Alarmed by the growing number of hobbyists sending drones into the California sky, state lawmakers are working on a series of proposals that would bar the devices from being flown over wildfires, prisons, schools and homes.
The Consumer Electronics Assn. recently estimated that the sale of drones in the U.S. will approach 700,000 in 2015, up from 400,000 last year.
State fire officials recently told legislators that private drones pose a significant danger to air crews and to firefighters on the ground. Hobbyists have already put aircraft in harm’s way during California wildfires a dozen times this year, the officials said.
The state Senate passed an urgency measure Monday that would make such incursions illegal as soon as the governor signs it, if he does.
“To think that someone would interfere with firefighting or emergency response situations to get a sneak peek or to post a drone video on YouTube is an outrage that is deserving of punishment and condemnation,” said state Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin), author of the measure, which now goes to the Assembly.
Monday’s action came days after lawmakers sent the governor a bill that would criminalize the act of operating an unmanned aircraft system less than 350 feet above ground over private property without the consent of the property’s owner.
“Drones are a new and exciting technology with many potentially beneficial uses,” said that bill’s author, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). “But they should not be able to invade the privacy of our backyards and our private property without our permission.”
The drone industry, which opposed her measure, is urging caution in regulating a burgeoning technology. Its lobbyists are working the issue in Sacramento.
Jackson’s bill “is an unnecessary, innovation-stifling and job-killing proposal,” said a statement by Brian Wynne, president and chief executive of the Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Assn.
This week, the Assembly is expected to take up other bills by Gaines that would outlaw the unauthorized use of private drones over public schools and prisons.
The school proposal is aimed at protecting the privacy of students and shielding them from possible injury, stalking or kidnapping, Gaines said.
He wants to ban drones at or under 350 feet above campuses and prohibit photographs or videotaping of students by the devices without permission from the principal.
“Privacy issues, especially in today’s fast-paced Internet and technology era, are among the most important policy issues facing Californians,” Gaines said. “We must protect the public’s right to privacy and, more importantly, their safety.”
Gaines said he is also concerned that students could be injured if an unauthorized drone loses power and crashes.
He introduced the prison bill after drones were used in attempts to drop contraband into prison and jail yards in the U.S., Ireland, Britain, Australia and Canada.
In August, authorities broke up an effort to use a drone to smuggle drugs, tobacco and pornography into a maximum-security prison in Maryland.
Authorities also say drones can be used to scout prisons to help in escape attempts.
Gaines’ measure would make it a misdemeanor to fly a drone over a prison or county jail; those convicted would face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
In other legislative action Monday, lawmakers sent the governor a bill aimed at reducing the pay gap between men and women in California. Jackson, the measure’s author, cited studies that found women in the state make 84 cents for every dollar paid to men.
The measure would prohibit employers from paying any employees at rates less than those paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work. It also would bar employers from taking disciplinary action against employees who raise questions about unequal pay.
“California has prohibited gender bias in this state since 1949, but because of loopholes that exist in this law, women continue to be paid less because of their gender,” Jackson told her colleagues on the floor Monday. “This bill will close those loopholes to eliminate the wage gap.”
Nancy McFadden, a top aide to Gov. Jerry Brown, posted a message on Twitter last week saying the governor “will sign CA Fair Pay Act when it reaches his desk.”
Senators also passed a measure that would make California the first state in the nation to outlaw the use of bullhooks in the handling of elephants.
“The bullhook has been directly linked to inhumane treatment of these delicate animals,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who introduced the measure.
He noted that Los Angeles has decided to ban the bullhooks, which usually have a sharp metal hook on the end.
Republican Sen. Jeff Stone of Murrieta opposed the bill, saying an elephant-protection group in his district uses bullhooks without causing pain to the animals.
“These bullhooks have been used historically in the past decades to just guide the animal,” Stone said.
Also Monday, days after a shake-up in the Senate Republican leadership, Assemblyman Chad Mayes, a GOP freshman from Yucca Valley, said he is seeking the lower house’s minority leadership post in a vote that may take place as soon as Tuesday.
“I’m definitely in the running for it,” Mayes told reporters. “We need to make sure as a caucus that we’re together and united.”
If chosen, he’ll take over from Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), who was elected to the post just over a year ago. Olsen, who is considering running for a state Senate seat, said Monday that there was no leadership news to report but that she thought Mayes would make a “great leader.”
Before his election to the Assembly in 2014, Mayes was a member of the Yucca Valley Town Council. He worked as a financial advisor before moving into government.