Bill Introduced to Ban Hobbyist Drones in Washington State

A new year and the start of new state legislative sessions brings a new crop of absurdly broad and unconstitutional proposals to ban FPV / personal drones.

First up this year, Washington state:


AN ACT Relating to unmanned aircraft; adding a new chapter to Title 14 RCW; prescribing penalties; and declaring an emergency.BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:
NEW SECTION. Sec. 1 The legislature finds that technological developments in unmanned aircraft have expanded the vehicles' capacity to be widely deployed in our state and in our communities. The legislature further finds that the recreational use of certain small unmanned aircraft is exempt from federal regulation under the federal aviation administration modernization and reform act of 2012. The potential for these small unmanned aircraft to be operated in close proximity to human dwellings and activities presents opportunities for widespread recreational use and enjoyment. At the same time, the recreational use of unmanned aircraft increases the likelihood of physical trespass onto private property and invasions of personal privacy. The legislature intends to prohibit the unauthorized use of unmanned aircraft in the airspace above private property.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 2 The definitions in this section apply throughout this chapter unless the context clearly requires otherwise.
(1) "Person" includes any individual, corporation, partnership, association, cooperative, limited liability company, trust, joint venture, or any other legal or commercial entity and any successor, representative, agent, agency, or instrumentality thereof.
(2) "Personal information" means any information that: (a) Describes, locates, or indexes anything about an individual including, but not limited to, his or her social security number, driver's license number, agency-issued identification number, student identification number, real or personal property holdings derived from tax returns, and his or her education, financial transactions, medical history, ancestry, religion, political ideology, or criminal or employment record; or (b) affords a basis for inferring personal characteristics, such as finger and voice prints, photographs, or things done by or to such individual, and the record of his or her presence, registration, or membership in an organization or activity, or admission to an institution.
(3)(a) "Sensing device" means a device capable of acquiring personal information from its surroundings through any means including, but not limited to, cameras, thermal detectors, microphones, chemical detectors, radiation gauges, and wireless receivers in any frequency.
(b) "Sensing device" does not include equipment whose sole function is to provide information directly necessary for safe air navigation or piloting of an unmanned aircraft.

(4) "Unmanned aircraft" means an aircraft that is operated without physical human presence on board the aircraft and operated either:
(a) Pursuant to the exemption for recreational uses established in the special rule for model aircraft of the federal aviation administration modernization and reform act of 2012 (49 U.S.C. 40101 Sec. 336, "special rule for model aircraft"); or
(b) Without an experimental airworthiness certificate or other authorization by the federal aviation administration.

(5) "Washington state airspace" means all airspace within the territorial limits of this state that is within class G airspace, outside of five statute miles from any airport, heliport, seaplane base, spaceport, or other location with aviation activities, and not otherwise classified as controlled by the federal aviation administration.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 3 (1) Except as provided in section 4 of this act, no person may operate in Washington state airspace an unmanned aircraft that is equipped with a sensing device.
(2) A violation of this section is a gross misdemeanor.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 4 The prohibition under section 3 of this act does not apply to the operation of an unmanned aircraft that is equipped with a sensing device if the following conditions are met:
(1) The unmanned aircraft is clearly and conspicuously labeled with the name and contact information of the aircraft's owner and operator; and
(2) The unmanned aircraft is flown in Washington state airspace above private property, and the landowner and any tenants who have a right to occupy the property have consented to the operation after having received actual notice that the aircraft is equipped with a sensing device; or
(3) The unmanned aircraft is flown in the airspace above public lands in a manner that does not unreasonably interfere with the rights of others and the operation is not otherwise prohibited by law or rule.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 5 Any person operating an unmanned aircraft in the airspace of this state is liable for all damages that state or local government property may sustain as a result of illegal or negligent operation of the unmanned aircraft. When the operator is not the owner of the unmanned aircraft but is operating or moving it with the express or implied permission of the owner, the owner and the operator are jointly and severally liable for any damage. Damage to any state or local government property may be recovered in a civil action instituted in the name of the state of Washington by the department of transportation or other affected government agency. Any measure of damage determined by the state or local government to its property under this section is prima facie the amount of damage caused thereby and is presumed to be the amount recoverable in any civil action therefor. The damages available under this section include the incident response costs, including traffic control, incurred by the department of transportation or other state or local agency.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 6 Nothing in this chapter may be construed to limit a party's ability to bring an action, including an action for damages, based on rights conferred by other state or federal law.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 7 Sections 1 through 6 of this act constitute a new chapter in Title 14 RCW.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 8 This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and takes effect immediately.

As you can see this bill is expressly targeted at hobbyists, while leaving commercial users with FAA authorization completely alone. It bans any RC aircraft from carrying any "sensing device" that is not essential for operation of the aircraft (whatever that means), except over private property where everyone with a property interest below has consented, or over public property.

The bill is authored by:
Rep. Jeff Morris

Olympia Office:
436A Legislative Building
PO Box 40600
Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7970

The bill's current status is listed here:

At this time, it has just been pre-filed for introduction, and is not yet assigned to a committee. Once introduced, however, it could very well be assigned to the Technology and Economic Development Committee, of which Morris is the chair, making it much more likely to pass out of committee. Morris is also on the transportation committee, which it could also be assigned to.

I hope Washington FPVers and drone enthusiasts can get on top of this. Start writing and meeting with your state representatives NOW! This bill has the same problems as similar ones last year, namely it is likely preempted by federal law since the FAA (probably) has exclusive jurisdiction over all US airspace, and even if not preempted it likely violates the First Amendment by instituting a blanket ban on amateur aerial photography using unmanned aircraft, while leaving manned aircraft and commercial unmanned aircraft unaffected. The sooner your legislators understand this, the better.

As soon as the bill is assigned to a committee, every personal drone enthusiast in Washington should try to set up meetings with each committee member to explain your concerns with this bill, and make sure to sign up to testify at any committee hearings on it. If it all possible, it is best to kill this sort of thing in committee before it even makes it to the House floor.

The DIY drone community will need to monitor this one closely....

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Comment by Hotwire on February 22, 2014 at 5:30pm

I think you should know that Australia already has legislation for commercial UAV usage. Our governing body CASA have a licensing process for anyone wishing to operate UAVs (termed UAS or Unmanned Aerial Systems) for commercial purposes. There are limitings on the size and other parameters of the craft and its operation. 

As this system already operates I think you could of benefit to contact CASA for feedback.

(CASA - Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority)


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