Appeals Court Strikes Down Drone Regulation Law

An appeals court on Friday struck down a Federal Aviation Administration rule that required owners of drones used for recreation to register their craft.

The ruling was a victory for hobbyists and a setback for the FAA, which cited safety concerns as it tried to tighten regulation of the fast-growing army of drone operators.

Some pilots of commercial airliners have reported close calls with drones flying near airports.

Popular Mechanics reports,

About 760,000 hobbyists have registered more than 1.6 million drones since 2015, and sales have skyrocketed. The FAA estimates that hobbyists will buy 2.3 million drones this year and 13 million by the end of 2020. Commercial operators from photographers to oil pipeline and cellphone tower owners were forecast to buy another 10 million through 2020.

The FAA decided in 2015 to require hobbyists to register their drones, or model aircraft. Violators could be sentenced to prison.

The registration requirement was challenged by John A. Taylor, a drone hobbyist in the Washington, D.C., area.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with Taylor, saying that a law passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 barred the FAA from imposing new regulations on model aircraft.

The three-judge panel said that safety was obviously important and making hobbyists register “may well help further that goal to some degree,” but it was up to Congress to repeal the ban on FAA rules for model aircraft.

A spokesman for the FAA said the agency was reviewing the decision.

The ruling demonstrated the schism in the drone world. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, whose members include big commercial drone operators and manufacturers, expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling. The group’s president, Brian Wynne, said registration “helps create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior.” He vowed to seek a legislative fix in Congress.

Some model aircraft enthusiasts had complained that the registration requirement was too burdensome.

“On balance this is probably a good thing,” said Vic Moss, a commercial photographer and drone operator in Colorado. “The FAA definitely overstepped their boundaries with the registration, and the fact that they called it an emergency action didn’t help them look good.”

Moss was worried, however, that the issue was so contentious that the FAA might successfully lobby Congress for clear authority to regulate hobbyists.

Registration cost $5 and had to be renewed every three years. It required owners to mark aircraft with an identification number and imposed civil and criminal penalties on those who did not comply.

Taylor also challenged FAA restrictions on where drones can operate in the Washington area. The court said that appeal was filed too late.

Legislation enacted in 2015 made Maryland one of only three states to grant the state government exclusive power to regulate drone usage, preempting municipalities and counties from enacting their own ordinances. MACo opposed this legislation as a preemption of county authority, and was able to secure an amendment to assess the need for new laws or local tools after three years of industry maturation.

MACo, along with the Maryland State Police, are among the stakeholders charged with evaluating any safety or security problems arising from drone use as the industry expands in the years ahead. The stakeholder group will report its findings to the governor in 2018.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Drones Must be Registered Under New Federal Rule

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: General Assembly Passes Drone Bill With Study Amendment

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: To Detect, Deter, & Stop Unsafe Drone Use

Counties Provide the Local Lens for Infrastructure Package

It’s Infrastructure Week in the nation’s capital and across the country as local governments and others make the case for renewed federal investment in our nation’s roads, bridges, and transit. Of course, the elephant in the room is what may emerge from the Trump administration or Congress on this front.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) has long stressed the importance of modernizing the nation’s infrastructure system, especially because counties own and maintain the largest share of public road miles – 46 percent of the total nationwide, 230,000 bridges – or four out of every ten nationwide, and are involved in the operation of a third of the nation’s airports and public transportation systems.

In Maryland, counties own and maintain 74 percent of the public roads. Local governments own and maintain 83 percent of our transportation network.

According to Route Fifty,

These facts make it clear that counties can offer important insights into prioritizing transportation infrastructure needs—through the local lens where people live and work. Although we’ve made significant progress locally, we can’t do it alone. We need a strong partnership with states and the federal government to accomplish our transportation infrastructure goals.

When it comes to roads, our nation’s infrastructure program has long depended on the federal gasoline tax. Since 1993, consumers paid 18.4 cents per gallon toward the Highway Trust Fund, the main federal funding mechanism for road and bridge improvement and construction projects. While inflation has risen 65 percent since then, the gas tax has seen no increase.

What else has changed? In 1993, cars were not getting over 30 miles per gallon, and the idea of a viable hybrid was in its infancy. Today, hybrids are more mainstream, using the roads without consuming much gas and contributing to the gas tax. Electric vehicles with no gas tank also share our roads without contributing to the gas tax. Combine this with inflation and increased construction costs, and it’s easy to see that the American infrastructure funding model has been stuck in neutral for over two decades. It’s time to kick things into high gear.

