General Assembly Passes Drone Bill With Study Amendment

The General Assembly passed legislation on unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, with an amendment to continue to study the area. The amended legislation requires local and state law enforcement to review incidents of unauthorized drone use and recommend changes to local regulatory authority needed to support enforcement efforts.

SB 370 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, Development, Regulation, and Privacy Act of 2015 provides that only the State may enact a law or take other action to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft systems, preempting county and municipal authority. MACo took a position to oppose this bill as a pre-emption of county authority, and also advocated for an amendment to assess the need for new laws or local tools after three years of industry maturation. The amendment language states:

The Department of State Police, the Maryland Aviation Administration, local law enforcement officials, and other appropriate local government officials shall:

  1. Review the state of unmanned aircraft system recreational use in the State in an attempt to document incidents or patterns of the unauthorized or unsafe use of unmanned aircraft systems, including use that interferes with State or local public safety efforts or sensitive areas or facilities; and
  2. On or before December 31, 2018, report to the Governor and, in accordance with § 2-1246 of the State Government Article, the General Assembly on their findings and recommendations regarding changes to State law or local regulatory authority needed to support governance or enforcement efforts related to unmanned aircraft systems.

MACo secured this amendment in the House, got universal agreement, and will be among the stakeholders charged with evaluating any safety or security problems arising from drone use as the industry likely expands in the year ahead.

FINAL STATUS: This bill was passed with amendments and will now be sent to the State House for the Governor’s signature.

MACo Testimony SB 370