Program Review and Investigations Committee
JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING THE WEAPONIZATION OF DRONES BASED ON A PROGRAM REVIEW AND INVESTIGATIONS COMMITTEE STUDY.
Joint Favorable Substitute Change of Reference to Judiciary
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Program Review and Investigations Committee
REASONS FOR BILL:
This bill is a result of recommendations made in the 2014 PRI study Drone Use Regulation. Among the report's overall findings: 1) Connecticut stakeholder concerns about unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) use are primarily those of privacy and safety; 2) most jurisdiction for aircraft regulation is at the federal level; 3) state or local attempts at regulating non-governmental flight are preempted by federal authority; and 4) most, but not all, types of criminal UAV use can be addressed through existing state law. This bill adds criminal penalties for the remote operation of deleterious agents (such as tear gas), deadly weapons, and explosive devices.
Substitute language replaces the language of RB 148. Substitute language preserves the portion of RB 148 that creates a criminal offense for the remote operation of weapons. Several changes to original language were made, as follows:
● Substitute language prohibits law enforcement use of weapons via UAV, while exempting law enforcement from the general prohibition on remote use of weapons. The added provisions do not apply to state- or federally-authorized bomb squads using UAV for the purposes of bomb detection, detonation, or disposal.
● The effective date of the bill was moved to August 1, 2016, from October 1, 2016.
● Substitute language removed a proposed change to the state definition of aircraft. This alteration eliminated the need for several sections of the raised bill, which were removed in substitute language.
● Language was added to specify that municipal ordinances regarding drones are preempted by state and federal authority.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Office of Chief Public Defender. Tejas Bhatt, Assistant Public Defender, submitted written testimony. The Office of Chief Public Defender supports the bill, while noting the language of the original bill was also contained in HB 5274.
Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA). Kevin A. Dillon, Executive Director, submitted written testimony on behalf of CAA. The Authority expressed concern that the exclusion of UAV from the state definition of aircraft would exempt UAV from existing state aircraft registration requirements indefinitely. The authority prefers a “one- or two-year” moratorium on state UAV registration requirements while federal regulations are further developed. These concerns were addressed in substitute language.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Chief Paul Fitzgerald and Chief Paul Molanson, Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. Chiefs Fitzgerald and Molanson testified jointly at the public hearing on behalf of the CPCA. The Association supports the bill as it was raised, but expressed that it was not clear on whether the language in the raised bill pertained to law enforcement officers. The group was concerned the bill as it was written may have prevented certain current uses of non-aerial remote activity, such as some bomb squad activities. Substitute language clarified the prohibitions on law enforcement weaponization of drones and made special exemptions for bomb squads.
Peter Sachs, Esq., Drone Law Journal. Peter Sachs testified at the public hearing and submitted written testimony. He supports the bill, but urged the committee to add a provision regarding state preemption of local drone laws and to move the effective date nearer to the present. Both suggestions are reflected in substitute language. He would also like to see this bill combined with HB 5274.
David McGuire, Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. Attorney McGuire testified at the public hearing and submitted written testimony on behalf of the ACLU. The ACLU supports the “spirit” and “content” of the bill, but believes “it does not go far enough … particularly in the area of protection from unwarranted police surveillance.” The group prefers a more comprehensive bill, such as HB 5274. The ACLU also suggests including a specific prohibition on law enforcement use of weaponized drones, which is included in substitute language.
Sergeant Jeremiah F. Dunn, Clinton Police Department. Sergeant Dunn submitted written testimony supporting bill.
State Representative Gayle Mulligan, 55th District. Rep. Mulligan submitted testimony supporting the bill.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Austin Haughwout, drone user. Mr. Haughwout testified at the public hearing in opposition to the bill. He stated that current laws already exist that cover malicious acts, whether a drone is used to commit them or not. He also stated and that adding criminal penalties will not prevent those with bad intent from improperly using drones.
Reported by: PRI Staff