Drone limits keep going down faster than a paper airplane in the Colorado General Assembly, which is bucking national headwinds to curb private drone use.
A House committee voted unanimously on Jan. 26 to kill Colorado’s third annual attempt to restrict private drones.
The bill was watered down to ban only drones used to deliver contraband to prisons. But opponents pointed out that prison contraband delivery is already a crime by any means.
“It’s really not a necessary bill,” said Vic Moss, owner of a suburban Denver photography business and a drone enthusiast.
They argued that even a narrowly tailored drone limit could hamper commercial development of the new technology. The hearing attracted a wide variety of business lobbyists.
“We don’t want to see people doing bad stuff with them any more than anyone else,” said Chris Huston of a drone industry group called Unmanned Aircraft Systems Colorado.
The bill had Democratic and Republican sponsors and originally covered airports, too. One of the sponsors argued that drones near airports are causing frequent flight cancellations and endangering fliers.
“With the emergence of new technologies, I just want to make sure the public is protected,” argued Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 26 states have some limits on drones. Arkansas bans drone voyeurism. California has limits aimed at banning paparazzi from private land. New Hampshire bans drone use for hunting, fishing or trapping.
But drone limits have become perennial losers among Colorado lawmakers.
Two years ago, a proposal to limit how law enforcement uses drones drew an unusual show of opposition from state administration.
Agencies ranging from the Office of Economic Development and International Trade to Colorado Parks and Wildlife showed up to take the unusual step of testifying publicly against a bill.
Rosenthal insisted that he wasn’t trying to limit commercial drone applications, just make sure they’re not used to commit crimes.
“We just need to stay on top of it,” he said.
But the House Judiciary Committee unanimously sided with lawyers who argued that existing law can adapt to new technologies used to commit crimes.
“Current law accommodates very creative ways one can introduce contraband into a jail,” said Carrie Thompson of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.
Drone limits appear to be unpopular with the Colorado public, too. A highly publicized 2014 vote in tiny Deer Trail to issue hunting licenses to shoot at drones failed nearly 3-to-1.