Congress has shown no appetite to raise the federal gas tax, both sides of the aisle fearing political repercussions at the ballot box. Meanwhile, our roads have deteriorated and our airports have become overly congested. While Congress has passed numerous pieces of legislation to aid our infrastructure network since 2000, no real infusion of funds was conceived until the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as “the stimulus.” This provided over $103 billion toward infrastructure improvements.

Fast forward to 2017 and a new presidential administration. President Trump has declared infrastructure investment as one of his top domestic priorities. Leaders on both sides of the aisle are receptive to an infrastructure package, with the trillion-dollar question being: How are we going to pay for it? Tax credits? Public-Private Partnerships? Municipal bonds? A federal infrastructure bank? A pot of money at the end of the rainbow?

Depending on whom you ask, the answers will yield different opinions. The real answer, however, is all of the above.

Tax credits, while incentivizing industry to undertake projects, will not be viable across our vast topography. P3s, while having a proven record of success, will not benefit our most rural and remote communities, where it’s nearly impossible to attract private-sector investments. Nor do they work for small and medium-sized projects due to their high transaction costs. Therefore, the administration and Congress must make available every tool in the toolbox and include all the options listed above.

Airport improvements may provide an easier solution. According to the United States Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines in 2015 profited almost $4 billion from checked bags alone, allowing for a newer and more efficient fleet. Airports, on the other hand, generate revenue from the Airport Improvement Fund and what is called the passenger facilities charge (PFC), included on each ticket at $4.50. The RSMeans Construction Cost Indexes indicates that the current value of the maximum $4.50 PFC is worth roughly half of what it was when it was implemented in 2000. Raising this fee, even nominally, would allow our airports to expand capacity, invite greater competition among airlines and provide for a better traveler experience. Additionally, it would reduce the reliance on the federal government for airport funds, freeing up that money for other infrastructure projects.

Counties are pleased with the prospect of a new infrastructure package and regulatory reform that could streamline projects. We stand ready to work with Congress and the administration to improve our roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure that keeps our nation moving forward.

From the big urban areas, majestic mountains, rural landscapes and everything in between, all of America needs a transportation facelift. It would provide jobs, improve quality of life and increase safety. Ensuring that no communities are left behind will be paramount and the true measure of success.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Will Favor States, Localities With Money Lined Up, Chao Says

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: President’s Budget No Boon for Local Infrastructure

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: U.S. Infrastructure Gets “D+”; 24% of MD Roads in Poor Condition

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Will Favor States, Localities With Money Lined Up, Chao Says

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also said Monday that the White House would soon release new details about the proposal.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao indicated Monday that state and local governments with money lined up for projects would be best positioned to reap federal dollars under President Trump’s promised infrastructure program.

According to Route Fifty,

“States and localities that have secured some funding or financing of their own for infrastructure projects will be given higher priority access to new federal funds,” Chao said at an event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

She added that the administration intends to share its “vision of what the infrastructure plan will look like in the next several weeks.”

A document that outlines broad ideas and principles for the proposal, which the secretary seemed to be describing, would serve as only an initial step in the process to get infrastructure investment legislation drafted and moving through Congress.

Later in the day, at a separate event in Washington held by the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships, there was skepticism the White House infrastructure proposal would get much traction in the months ahead.

“You don’t see a center of gravity for infrastructure in the White House,” said Norman Anderson, president and CEO of CG/LA Infrastructure, Inc., a consulting firm that helped to develop a list of possible infrastructure projects for the Trump administration to consider prioritizing.

“It doesn’t seem as if they’ve identified who is in charge of this thing,” Anderson also said, speaking during a panel discussion.

Chao said the administration’s proposal will call for $200 billion in direct federal funding, which would be used to “leverage” $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over the next decade.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney publicly shared the $200 billion figure last month.

“A few special projects” that are “not candidates for private investment” but that could boost the nation’s economy or “lift the American spirit” would likely be identified and funded directly by the federal government under Trump’s plan as well, according to Chao.

Read the full article for more information.

Get Involved! Apply Now to Be a Part of NACo’s Presidential Committees

Committee leadership and participation are an integral part of the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) mission. Incoming President-elect Roy Charles Brooks encourages you to get involved. In preparation for his presidency, he and NACo are pleased to begin the appointments process. Applications are due June 2, 2017.

