Sacramento, CA — A bill from a former Mother Lode lawmaker that limits drone use in emergency areas passed the Senate and is now headed to the Assembly. The vote was unanimous for the bill to that seeks to protect emergency responders from lawsuits related to damaging unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations.
Republican State Senator Ted Gaines (El Dorado), who, prior to redistricting, represented Calaveras County, co-introduced the bill, SB 168, with Democratic Assemblymember Mike Gatto. Gaines says “First, I want everyone to know that flying drones in these areas is dangerous and wrong. Let’s get the word out as far and wide as we can – immediately – to help keep our people and emergency personnel safe,” said Senator Gaines. “But this penalty will help ensure our skies are safe. People can replace drones, but we can’t replace a life. Public safety should be our absolute number one priority.” Technology for effective “jamming” to keep drones away could be used or whatever the least-damaging methods are necessary for disabling unauthorized drones.
Senator Gaines released a statement that saying he believes drones hold great promise for wildfire suppression and other emergency services when used properly by the appropriate agencies, but does not want rogue drones to interfere with the most effective response to time-sensitive crises.
Under current California law, it is a misdemeanor to interfere with the lawful efforts of a firefighter or company to extinguish a fire, convictions carry a $1,000 penalty fine maximum. As reported previously, SB 167 seeks to restrict the use of private drones over wildfire areas and was re-referred to the Committee on Public Safety after being amended on August 17th.