative environment prone to playing defense rather than offense. If the measure becomes law, Florida will be the first state to implement such restrictions on drones.

Florida is literally on the verge of a massive marketing of drones to the law enforcement community.The timing is perfect to have the Legislature set out guidelines, Negron told the committee.

Indeed, Sunshine State News reported the first foray into the use of drones in Florida at the end of 2011 when Miami-Dade County purchased its Honeywell T-Hawks with the assistance of a federal grant. Officials from Miami-Dade say they comply with all the necessary regulations and have only attempted to use the drones in one situation over the past two years.

Although Negrons bill reins in law enforcements use of the unmanned aircrafts, it does not extend to commercial, private or federal use, a limited scope that has some lawmakers worried.

Im more concerned about the private market for drones, said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. I could see the Tampa Bay Times, a host of people who want access to drones.

While Negron agrees a great opportunity for mischief exists with drones in private hands, he limited the scope of the bill, as a regulatory starting point, because it would provide measurable progress in reasonable time.The Stuart Republican is still a supporter of crafting laws for private use.

SB 92 includes three exemptions for law-enforcement implementation of the technology a terrorist situation, probable cause that includes a search warrant, and special circumstances like a missing person or hostage situation.

The committee voted in support of advancing the legislation. Its counterpart, HB 119, sponsored by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, is currently moving through the Florida House.

Anne Smith writes special to Sunshine State News.

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