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Commonwealth's Counties

Drone bills headed to the Governor’s desk

HB 1482 (Thomas) and SB 508 (Carrico), which expand the use of unmanned aircraft systems by public bodies without obtaining a search warrant reported out of their conference committees, passed both houses, and are headed to the Governor’s desk. The bills provide that drones may be deployed by a law-enforcement officer for the purpose of a developing a crash report, crash reconstruction and  a record of the scene by photo or video. The Virginia Department of Transportation may also use the devices when assisting law-enforcement officers to prepare such report.

Two other drone bills of interest to local governments, HB 638 (Collins) and SB 526 (Obenshain), address trespassing by an individual with an unmanned aircraft system. Both bills reported out of conference, passed both houses, and are headed to the Governor’s desk. The bills expand the current prohibition on the regulation of private drones by localities to political subdivisions. Negotiated language by VACo and VML clarifies that the change does NOT permit a person to enter upon land owned by a political subdivision just because he is in possession of a drone if under other circumstances he is not permitted to enter upon such land.

The bills add that a person will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor if, after given notice, continues to knowingly and intentionally enter the property of another and come within 50 feet of a dwelling house to coerce, intimidate, or harass another person. Such provisions don’t apply when the person (i) has the consent of the owner of the property, or (ii) is authorized by federal regulations to operate and is lawfully operating the drone. Also, the bills make it unlawful for sex offenders or individuals under protective orders to use drones to knowingly and intentionally follow, contact, or capture images of another person. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Lastly, the bills repeal the second enactment of Chapter 451 of the 2016 Acts of Assembly, which set the sunset provision on the prohibition on localities to regulate drones for July 1, 2019.

VACo Contact: Khaki LaRiviere

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