With strong message against creating new crimes, Gov. Brown vetoes drone bills

Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday vetoed a trio of bills that would have prohibited civilians from flying aerial drones over wildfires, schools, prisons and jails, despite alarm over close calls with firefighting aircraft.

The governor rejected those and six other bills that would have created new crimes or penalties for misconduct including using bullhooks to handle elephants, allowing explosions in drug labs and removing GPS tracking devices from paroled sex offenders. Brown said in a veto message that there are already laws available to deal with any problems addressed by the bills.

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"Each of these bills creates a new crime -- usually by finding a novel way to characterize and criminalize conduct that is already proscribed," Brown wrote. "This multiplication and particularization of criminal behavior creates increasing complexity without commensurate benefit."

The governor noted that over the last several decades the state's criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 provisions, "covering every conceivable form of human misbehavior."

"During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded," Brown wrote. "Before we keep going down this road, I think we should pause and reflect how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective." 

One bill would have set steep penalties for hobbyists who fly unmanned aerial drones above wildfires and other emergencies, interfering with firefighting aircraft.

In addition to allowing fines of up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail for violations, the bill would have given emergency responders immunity from liability for damage caused to drones that they knock out of the air with electronic signal-jamming devices.

State Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) introduced the measure amid complaints from the head of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that drones have been seen flying over a dozen wildfires this summer, grounding firefighting aircraft in some cases to avoid a mid-air collision.

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Gaines said he was disappointed in the vetoes, adding on Twitter "Our laws must keep up w/growing drone tech or else all of our safety is at risk."

The governor also vetoed bills by Gaines that would have prohibited hobbyists' drones from being flown over or taking pictures of K-12 schools unless approved by the school administration. The measure was aimed at protecting student privacy.

The third bill would have outlawed drones over prisons and jails in response to incidents in other parts of the country where the aerial devices were used to drop contraband, including drugs, into prison yards.

Prison overcrowding has been a chronic and costly problem in California.

Eight years ago, when officials sought to persuade judges that they were reducing prison crowding enough to avoid releasing inmates, the state Senate Committee on Public Safety began requiring that legislation be scrutinized for its impact on prisons.

Since February, the prison population has been within required limits, and legislative staff members now say that the state must only show it can keep crowding down.

Earlier this year, Brown vetoed bills that would have added three new misdemeanors, including vandalism of a redwood burl, to the book, also noting the voluminous number of crime laws already that already exist.

Here is the full text of Brown's veto message:

"Each of these bills creates a new crime -- usually by finding a novel way to characterize and criminalize conduct that is already proscribed. This multiplication and particularization of criminal behavior creates increasing complexity without commensurate benefit.

"Over the last several decades, California's criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 provisions covering every almost conceivable form of human misbehavior.

"During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded.

"Before we keep going down this road, I think we should pause and reflect how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective. 

"Sincerely,

"Edmund G. Brown Jr."

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

3:24 p.m.: This article has been updated with context and background.

This article was originally published at 2:35 p.m.

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