New Mexico lawmakers discuss drone regulations


By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico failed to pass legislation during the regular session that would have taken a first step toward regulating the use of drones in the state. But some lawmakers said Monday that the discussion is far from over.

The legislative Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee met in Albuquerque to hear from a panel of experts about the advancement of the technology and its possible uses as well as concerns about privacy.

Committee Chair Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, said future legislation will have to target the uses and issues that stem from those uses given that the technology is always evolving. “We have some work to do,” he told the committee.

New Mexico will be playing catch-up as more than two dozen other states already have enacted laws addressing unmanned aircraft systems.

Maryland lawmakers decided earlier this year that only the state, and not local governments, can enact a law or take other action to prohibit, restrict or regulate the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft. In Virginia, lawmakers passed a bill that requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant for use of drones.

Legislation that would have prohibited individuals or a state agency from using a drone or unmanned aircraft to gather evidence or conduct surveillance without a warrant or other consent unanimously passed the New Mexico Senate. The measure stalled in the House.

It’s unclear when lawmakers will have another chance to debate the issue given that the next session in January is dedicated to the budget and other fiscal matters.

Some who testified before the committee cited instances where drones have harassed livestock, interrupted outdoor activities and trespassed over private property. They argued that proposed rules being considered by the Federal Aviation Administration deal more with economic and safety benefits rather than privacy issues — and that’s where state legislatures have room to set policy.

Janet Jarratt, a Valencia County farmer and board member of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, said current law doesn’t allow property owners to protect themselves from the trespass of drones.

“I don’t think we can underestimate the potential for the misuse of these things,” she said. “The Legislature has it in its power to ensure the protection of its constituents while allowing the legal use with property owners’ permission.”

Dennis Zaklan, deputy director of New Mexico State University‘s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center in Las Cruces, told lawmakers there’s also growing interest among state agencies, cities and counties to use drones as a tool for everything from inspecting infrastructure and collecting data about city parks and desert landscapes to enforcing the law.

Zaklan suggested lawmakers consider creating a state office that would be dedicated to helping agencies and municipalities with their drone needs and pilot training to ensure tax dollars are spent efficiently.

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