GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A package of bills that would guide drone use in Michigan will help promote business growth while safeguarding everything from power plants to horses, a state lawmaker says.
“There are some key and unique facilities in our state that we've got to make sure that we protect,’’ said state Sen. Peter MacGregor. “Whether they’re power plants or even just Mackinac Island. I think drones zipping around a horse’s head . . . I just don’t want to have a stampede on Mackinac Island,’’ he said with a laugh.
Power plants, prisons and tourist-lined streets on Mackinac Island are among venues that might invite drone activity. Having protocols in place is a common-sense approach to addressing the emerging sector of unnamed aircraft systems, said MacGregor, R-Rockford.
“There is a huge spectrum of commercial and recreational uses for these drones, but there are also bad people in this world,’’ MacGregor said. “We’ve got to make sure that public safety is also considered.’’
One of the bills would expand the ‘extension of self’ clause. In other words, if you’re a peeping Tom, you can’t use a drone to do your dirty work, he explained.
“If you’re harassing someone, that’s illegal. And if you harass someone with a drone, that’s an extension of self, so it’s illegal with a drone,’’ MacGregor said. “Sounds common sense, but if it’s not written in law, it’s very difficult to press charges.’’
The six bills, introduced last month in the state senate, are based on recommendations made last fall by the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force.
Gov. Rick Snyder created the task force last year to develop statewide policy on the commercial and recreational use of drones.
The 27-member task force made 13 recommendations, including one to prohibit drones from interfering with “key facilities’’ like prisons, bridges and tourist areas, such as Mackinac Island.
Under one of the bills introduced March 21, it would be a four-year felony to operate a drone in a way that interferes with a “key facility.’’
MacGregor said people could get permission to use drones around key facilities, such as the state Capitol. “A drone was used to look for cracks in features that needed to be fixed during restoration work,’’ he explained. “Is the Capitol a key facility? Yes. But if you get permission to use it as a tool, I think there will be no problem.’’
The task force included input from police, farmers, Realtors as well as people who run the railroads – “all the different groups that use drones as tools,’’ MacGregor said. “The whole point was let’s have them come up with good public policy and help the Legislature come up with smart policy and at the same time, make sure we are protecting public safety.’’
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