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New California Drone Law!

On September 1, we updated you on the six bills passed by the California legislature by the end of the 2016 legislative session. With only hours to spare, Governor Brown has signed two of the six into law, and has vetoed four. Along with the issuance of the FAA rule earlier this year, there is finally the beginnings of a body of law governing the use of commercial and recreational drones in California.

The two bills signed into law are SB 807 and AB 1680.

SB 807 amends the Civil Code to limit the exposure to civil liability of any emergency responder for damaging a drone that interfered with the provision of emergency services. The bill applies to public and private entities and to persons regardless of whether they are paid or volunteer. One of the more frequent questions I am asked from public agencies is “Is a firefighter liable if he knocks down a drone that is in his way while fighting a fire?” As of January 1, 2017, there is now an answer to this question—“No!.”

AB 1680 amends the Penal Code to add drone operators to the existing requirement that no person may stop at the scene of an emergency, unless as part of their job, and interfere with emergency personnel in the performance of their duties. Violation is a misdemeanor. Interesting, while the pre-existing law focuses on persons who are physically at the scene of an emergency, AB 1680 now criminalizes interference regardless of the drone operator’s location so long as the drone itself is at the scene of the emergency. Another frequent question I am asked is “How do I stop someone whose drone is interfering with firefighters?” As a result of AB 1680, law enforcement may be able to cite a drone operator who interferes with emergency personnel in the performance of their duties.

The Governor vetoed AB 1662, AB 2148, AB 2320, and AB 2724.

AB 1662 would have required the operator of a drone that is involved in an accident resulting in injury or damage to a person or property to immediately land the drone in the nearest safe place. The operator must then either: 1) present valid ID to the injured person, 2) locate the owner of the damaged property and present valid ID if requested, or 3) leave a note with the name and address of the operator and the circumstances of the incident in a conspicuous place on the damaged property and notify the police. This requirement would not apply to law enforcement personnel acting within the scope of their employment or to anyone authorized by the FAA.

In his veto message, Governor Brown emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach to drone regulation and stated that “Piecemeal is not the way to go.”

AB 2148 would have made it unlawful for any person to operate a drone over lands or waters managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Parks and Recreation unless authorized by those agencies. The bill would also have made it illegal to use a drone to catch fish or other wildlife.

In his veto message, Governor Brown stated the law was unnecessary because the departments had authority to promulgate their own regulations without the need for statute.

AB 2320 would have applied drone use to existing law regarding “stay-away” orders.

In his veto message, Governor Brown stated that current law was sufficient to prosecute the operation of a drone in a manner that violates a protective order.

AB 2724 would have required drones to include geofencing capability to prohibit the drone from flying within any area prohibited by local, state, or federal law. It also would have required all drone owners to procure insurance—potentially sparking a new drone-insurance industry that is developing any way. Had it been signed by the Governor, this bill could have had a profound effect on the drone industry and on drone use in general.

In his veto message, Governor Brown stated that the bill would have created “significant regulatory confusion” and would likely be preempted by federal law. He emphasized the need for comprehensive regulations and again stated that “Piecemeal is not the way to go.”