News Column

Drones Bill Grounded By Business Issues

Feb 5, 2013

Ray Reed

Virginia police wouldn't have full use of drone aircraft until July 2015 under bills approved Monday in a Senate committee and the House of Delegates.

Several delegates said they worried the bills would restrict Virginia business enterprises developing unmanned aerial vehicles.

Del. Ben Cline, the measure's House sponsor, said a moratorium is needed until laws can be written to define police use of drones for surveillance purposes.

But with Appomattox County Sheriff Barry Letterman testifying, the bills were amended to allow police departments to use the unmanned aircraft in emergencies.

Two other amendments would allow drones to be used during alerts declared for lost children and elderly people.

Letterman told the Senate Courts of Justice Committee he would have wanted to use unmanned aircraft in a situation like the 2010 standoff with Christopher Speight, who is awaiting trial in the slayings of eight people off Spout Springs Road in Appomattox.

Shots were fired at a Virginia State Police helicopter piloted by Sgt. Don Childs, forcing the damaged aircraft to land.

Letterman said although his department does not have a drone, such a device would be a plus for officer safety and he wouldn't want to wait for a search warrant "to get it up in the air."

Several other police advocates, including Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Doucette, told the Senate committee drones would be a useful tool for law enforcement.

Dels. Joe May, R-Loudoun County; and John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, said technology companies in Virginia are developing drones, and Virginia is competing to be a national test site for them at the Wallops Island space facility.

Del. Robert Marshall, R-Prince William, said those arguments showed "a preference for money over liberty."

"We need protection from Big Brother," he said.

Cline's bill passed on a voice vote and comes up for final passage in the House today.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 The News & Advance (Lynchburg, Va.)