Rep. Calley: Drone use around correctional facilities is a pressing issue

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The Michigan House today voted to advance a multi-bill package co-sponsored by state Rep. Julie Calley establishing needed state laws for drones.

Within the plan, Calley highlighted House Bill 5495, which lists facilities where use of unmanned aircraft systems will be prohibited under state law. The language refers to knowingly and intentionally interfering with “key facilities” as defined in the Michigan Penal Code, including manufacturing plants, electric or natural gas utilities, correctional sites and telecommunication facilities. Companion legislation offers a sentencing guideline making intentional drone interference with a key facility up to a four-year felony.

Calley’s support for HB 5495 in particular stems from the issue of drone use around correctional facilities. Individuals use unmanned aircraft to drop contraband, cell phones, weapons and other items onto correctional facility property for inmates.

“This is an unsafe, unsavory practice that needs to be cracked down on,” said Calley, of Portland. “It is making the job tougher for our corrections officers and law enforcement, and it puts people housed within our correctional facilities at risk.”

The bills declare a drone as an extension of the person. Illegal activity carried out with the use of a drone would be treated the same as an individual breaking the law without unmanned aircraft as an aid.

A 2016 Federal Aviation Administration report estimated 2.5 million unmanned aircraft systems were being operated nationwide for a variety of purposes, including hobbyist and commercial. That number could grow to a projected 7 million by 2020.

A 27-member Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, began work in April 2017 to develop statewide recommendations on the operation, use and regulation of unmanned aircraft in Michigan. The ensuing five bills widely reflected the task force’s policy recommendations.

“Unmanned aircraft is an industry that has netted us substantial technological gains and will continue to do so into the future, but we also needed common-sense regulation in response to bad actors who are using drones for nefarious purposes,” Calley said.

House Bills 5494-98 advance to the Senate for further consideration.