State Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) | 2020 Legislation


Image of a drone.

At least eight states—Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, Vermont and Virginia—enacted 11 pieces of legislation in 2020 addressing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones. 

2020 UAS State Legislation

2020 US State Legislation map.

  • Four states—Florida, Idaho, Minnesota and South Dakota—allowed UAS operations by emergency management workers, including wildfire management.
  • Two states—Minnesota and Missouri—prohibited UAS flying over property, including correctional and mental health facilities and open-air facilities such as sports stadiums.
  • Two states—Idaho and Minnesota—permitted law enforcement agencies to operate UAS for specified purposes, including traffic crash reconstruction, search and rescue missions, and training purposes.
  • One state—Vermont—prohibited law enforcement from operating UAS while using facial recognition, except for purposes such as search and rescue and assessing wildfires, floods and storms.
  • Three states—Florida, Massachusetts and Virginia—appropriated funds for UAS-related certifications, programs and public-private partnerships.
  • One state—Virginia—empowered localities to regulate the takeoff and landing of UAS on property owned by the locality. Previously, localities were preempted from regulating UAS. 
2020 UAS Enacted Legislation





HB 659

  • Exempts UAS use by non-law enforcement employees of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or the Florida Forest Service from laws prohibiting UAS operations by government employees for the purpose of managing and eradicating invasive exotic plants or animals on public lands, as well as suppressing and mitigating wildfire threats.

HB 5001

  • Appropriates $14 million for industry certifications in various occupational areas, including UAS.
  • Appropriates $400,000 for UAS to detect invasive pythons.


HB 486

  • Specifies that UAS operations by law enforcement, fire departments, or other local and state government entities shall not be prohibited for the following:
    • Traffic crash documentation or reconstruction.
    • Crowd management.
    • Assessing damage due t a natural disaster or fire.
    • Training purposes, search and rescue missions, and following the issuance of a warrant.


HB 5164

  • Appropriates $25,000 for an independent scientific organization to conduct a survey of the white-tailed deer population of the Blue Hills Reservation, using fixed-wing aircraft or UAS via aerial photography and downward-looking thermal imaging, as well as distance sampling using driving transects and spotlights.


SF 3258

  • Makes it a criminal offense to operate UAS over correctional facilities or over grounds belonging to or land controlled by such facility without written consent.
  • Allows law enforcement agencies to use UAS for the following:
    • Emergency situations involving risk of death or bodily harm.
    • Public events where there is a heightened risk to public safety or to collect information if there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
    • Counter-terrorist attacks and conduct threat assessments.
    • Prevent the loss of life and property in natural or man-made disasters, as well as facilitate operational planning.
    • Traffic crash reconstruction.
    • Training or public relations purposes.


HB 1963

  • Makes it a criminal offense to operate UAS near a correctional center, mental health hospital, or certain open-air facilities, including sports stadiums holding 5,000 or more persons, without written consent.

South Dakota

HB 1059

  • Makes it a criminal offense to operate UAS if such operation is not in full compliance with all applicable Federal Aviation Regulations.

HB 1065

  • Specifies that prohibitions on using UAS to photograph, record or observe another person in a private place, as well as landing UAS on private property, do not apply to operators using UAS for business and government purposes who unintentionally or incidentally photograph, record or observe persons in a private place.
  • States that prohibitions also do not apply to designated emergency management workers operating UAS within the scope of their duties. Examples of emergency responses could include drought, wildfires and hazmat spills.


SB 124

  • Prohibits law enforcement from using facial recognition, unless it is for search and rescue or assessment of forest wildfires and floods and storms as outlined in Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 20 § 4622.


HB 742

  • Empowers localities to regulate the takeoff or landing of UAS on property owned by such localities, in accordance with rules and regulations adopted by the Commonwealth Department of Aviation (DA).
  • Requires adopted ordinances or regulations to be reported to the DA, along with a summary published on the locality’s website.
  • Directs the DA to develop rules and regulations specific to takeoffs and landings with representatives of the UAS industry, small- and medium-sized businesses, and localities.
  • Contains an effective date of Jan. 1, 2021.

HB 1017

  • By Dec. 1, 2020, and annually thereafter, recommendations to evaluate and measure current and future initiatives related to technology-driven industries such as UAS shall be developed.

HB 30

  • Appropriates $2 million over two years from the general fund for the Virginia Center for Unmanned Systems (Center), which shall serve as a catalyst for growth of UAS in the commonwealth. 
  • Directs the Center to establish collaboration between businesses, investors, universities entrepreneurs and government organizations.

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