State Unmanned Aircraft System | 2021 Legislation

3/16/2022

Worker flying a drone.

Introduction

At least 18 states—Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin—and the District of Columbia enacted 25 bills in 2021 addressing unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as UAS or drones.

  • California, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia imposed certain restrictions on law enforcement agencies seeking to acquire specific equipment, including drones, from a program operated by the federal government.
  • Florida, Tennessee and Texas expanded allowable drone uses for law enforcement agencies and first responders under certain circumstances.
  • Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon appropriated funds for UAS-related purposes including UAS facility improvements, high-resolution mapping and UAS programs.
  • Mississippi and South Dakota addressed personal privacy concerns related to operating drones.
  • Arkansas and Texas prohibited drones from flying over certain facilities, such as airports and correctional or detention facilities. Additionally, one state—Wisconsin—allowed drones to be operated over correctional or detention facilities if the operator has received permission from the secretary of the state Department of Corrections or from the county sheriff.
  • Louisiana and Oklahoma established statewide drone advisory bodies to provide recommendations regarding drones and related technologies.
  • Oregon exempted information from public records if it would create a competitive disadvantage for owners or users of a drone test range.
  • Virginia exempted drone owners from aircraft registration requirements.
  • West Virginia made drone manufacturers eligible for a business tax credit beginning in January 2022.
  • North Carolina required an annual report on UAS uses by state agencies.
2021 Enacted State UAS Legislation

State

Bill

Summary

Arkansas

SB 173

  • Prohibits drones from flying over food processing or manufacturing facilities, along with correctional or detention facilities.

California

AB 481

  • Requires law enforcement agencies to obtain approval from a local legislative body to use “military equipment.” The definition of “military equipment” includes unmanned, remotely piloted and powered aerial vehicles.

District of Columbia

B196, B197, B311

  • Prohibits law enforcement agencies from acquiring remotely piloted, powered aircraft without a crew aboard, including drones, from any program operated by the federal government.

Florida

SB 44

  • Allows law enforcement agencies to use drones to gain an aerial perspective of a crowd of 50 or more persons. The policies and procedures regarding the use of such drones must address the storage, retention and release of images or videos captured by the drone, along with the personal safety and constitutional protections of persons being observed.
  • Authorizes state agencies and political subdivisions to use drones for damage assessment including a flood, wildfire or natural disaster, as well as for vegetation and wildlife management on publicly owned land or water. Drones may also be used for firefighting purposes. In order to do so, a state of emergency must be declared by the state, or a political subdivision and drones may only be operated before the expiration of an emergency declaration.  
  • Allows drones to assist with traffic management and facilitate evidence collection at a crime scene or traffic crash scene. However, drones may not be used to issue a traffic citation.
  • By Jan. 1, 2022, a list of approved drone manufacturers whose drones may be purchased or otherwise acquired by a government agency must be published on the state Department of Management Services’ website. Approved manufacturers must provide safeguards which protect data collected, transmitted and stored by a drone. State and federal agencies may also be consulted, as well as any federal guidance, in developing such a list. 

Louisiana

HB 587

  • Creates the Louisiana Drone Authority Committee under the Department of Transportation and Development to provide recommendations on policy and regulatory issues related to the adoption of drone technologies. The committee will meet four times a year starting in August 2021, and 30 days prior to each legislative session the committee will issue a report about the state of unmanned aircraft systems.
  • Provides that the law shall not preempt the exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States and that any interpretation or application of any provision that contradicts the exclusive authority of the United States government to regulate UAS and all unmanned aerial systems shall be null.

Maryland

SB 600; HB 670

  • Prohibits law enforcement agencies from receiving specific equipment from a surplus program operated by the federal government, including an armored or weaponized aircraft, drone or vehicle.

Massachusetts

HB 4002

  • Provides not less than $100,000 for marsh restoration and revitalization, including high resolution drone mapping of the great marsh deterioration.

Mississippi

HB 974

  • Creates the Mississippi Unmanned Aircraft Systems Protection Act of 2021 (Act). Specifies that the Act shall not be de prohibit the operation of drones by a law enforcement agency for any lawful purpose in the state.
  • Specifies a person commits the offense of unlawful use of a UAS if used to conduct surveillance, collect information or data or photographically or electronically record critical infrastructure or correctional facilities without the prior written consent of the owner or their designee. Makes it a misdemeanor offense, punishable up to one year in prison or a fine not to exceed $1,000 or both, for a first offense.
  • Makes it a felony offense, punishable by a term of three years and no more than 15 years or a fine not to exceed $25,000 or both, if UAS is used to deliver or attempt to deliver contraband on a correctional facility or adjacent property.

