HARTFORD, CT — The Senate voted Thursday to study the use of weaponized drones by law enforcement, weeks after an attempt to allow Connecticut police to be the first in the nation to use drones failed.
The Senate voted 30-6 to have the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection, the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, and the Chief State’s Attorney study by the end of the year how Connecticut law enforcement should proceed with the use of drones.
The bill now heads to the House.
“We can’t stop the march of technology,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said.
Kissel and other proponents said the spate of terrorist actions around the world, including the most recent on in Manchester, England in which 22 people were killed and 116 were injured in a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert, means police need all means at their disposal to combat such incidents.
The Senate vote came weeks after a bill to allow police to use weaponized drones couldn’t make it through the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee.
That bill was amended to allow police to equip drones with lethal and “less than lethal” weapons, but it wasn’t enough to get the committee to debate it and vote on it. North Dakota passed a law in 2015 to allow non-lethal weaponized drones.
The bill had passed the Judiciary Committee 34-7 at the end of March. It would have increased the criminal penalty for civilians who weaponize drones. The bill also said law enforcement would only be able to use a drone if they obtained a warrant from a judge.
Law enforcement opposed the later provision. The use of drones by police was also opposed by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
Other action on drone legislation was also taken earlier this week. On Wednesday, the House joined the Senate in passing legislation that prohibits municipalities from setting up their own laws regulating the use of drones.
The bill passed by a 119-28 vote and is headed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk.
Proponents said the bill is needed because there is a fear that municipal regulation will ultimately be cause for industry stress in the use of drones.
Various groups have asked that there be enacted, instead, a uniform state law to create consistent legislation across the state for the growing technology and industry.
Under the bill, a commercial unmanned aircraft is one operated remotely by a pilot in command holding a valid remote pilot certificate with a Federal Aviation Administration-issued small, unmanned aircraft systems rating.
Supporting the bill during public hearing testimony was the American Insurance Association (AIA), which “beliefs the operations and usage of unmanned aircrafts systems, or drones, is governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“The federal government has exclusive authority over the registration of drones in the country and no state or locality should adopt their own registration requirements without obtaining approval from FAA,” said the AIA.
Also supporting the bill was the Connecticut Realtors Association, which said “drones are already regulated by federal and state laws. Allowing towns to draft their own regulations would bring more restrictions that would not facilitate buying and selling.”
Testifying against the legislation was the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM).
CCM stated since the state hasn’t yet passed drone legislation, “prohibiting municipalities from regulating drones before the adoption of state regulations will undermine the local government and public safety official’s ability to protect and serve their communities.”