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Lower bill establishing state drone laws passes House committee vote

LANSING — The House Committee on Communications and Technology on Tuesday, March 13, unanimously advanced a bill proposed by state Rep. Jim Lower of Cedar Lake as part of a larger legislative package crafting needed state guidelines for drones.

Lower’s bill, House Bill 5498, offers a sentencing guideline making intentional drone interference with a key facility up to a four-year felony. The legislation is in correspondence with a proposal highlighting facilities where use of unmanned aircraft systems will be prohibited under state law. The language refers to “key facilities” as defined in the Michigan Penal Code, including manufacturing plants, electric or natural gas utilities as well as telecommunication and correctional facilities.

“I want to protect our correctional facility and law enforcement officers who already have extremely difficult jobs to do,” said Lower. “It makes these facilities less safe when unmanned aircraft can drop contraband, weapons, phones and other items onto prison property for individuals housed there. These are the intentional and nefarious acts with drones that we needed to act on while also being careful to not infringe on what is a growing hobbyist and commercial activity.”

A 2016 Federal Aviation Administration report estimated 2.5 million drones were being operated nationwide for a variety of purposes, including hobbyist and commercial. That number could grow to a projected 7 million by 2020.

A 27-member Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, began work in April 2017 to develop statewide recommendations on the operation, use and regulation of unmanned aircraft in Michigan. The five bills offered within the legislative package largely reflect the task force’s policy recommendations.

HB 5498 moves to the full House for consideration.

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