California Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Gov. Jerry Brown Vetoes Law Against Drones, Cites Mass Incarceration Problem


By Aaron Morrison

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Saturday three pieces of legislation that would have criminalized civilians’ flying aerial drones over certain public and private spaces, the Los Angeles Times reported. Despite alarm over close-call collisions with firefighting aircraft, Brown said unmanned drones flying over wildfires, schools, prisons and jails is a nuisance not worth the strain that new penalties would pose on the criminal justice system.

There are already drone laws in place, and the vetoed legislation would have just added more, the Democratic leader said. Moreover, he added, the state’s voluminous criminal code contributes to a culture of mass incarceration.

“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 in a veto statement released Saturday. “This multiplication and particularization of criminal behavior creates increasing complexity without commensurate benefit.”

Along with the drone bills, the governor rejected legislation that would have created new crimes or penalties for using bull hooks to handle elephants, allowing explosions in drug labs and removing GPS tracking devices from paroled sex offenders, according to the LA Times. Brown noted the growth of the state’s criminal code to more than 5,000 provisions over the past several decades.

“During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded,” Brown said. “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.”

Had the drone bills been passed, there would have been steep penalties for hobbyists caught flying unmanned aerial drones above wildfires and other emergencies — fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences of up to six months. In addition, the law would have let emergency responders off the hook if they damaged drones with electronic signal-jamming devices.

State Sen. Ted Gaines, a Republican from Rocklin, California, introduced the measures after receiving complaints from the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection about drones flying over wildfires last summer. Gaines said he was disappointed in the governor’s vetoes.

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