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Bill would limit law enforcements’ UAV reach

Ohio’s drone industry has barely taken off, yet some state lawmakers want to limit law enforcement officers’ use of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, said House Bill 207 is not an “anti-drone bill,” but is an attempt to preserve personal freedom and privacy ahead of the industry, he said.

“These are going to get more in your backyard than you’ve ever seen with aircraft,” Damschroder, who is a pilot, told lawmakers on the House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee during the bill’s first hearing Tuesday.

The legislation would prohibit use of drones by law enforcement without a search warrant. Officers could also employ drones to prevent imminent harm, serious damage, escape of a suspect or destruction of evidence. Exceptions also could be made for national terrorist attacks.

Damschroder said similar legislation has been passed in Florida and Illinois. The bill would not have prevented Dayton from beginning a proposed manned-aircraft surveillance program. The city explored such a plan in the spring, but it did not move forward.

The bill does not allow drone use to search for missing persons, locate illegal marijuana operations or perform a number of actions officers already handle with helicopter surveillance.

“You, as a private citizen, could do all those things,” Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, said. “You could use a drone with a camera on it. Law enforcement could not, and it seems like it’s a double standard the wrong way.”

Reps. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, and Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, questioned the legislation’s impact on the state’s drone industry, which has the potential to be a major economic force.

“I regard the Constitution highly and I think our privacy is right at the top,” Damschroder said. “This is a pro-drone bill. Any state that wants to have a drone program should address this and address it early.”

The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police also opposes the bill in its current form for the same reasons as the sheriffs’ organization. John Gilchrist, legislative counsel for the association, said the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure, does not apply to what’s in public view.

“We say there’s no difference between a helicopter with a human being and a drone that has no human being — they’re going to see the same thing,”Gilchrist said.

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