Without Commercial Exemption, Wyoming Drone Trespass Bill Won’t Pass, Critics say

An exemption for business and commercial drone use must be written into a bill proposing to make trespassing by drone a criminal offense or it will never get off the ground, lobbyists told Wyoming lawmakers Wednesday.

MH
Mark Heinz

February 08, 20233 min read

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Reiterating concerns that a drone trespass bill would cramp commercial applications, critics said the measure won’t fly without an exception for drones used by business and agencies. 

Senate File 34 would “make erroneous flight a crime” and impossible for insurance adjusters and others to do their jobs, said Kate Wilkerson, spokeswoman for the American Property and Casualty Insurance Association. 

She was speaking during testimony Wednesday before the Wyoming House Judiciary Committee regarding the bill, which passed the Wyoming Senate. The committee took no action and will continue to hear testimony on the bill Friday.

Exception Needed

The only way to make Senate File 34 palatable to insurance agencies, mining operations, mapping services and other commercial drone operators would be to include an exception for those uses, said Wilkerson and others. 

They were echoing concerns that have been brought up since the bill came before an interim committee last summer.

As written, the bill would authorize slapping a drone pilot with a trespass charge for substantially disrupting the “use and enjoyment” of property owner’s land. Offenses would be punishable by up to $750 in fines and/or six months in jail. 

Since trespass by definition entails crossing property lines, commercial drone pilots might be charged for simply drifting over a neighboring property while, for example, surveying for crop damage as part of an insurance claim investigation, Wilkerson said. 

However, some business might abuse an exception clause, said Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo.

For example, news agencies operate as businesses and could feasibly use a drone to “just drop down and peek into your window,” he said. 

Wilkerson said such offenses could probably be handled through existing statues forbidding invasion of privacy. 

What About Airports And Pools?

Moreover, the bill as written doesn’t seem to adequately address unwanted drone flights over some commercial and public spaces, such as airports and public swimming pools, said Glenn Januska, director of the Casper-Natrona County International Airport.

It could be considered trespass for a drone to get to near an airport or be “hovering over a public swimming pool,” he said. 

Difficult To Enforce

Investigating drone trespass allegations could be difficult, said attorney Terry Armitage, spokesman for the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police. 

Proving that there had been a “substantial” disturbance because of a drone could be complicated, he said. 

“That’s going to be very difficult for officers to determine in the field,” Armitage said. 

Committee Member Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan said that in an urban area, it could be hard to prove that a drone that was flying above a public street had been used to spy on a resident’s private property. 

Armitage agreed.

“By the time officers get there, the drone might have flown off,” he said.

Just Shoot ‘Em Down

During previous Senate floor discussion of the bill, Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, suggested that the bill should include a provision allowing rural property owners to shoot annoying drones down.

“I thought maybe a shotgun would be an appropriate legal weapon to take a drone with,” he said.

That idea didn’t gain any traction in the Senate.  

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter