Federal drone laws are at a turning point. The FAA published its long-anticipated Remote ID proposal at the end of 2019 (Remote ID is widely said to be the essential piece to allow for the growth of the drone industry).
But as the federal government works out the Remote ID details, many states have published their own drone laws and regulations over the past couple of years.
On a state level, 2019 was a big year for new drone laws. Four states established new regulations dealing with drones flying over prisons to help combat contraband from being introduced into prisons. In 2020, one of the big developments for drone laws was actually a sort of anti-drone law. Kentucky updated their definition of “key infrastructure assets” to include natural gas or petroleum pipelines. That made it illegal to trespass with a drone near these key infrastructures.
Here are some of the most significant state drone laws adopted recently:
Delaware Governor John Carney adopted a new law on Aug. 8, 2019 making it illegal to use a drone to deliver or attempt to deliver contraband to a correctional facility.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed a law on March 25, 2019 making it illegal to fly a drone over a prison without authorization, as it defines a prison as a “key infrastructure asset.” What’s more, the law makes violations a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class A misdemeanor for a second or subsequent offense.
In a separate law passed in March 2020, Kentucky added natural gas or petroleum pipelines to its “key infrastructure assets.” The new law makes it a criminal offense to fly a drone over a natural gas or petroleum pipeline.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a new law on June 18, 2019 that redefined the term “critical infrastructure facility” to include certain detention centers and correctional facilities for restrictions. This new law made it illegal to fly drones over or near a prison or correctional facility in Florida.
Georgia Governor Kemp signed a new law on April 28, 2019, prohibiting anyone from using drones to deliver or attempt to deliver contraband to a place of incarceration. It also prohibits anyone from using drones to photograph any place of detention without permission of the warden or superintendent. Any person who commits or attempts to commit a violation will face a felony charge and jail time.
Idaho governor Brad Little in March 2020 signed an amendment to an existing law around drone use. The amendment is specific to surveillance, stating that the state’s prohibition against the use of “an unmanned aircraft system to photograph or otherwise record an individual, without such individual’s written consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating such photograph or recording” applies to local and federal agencies in addition to state agencies. This law also adds “commercial or industrial property” to the list of entities protected from surveillance by an unmanned aircraft system.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak approved and signed a law in 2019 intended to protect wildlife by making it illegal to shoot game using a drone (or any aircraft or motor-driven vehicle, such as a helicopter, motor boat or sailboat).
The governor also in 2019 signed a bill requiring that the state establish a UAS program “to facilitate the growth and safe integration of small UAS in Nevada.”
Nevada’s state leadership has long been pursuing growing the state’s economy via drones. Much of that started back in 2013, when the state was designated as one of the FAA’s test sites. Much of that testing happens in Reno, Nevada, which is also one of the 10 state, local and tribal governments selected by the FAA to be a part of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, a program that pairs governments with private companies to test complicated drone flights, such as drone delivery. And just this summer, the FAA committed nearly $1 million to conduct UTM test research at the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS).
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed two new drone laws in April 2019. The first one prohibits anyone from using a drone to drop items or substances into an open-air venue with more than 100 persons gathered. The second increased the penalty for using a drone over critical infrastructures without authorization. It also added “communication service facilities” to its list of critical infrastructure facilities.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam amended an existing law related to the ways law enforcement officers could use drones, specific to how law enforcement can use drones without a warrant. Under the new law, law-enforcement officers may deploy drones to survey a primary residence of the subject of an arrest warrant “to formulate a plan to execute an existing arrest warrant or capias for a felony offense.” The law also specifies that law enforcement can use drones to locate subjects sought for arrest in situations where they’ve fled from a law-enforcement officer (and a law-enforcement officer remains in hot pursuit of such person).
911 Security publishes an annual report that compiles all the drone laws in all the states in the United States. Download a PDF version of 911 Security’s report here.