These appointments are for:

  • Policy steering committee chairs and vice chairs and subcommittee chairs and vice chairs
  • Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) and Rural Action Caucus (RAC) chairs, vice chairs and members
  • Standing committee chairs, vice chairs and members
  • Ad hoc committee, task force and advisory board chairs, vice chairs and members
  • At-large NACo board directors

Click here for more information about NACo committees.

To be considered for a presidential appointment to any of the above committees or as an at-large director for the NACo Board of Directors, you MUST complete the application online before June 2, 2017. Appointments will be announced after NACo’s Annual Conference in July.

IMPORTANT:  Steering committee membership is not a part of this application process.

State associations of counties are responsible for nominating policy steering committee members. The online nomination form for policy steering committee membership can be found here.

Get Involved! Apply Now to Be a Part of NACo’s Presidential Committees

Committee leadership and participation are an integral part of the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) mission. Incoming President-elect Roy Charles Brooks encourages you to get involved. In preparation for his presidency, he and NACo are pleased to begin the appointments process. Applications are due June 2, 2017.

President-elect Roy Charles Brooks

These appointments are for:

  • Policy steering committee chairs and vice chairs and subcommittee chairs and vice chairs
  • Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) and Rural Action Caucus (RAC) chairs, vice chairs and members
  • Standing committee chairs, vice chairs and members
  • Ad hoc committee, task force and advisory board chairs, vice chairs and members
  • At-large NACo board directors

Click here for more information about NACo committees.

To be considered for a presidential appointment to any of the above committees or as an at-large director for the NACo Board of Directors, you MUST complete the application online before June 2, 2017. Appointments will be announced after NACo’s Annual Conference in July.

IMPORTANT:  Steering committee membership is not a part of this application process.

State associations of counties are responsible for nominating policy steering committee members. The online nomination form for policy steering committee membership can be found here.

President’s Budget No Boon For Local Infrastructure

Despite much-touted plans for investment in infrastructure, President Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 “Budget Blueprint” only depletes opportunities for Maryland counties to benefit from important transportation funding opportunities.

Transportation for America, an organization advocating for investment in “in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions,” reports that the President’s proposal cuts funding for new transit lines, including the Purple Line. It also eliminates the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, one of only a few programs which makes Federal transportation funds available directly to counties for specific infrastructure projects. It also terminates funding for long-distance passenger rail lines.

The President’s proposal eliminates funding for building new transit lines – presumably including the Purple Line. Transportation for America reports:

This budget eliminates future funding for building new public transportation lines and service, threatening the ability of local communities of all sizes to satisfy the booming demand for well-connected locations served by transit. While the handful of projects with full federal funding grant agreements (FFGAs) already in hand would (theoretically) be allowed to proceed, all other future transit projects would be out of luck. The budget proposes to phase out future funding for what’s called the transit capital investment grants program — more informally referred to as New Starts, Small Starts and Core Capacity grants.

The Purple Line does not yet have its FFGA, placing the project’s projected $900 million in federal funds at grave risk. The FFGA was scheduled to be signed on August 4, 2016, but litigation delayed its execution.  According to the Administration’s budget proposal:

Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.

The proposal also eliminates the TIGER program. The fiercely competitive TIGER program funds innovative projects, including multi-modal projects, which leverage partnerships between multiple jurisdictions and the private sector. The program has brought at least $40 million in federal infrastructure investment to Maryland, including $10 million each for:

  • bus rapid transit along 14 miles of US 29 in Montgomery,
  • multimodal road improvements through the MD 175 Fort Meade Multimodal Accessibility Project in Anne Arundel,
  • Port of Baltimore enhancements including capacity expansion and construction of a rail intermodal facility, and
  • most recently, the North Avenue Rising project, which improves five miles along North Avenue in Baltimore City with dedicated bus lanes, roadway repaving, transit signal priority installation, enhanced bus stops, sidewalk improvements, bike share stations, bike lanes, and a subway station and intersection improvements.

The Administration’s budget proposal also cuts funding to Amtrak, and “terminates Federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services.”

The “Budget Blueprint” proposal provides information on the President’s discretionary funding proposals. The full Budget that will be released later this spring.

About Transportation for America:

Transportation for America is an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from communities across the country, united to ensure that states and the federal government step up to invest in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions — because these are the investments that hold the key to our future economic prosperity.

