Eye on Olympia: State Sen. Hargrove's bill would govern use of drone aircraft by state agencies

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — State law enforcement agencies would need a court order to use unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to collect information that could be used to identify a person if a bill sponsored by the North Olympic Peninsula's state senator becomes law.

The bill, introduced last week by state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, also would require agencies to get approval from the state Legislature or local governments, such as city councils, before purchasing drones.

“It just adds some judicial review. It isn't trying to prohibit the technology,” Hargrove said after the first week of a session that ends March 13.

Hargrove, along with state Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, both Sequim Democrats, represents the 24th Legislative District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

Hargrove said Friday he has had concerns over the issue of drones and privacy for a few years.

He was approached by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington state to sponsor the bill this session.

Hargrove said he thinks regulating drones is an issue that both liberal and conservative senators agree on.

“I think it's just a broad concern that it should be regulated, that there should be some due process involved,” Hargrove said.

Eight Democratic senators, including Hargrove, and three Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill.

“We think that it's time to have drones regulated,” said Shankar Narayan, legislative director for the ACLU of Washington.

“This is a game-changing technology, and Washingtonians shouldn't be forced to choose between the benefits of drone technology and their privacy,” Narayan added. “They should have both.”

Under the bill, law enforcement agencies would have to get warrants to use drones to collect information on an individual as part of criminal investigation.

“It's really information that connects to a person as opposed to general information about terrain or traffic or things like that,” Narayan said.

Warrants would not be needed to collect terrain or traffic survey information, Narayan explained, and exceptions would be made for emergencies, such as a hostage situation in which individuals need to be identified quickly.

If made into law, the regulations would apply only to drones operated by public state agencies, Narayan said, and not affect privately or federally owned craft.

“We're not anti-drone,” Narayan said. “We're in fact very pro-drone and want Washington to have benefits of this technology.”

Narayan said a similar bill almost made it to the floor of the state House of Representatives during last year's legislative session but stalled in the House Rules Committee after Boeing representatives raised concerns about regulating a burgeoning industry too early.

No state agencies currently use drones, according to a Seattle Times article about the House bill stalling last session.

Narayan said the House bill has been re-introduced this session.

Van De Wege said Friday he is not that familiar with either the House or Senate drone bills, though he did support putting regulations in place now before the technology proliferates.

“Drones are a thing of the future,” Van De Wege said. “If something's coming and we know it, it's best to put in laws to protect the public before it catches on.”

Van De Wege has introduced a bill that he said would improve certain safety features on ambulances operating in the state.

Van De Wege, a firefighter/paramedic and lieutenant with Clallam County Fire District No. 3, said the bill would also create an ambulance driver training program using computer simulators, similar to those used for police officers.

Van De Wege said ambulance driver certification through such a program could lead to lower insurance costs for fire departments and districts.

Last week, the House Committee on the Environment, on which Tharinger sits, conducted a public hearing on a bill that would expand the ways state Parks and Recreation Commission can fund programs.

Tharinger, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said the proposed legislation would remove the prohibition against commercial advertising in state parks, though what would be allowed would be limited to private nonprofits or foundations who directly fund individual park programs.

The goal would be to allow Parks to generate more revenue as funding from the state has declined in recent years, Tharinger explained.

“You won't see like a CenturyLink Sequim Bay State Park,” Tharinger said.

“We don't want to commercialize or turn our parks into billboards.”

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 19. 2014 6:30PM
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