New drone bill would let states, not federal government, set drone rules in the USA

US Senator Mike Lee (for Utah) on 16 October introduced a Drone Integration and Zoning Act, proposing state-level jurisdiction over airspace up to 200 feet replacing today’s federal oversight. Senator Lee’s bill aims to establish a regulatory framework for drones based on the principles of local governance and cooperative federalism. The bill reflects calls from some regional agencies to increase local input into drone operations regulation, however previous proposals, for example from Senator Dianne Feinstein in 2017, have not received much support on Capitol Hill.

According to Senator Lee’s bill: “States possess sovereign police powers, which include the power to regulate land use, protect property rights, and exercise zoning authority; and the Federal Government lacks the authority to intrude upon a State’s sovereign right to exercise reasonable time, manner, and place of operations of unmanned aircraft systems operating within the immediate reaches of airspace.” The bill gives authorisation for “the operation of civil unmanned aircraft in the immediate reaches of airspace above property” up to 200 feet above ground level to “the property owner”.

Dronelife newsletter reported the bill could have a major impact on the drone industry, granting state, tribal and local governments complete control over the airspace below 200 feet in altitude and addressing issues that range from recreational flight to drone delivery and drone safety standards. It suggests that state, local and tribal governments may establish zoning for takeoff and landing zones, and charge fees if they want. Industry commentator Christopher Korody added the bill would assign states, cities, and Native American tribes sweeping new powers to set rules for small, low-flying drones, and give property owners more control over what happens immediately over their land.

Senator Lee said: “The FAA cannot feasibly or efficiently oversee millions of drones in every locality throughout the country. The reason that the states have sovereign police powers to protect the property of their citizens is because issues of land use, privacy, trespass, and law enforcement make sense at the state and local level. The best way to ensure public safety and allow this innovative industry to thrive is to empower the people closest to the ground to make local decisions in real time and that is exactly what the Drone Integration and Zoning Act does.”

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