Lawmakers order more study of drones before taking action on bill

Examples of some of the aerial surveillance are displayed on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at the State House in Augusta. A bill being debated in Legislature aims to ban such drones.
Examples of some of the aerial surveillance are displayed on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at the State House in Augusta. A bill being debated in Legislature aims to ban such drones. Buy Photo
Posted March 07, 2013, at 6:36 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee postponed action Thursday on a bill that would regulate unmanned aerial drones in Maine until a range of technical and ethical issues can be studied.

Members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee asked a working group led by Attorney General Janet Mills and American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Executive Director Shenna Bellows to sift through the outstanding issues and report back in three weeks. But even then, the committee may not be ready to act on the bill and may opt instead to send it to the state’s Criminal Law Advisory Commission for a long-term review.

“I think this is an issue that needs to be worked a little bit more by this committee,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee. “I think it’s a little bit premature to just send it off to an advisory committee. I think we need to provide them a little more direction about where we would like to go with it.”

The committee’s vote came after Attorney General Mills voiced a range of concerns with the bill, chief among them that even as a lawyer, she has a difficult time determining the process to obtain a permit to use a drone.

“I’m concerned about both drafts of this bill because they’re so convoluted,” said Mills.

Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, House chairman of the committee, said he’d like to see rules for public and private use of drones developed separately.

“My feeling in the private area is that we need a study because that is a difficult and complex area,” he said.

Bellows said she hopes sending the issue to the Criminal Law Advisory Commission isn’t the end of the process.

“We do not believe a policy from the commission would be adequate,” she said. “We think the Legislature needs to act on this.”

The committee voted unanimously to table the bill for now.

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