New Jersey

SB 2022

  • Appropriates $500,000 for an aeronautics UAS program.

North Carolina

SB 105

  • Requires an annual report to the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee and the Fiscal Research Division regarding UAS, including the total number of drones owned by units of the Department of Transportation and by other state agencies, purposes and uses of drones and a list describing each private sector partnership to which the Division of Aviation is a party.

Oklahoma

SB 659

  • Establishes the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission (OAC) as the clearinghouse for UAS in the state.
  • The OAC is designated as the agency for promotion, enhancement and development of UAS to ensure safe integration and use of this technology.
  • The OAC is directed, in its role as the clearinghouse, to cooperate, assist and coordinate among levels and agencies of government in development of UAS and to ensure integration of the technology into the National Airspace System. The clearinghouse is directed to conduct research on UAS rules, regulations and policies of other states and municipalities; to organize and coordinate applications for UAS test sites, pilot programs or grant funding; and to maintain registries of UAS operated by state agencies and of educational institutions offering training programs.

Oregon

SB 315

  • Exempts information that would create a competitive disadvantage for owners or users of a UAS test range from public records, including business records, customer records and research data.

SB 5506

  • Appropriates $15 million to the Boardman Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Facility.

South Dakota

SB 74

  • Prohibits a person from landing on the real property or the waters of a landowner who owns the real property beneath the water body without the landowner’s consent.
  • Prohibits a person from using to photograph, record or otherwise observe another person in a private place where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Makes a violation a misdemeanor offense.
  • Outlines exceptions for law enforcement, emergency management workers and businesses or other government p who unintentionally or incidentally photographs, records or otherwise observes another person in a private place.

Tennessee

SB 258; HB 924

  • Adds circumstances under which a drone may be used by law enforcement without a search warrant to include providing or enhancing security for an event open to the public such as a music concert or festival, aerial coverage for a natural disaster when a state of emergency is declared and to investigate the scene of a crime. Law enforcement must have consent from the property owner to use a drone without a search warrant when an event open to the public is hosted on private property.
  • Increases the number of days in which evidence must be deleted unless such evidence is directly relevant to the lawful reason the drone was being used and to an ongoing investigation or criminal prosecution from three days to 30 days.

Texas

HB 1758

  • Requires each law enforcement agency that uses or intends to use a drone for law enforcement purposes to adopt and update as necessary a written policy regarding the agency’s use of force by means of a drone before the agency first uses a drone, and to submit the policy to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement every two years.
  • Outlines circumstances under which the use of force, including deadly force, involving a drone is justified. The law enforcement agency must have adopted and submitted to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement a policy on the agency’s use of force by means of a drone before the use of force occurred. It also requires the drone to be operated by a law enforcement agency at the time the use of force occurred, and that the use of force would have been justified under another provision. Deadly force by means of an autonomous drone is not allowed.

SB 149

  • Prohibits a drone from flying over a public or private airport depicted in any current aeronautical chart published by the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as a military installation owned or operated by or for the federal government, the state or another governmental entity.

Virginia

SB 1098

  • Provides that an owner of a drone is exempt from requirements pertaining to aircraft registration.

Washington

HB 1054

  • Prohibits a law enforcement agency from acquiring or using certain “military equipment,” including armed or armored drones. Additionally, any law enforcement agency in possession of such equipment shall return it to the federal agency from which it was acquired or destroy it by Dec. 31, 2022.

West Virginia

HB 2760

  • Expands the definition of a tax credit for “high technology manufacturing businesses” beginning on Jan. 1, 2022, to include the manufacturing of drones. The credit can be applied against the portion of taxes imposed that are attributable to a manufacturer’s investment in a new or expanded high technology manufacturing business in the state.

Wisconsin

SB 237

  • Permits a person to operate a drone over the grounds of an institution that is a state facility if the person has express authorization from the secretary of the Department of Corrections, or their designee, or over an institution that is a county facility, if the person has express authorization from the sheriff of the county or their designee. 

Additional Resources