BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Unmanned aircraft would be limited on Louisiana private property if lawmakers agree to a bill that won the support of a Senate judiciary committee Tuesday.
The bill by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, passed without objection on the panel but over the opposition of the Louisiana Press Association, which said it would restrict news coverage.
Claitor’s proposal would make it illegal to use drones to photograph people on private property without their permission, with exceptions including law enforcement.
Claitor said his bill would hold technological advancements in check and protect privacy, keeping people and government from snooping in backyards without cause.
“If they don’t have probable cause or a search warrant, they shouldn’t be able to do it,” Claitor said.
The measure goes to the full Senate for consideration. It was modeled on a similar measure in Texas.
Claitor’s proposal would prohibit the use of unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance on a person or private property and the possession or distribution of an image captured through such surveillance. That includes photos, sounds or other information recorded by a drone.
Cassie Hughes, a lobbyist for the Louisiana Press Association, raised concerns that several newspapers in the state have drones and would be restricted from covering crime scenes and natural disasters because of the limitations posed by Claitor’s bill.
For example, she said, trying to document the flood damage of a massive storm like Hurricane Katrina would be limited, because a newspaper would need approval from each individual property owner to use a drone to photograph damage in a neighborhood.
Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, agreed that the bill would restrict media access, and he said he didn’t support that outcome.
“I want my privacy, but when a news event occurs, the public wants to see it,” he said.
But he also said he doesn’t know how to rewrite the proposal to protect media access.
“I think we can find some common ground here, but I’m not going to give up on people’s right to privacy,” Claitor said.
The measure includes a list of exceptions, including for the military, mapping purposes and maintenance of utility services. Law enforcement agencies could use drones if they have a search warrant, are documenting a crime scene or are searching for a missing person.
Violators could be fined for using drones and possessing surveillance material captured by them. Distributing the material could carry a prison sentence of up to six months.
A day earlier, the Senate voted 35-1 to prohibit drones from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered “critical infrastructure” in Louisiana.
That more limited proposal, by Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Baton Rouge, heads next to the House for consideration. It includes exemptions for government officials and property owners.
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