COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A new bill in the Ohio House of Representatives aims to ban police in the state from ever using drones to kill, as well as restrictions on which situations law enforcement can deploy them in.
House Bill 149’s main sponsor Rep. Bernard Willis (R-Springfield) called it the “framework” for local governments to further regulate drone use in the state beyond what the federal government requires.
Cosponsors make the bill a bipartisan initiative, with Reps. Richard Dell’Aquila (D-Seven Hills) and Joseph A. Miller III (D-Lorrain), signing on. In particular, though, the legislation targets law enforcement’s use of the machines, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), rather than civilian pilots.
“Now we are heading into the next era of aviation and we must establish requirements and prohibitions … that make us ready for the tomorrow of aviation,” Willis said in a news release.
A full-on ban sits within the language of the bill. It would block all Ohio law enforcement from using or authorizing the use of a lethal weapon on any UAV. HB 149 doesn’t make any ruling on civilian pilots putting weapons on their drones, but the Federal Aviation Administration already labels that a crime nationwide.
Flying a drone also comes with existing regulations from the FAA, which determine where and how high a drone can fly based on how close it is operating to an airport or other restricted zones like military airspace. Where HB 149 takes that further is in regulating flight data like images, videos and other surveillance captured by drones.
If passed, the legislation would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant from Ohio courts before they would be allowed to use a drone for surveillance or to collect evidence for a criminal case, according to analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. Any flight data gathered with a UAV without a warrant would be inadmissible in a criminal proceeding, except in a few special circumstances:
- For law enforcement to patrol within 25 miles of a national border for prevention or deterrence of illegal entry or smuggling
- When “exigent circumstances” arise, which the bill defines as when a person could be hurt or killed without law enforcement’s intervention.
- During or immediately after an environmental or weather-related catastrophe to preserve public safety, protect property, or survey damage to determine if a state of emergency should be declared.
- For research, training, testing or development efforts in cooperation with a school or other organization.
NBC4 reached out on Monday to Willis’ office with several questions related to the bill, including whether it would have any impact on civilian pilots, if the same rules about flight data would apply in civil court cases, how the law would navigate federal jurisdiction over all airspace and how it would be enforced. Those questions went unanswered as of Friday morning.
A similar bill surfaced in Connecticut in 2017. The first iteration of that document mirrored the Ohio version in intent, wanting to protect residents from lethal police drones and aerial surveillance. It was then amended to allow police to use armed drones, but that bill later died in a legislative committee.
Though not specifically drones, the city government in San Francisco got farther with legislation for armed police robots. While officials originally voted to let police use robots with lethal force, they later reversed that decision on Dec. 6 after protests ensued, Forbes reported.
After being introduced in the Ohio House at the beginning of April, Willis’ legislation was referred to the Aviation and Aerospace Committee on Tuesday for further study. To read the full text of HB 149 as it was introduced, click here. To read the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s analysis of the bill, click here.