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House OKs new rules on use of drones

State House Bureau

February 15. 2017 9:08PM
Drone pilot Sam Johnson stands ready with a drone control deck wrapped around him during a test flight for Eversource. (COURTESY)

CONCORD — Legislation restricting the use of drones by government and private individuals (HB 97) passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support on Wednesday, in a vote of 317-37.

The bill sets standards for use of the remote-controlled aerial devices and defines illegal uses. An amendment that clarifies permissible commercial and private uses was also approved.

Government use of drones to engage in surveillance, acquire evidence or enforce laws would be prohibited without a search warrant signed by a judge.

Government would also be prohibited from using drones with cameras to record people on private property where the occupants have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” or at a height of less than 250 feet over private property without the consent of the owner.

The bill allows warrantless use of drones by law enforcement in specific situations, such as high risk of a terrorist attack, to document a crime scene, to locate or rescue missing or abducted individuals, or “when swift action is needed to prevent imminent harm to life or serious damage to property.”

Private citizens are forbidden from using drones for surveillance and from using drones equipped with cameras to record people on privately owned property.

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by the governor, the new rules will take effect on July 1, 2018.

The House also approved:

HB 647, to provide state grants to families with disabled children who choose private over public schools;

HB 264, to create a commission to study making birth control pills available without a prescription, but “behind the counter” so they will still be covered by health insurance;

HB 291, eliminating the need for veterinarians to comply with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and disclose the names of owners whose pets are getting opioids. The bill was amended to require veterinarians to register with the PDMP and report when they dispense a two-day supply or more; and,

HB 133, a so-called “jury nullification bill” that directs judges to instruct jurors that even if the state has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, they can find a defendant not guilty if in their minds “a guilty verdict will yield an unjust result.”

The approved bills now move on to the Senate.

The House defeated:

HB 597, reinstating the 2008 education funding formula, which would have boosted guaranteed annual state aid to local school districts from $752M to $939M;

HB 602, prohibiting the placement of people with mental illnesses in the secure psychiatric unit in the state prison, and appropriating money for a secure psychiatric hospital; and,

HB 415, reducing business taxes, repealing other taxes and establishing an income tax.

The House tabled:

HB 604, creating the John and Molly Stark Scholarships for community college students; and,

HB 621, establishing a road usage fee on fuel-efficient vehicles to make up for declining gas tax revenue.

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