California Lawmakers Remain Intent on Regulating Drones

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An enthusiast flies a recreational drone. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Drones are once again a popular topic in the California Legislature in 2016. Already several bills have been introduced that would limit their use.

A bill from Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson would limit the use of drones around critical infrastructure, state parks, private property and the state Capitol. It would also prohibit turning drones into flying bomb or guns.

Jackson says right now drone use is the tech world’s Wild West.

"This is an exciting emerging technology," she says. "But it also is without guidelines, and it presents some serious public safety and privacy concerns as well."

This is not the first time Jackson has attempted to limit the use of drones. Last year she authored a bill prohibiting them from trespassing over private property.

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Jackson's measure was one of several drone-related bills vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown expressed concern that drone hobbyists might be caught up in litigation resulting from the legislation.

But Brown's hesitance on the issue does not appear to be dissuading lawmakers from trying. In addition to Jackson's bill, several other lawmakers have authored drone legislation.

Among them is Republican state Sen. Ted Gaines. Brown also vetoed several of his drone bills last year, including measures prohibiting drones from being flown above schools and prisons. But Gaines is bringing those measures back. He's also adding four more into the mix.

In the Assembly, Democrat Ed Chau is backing a bill that would require drone owners to come forward if their drones are involved in an accident. And Democrat Mike Gatto has announced legislation that would require drones to be registered and insured. Drones would also have to meet a certain size requirement, be equipped with GPS monitoring and have automatic shut-off technology.

In a statement, Gatto says drones should be regulated like cars.

“One could imagine the auto industry balking at the idea of registration requirements at the turn of the century, but the industry survived,” Gatto said. "As technology evolves, so must our laws in order to protect our citizenry."

In October, the Los Angeles Times reported there were nearly 200 reports of close encounters between drones and aircraft in California since April 2014.

In December, a California Highway Patrol helicopter tracking a suspected stolen vehicle almost collided with a drone hovering above the East Bay city of Martinez.

The U.S. Forest Service also said drones interfered with firefighting aircraft battling California wildfires last year, prompting U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire to introduce the Wildfire and Emergency Airspace Protection Act.