2017 End of Session Wrap-Up: Emergency Management

MACo works closely with its new Emergency Managers Affiliate and local public safety answering point directors to track policy related to 9-1-1 call centers and was heavily involved in SB 466, described below.

Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Database

Push Icons-MORE WORKMACo supported a bill to improve public safety communications in Maryland. MACo worked with bill sponsor, Senator Kagan over the interim on ideas for the legislation and was pleased to have her support on several amendments to the bill. As amended, the legislation expands the uses of a state funding mechanism for 9-1-1 upgrades and creates an advisory board that includes local 9-1-1 Center representation to help implement the next generation technologies throughout the State. Senate Bill 466, “Carl Henn’s Law,” passed the Senate but did not move in the House.  Bill InformationMACo Coverage

Click here for a round up of the wrap-ups for all policy areas

Grants Conference Opens Early Bird Registration

Early-bird registration is open for the annual Maryland Governor’s Grants Training Conference.

Screenshot 2017-04-05 13.37.21

Details:

Location: Marriott Conference Center at College Park

Date: Monday, November 13, 2017

From the Governor’s Grants Office:

We had another incredible turnout and exceptionally high survey rating last year. This year we want to exceed your expectations by offering you more opportunities to hear from expert speakers talking about relevant subjects that positively impact your organization and the communities you serve.

For more information, contact the Governor’s Grants Office.

Broadband Network Expansion Possible on Eastern Shore

Screenshot 2017-04-03 17.20.50

With Kent County, Maryland providing their citizens and businesses with high speed broadband, now Queen Anne’s County Commissioners will be holding a public hearing on bringing broadband to their county as reported by Queen Anne’s County.

From Queen Anne’s County:

At their March 28 meeting, the commissioners passed a motion to hold a public hearing and move forward with contract negotiations with FTS for design, engineering, construction, operations and maintenance of a fiber optic broadband network in Queen Anne’s County. A date has not yet been set for the public hearing.

FTS Fiber is a dark fiber provider offering carrier-class network infrastructure in both rural areas and major markets of the United States. FTS has two office locations in Maryland.

Kent County’s fiber program, a public/private partnership with FTS, won a MACo Best Practices Award in 2016.

For more information about Queen Anne’s County and broadband, see the Queen Anne’s County website.

AT&T Gets $6.5B to Build Nationwide Public Safety Network

AT&T has been hired by the U.S. Department of Commerce to build and manage a nationwide broadband network for public safety communication between first responders.

The $46.5 billion high-speed network aims to equip police, firefighters and emergency medical services with the tools they need for real-time communication during crises, such as natural disasters or shootings. It will cover all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five U.S. territories.

According to Ars Technica,

The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, was authorized by the federal government in 2012 and operates as an independent authority within the US Department of Commerce. AT&T has just been selected by FirstNet to build the wireless network and said that construction will begin later this year.

“FirstNet will provide 20MHz of high-value, telecommunications spectrum and success-based payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years to support the network buildout,” AT&T said in its announcement. FirstNet’s spectrum is located in the 700MHz band often used for consumer LTE networks.

The Federal Communications Commission raised $7 billion to fund the network in a spectrum auction that concluded in January 2015. Some of that money came from AT&T itself, as the company led all bidders with $18.2 billion of winning bids.

AT&T’s contract with FirstNet is 25 years long. “AT&T will spend about $40 billion over the life of the contract to build, deploy, operate and maintain the network, with a focus on ensuring robust coverage for public safety users,” the company said. AT&T will also connect FirstNet users to the company’s existing network.

FirstNet will solve a few problems, AT&T said. First responders currently use the same commercial networks used by consumers and businesses for mobile Internet service. “That can be an issue when a significant public safety crisis happens and commercial networks quickly become congested. It makes it difficult for first responders to communicate, coordinate and do their jobs,” AT&T said.

Overall, “first responders use more than 10,000 networks for voice communications,” and “these networks often do not interoperate, which severely limits their ability to communicate with each other when responding to a situation,” AT&T said.

FirstNet will cover all 50 states, five US territories, and the District of Columbia, including coverage for rural and tribal lands, AT&T said. Besides basic voice and Internet service, AT&T expects the network to be used for applications “providing near real-time information on traffic conditions to determine the fastest route to an emergency.” The network will also help enable technology such as wearable sensors and cameras for police and firefighters, “and camera-equipped drones and robots that can deliver near real-time images of events, such as fires, floods or crimes.”

Read the full article for more information.