Is Florida ready to ease off on its ban on the use of drones by the government?
That concept took flight this week, when the Cabinet endorsed a legislative proposal from Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Terry Rhodes to set up a pilot program that would use unmanned aerial devices to help manage traffic crashes.
Gov. Rick Scott abstained from the vote since he is developing his own state budget proposal.
Rhodes said the drones, which would be used in a 12- to 18-month test period if approved by the Legislature, would not be used to issue speeding tickets or to find other violations.
The proposal came as the USF-Nielsen survey showed Floridians are already uneasy about the state’s regulation of drone use by private citizens.
More than half of the respondents — 54 percent — said the state was doing either a fair or poor job of regulating private drone use. Another 24 percent did not have an opinion, “most likely because of a lack of knowledge,” the Sunshine State Survey said.
Twenty-two percent said the state was doing a good or excellent job of private drone regulation.
But public sentiment is not likely to be the thing that keeps government drones grounded in Florida.
The drone proposal will only move forward if it gets the backing of incoming Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who was the key sponsor of a 2013 law that prohibits the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by law enforcement for surveillance and evidence gathering.
The law limits the use of automated surveillance aircraft by law enforcement unless a judge issues a warrant, there is a “high risk of terrorist attack” or officials fear someone is in imminent danger.
“It’s important that, as American citizens, we respect the role of law enforcement,” Negron said when Scott signed the bill in 2013. “But we just don’t want a general practice of drones hovering in the sky monitoring the activities of lawful Floridians.”
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