By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Lawmakers have more homework to do before they can propose any laws that would let homeowners shoot down invading drones, according to the chair of a committee that oversees changes to criminal laws.
The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee on May 23 voted to draft a bill that, if passed, would allow staff at the state’s correctional institutions to disable or capture drones.
But the issue is still murky with respect to drones flying over private property, committee Chair Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
Olsen said crafting a drone-shooting provision is still “a possibility” but should be preceded by further research of Federal Aviation Administration and other agency rules. Even then, he continued, the first step will be to define trespass by drone in state law.
Without further legislation, the act of a landowner shooting a drone over his or her property is considered property destruction under Wyoming law.
“Right now the committee’s main focus is on simply trying to create some parameters with drone use so we can at least have a definition of what it means to trespass with a drone,” Olsen said, adding that whether the committee has an “appetite to do something more” remains to be seen.
Public input may have been a factor in the committee’s initial direction to look at disabling drones over correctional institutions rather than private property.
Olsen said in a text on Tuesday that the committee last week did not hear testimony from private citizens seeking the right to disable drones, but did hear the Wyoming Department of Corrections ask for that authority.
WDOC director Dan Shannon confirmed to the committee that drones are being used to bring contraband, including tobacco products, over the state’s institutions, especially minimum security facilities.
Shannon also testified that department staff would like to have the authority to “stop” the drones – which prompted a move to draft a bill allowing WDOC to confront unmanned aircraft.
“It’s really that simple,” said Olsen in a text to Cowboy State Daily. “We didn’t hear from private citizens wanting the same authority. Doesn’t mean they don’t want that authority or that we won’t discuss it.”
Olsen added that he was “sure” the topic would surface again when the bill draft is under review at future committee interim meetings.
FAA regulations forbid drones from flying higher than 400 feet to preserve the airspace for larger aircraft. However, minimum elevations with respect to private property aren’t clearly regulated.
In an interview last week Shannon emphasized the need for a cautious approach to drone confrontation over prisons.
“The authorization to discharge a weapon inside of a correctional facility is a very serious matter, and we have to ensure safety and policy is met before we pursue any arrangement like that,” he said.
“However,” Shannon continued, “I would utilize whatever means necessary to ensure safety of our staff and our inmates inside.”
Olsen added in his own interview that there may be an argument, currently that WDOC staff has an implied authority to disable or capture errant drones, but cementing that authority in statute would “specifically” authorize them to do so and may grant immunity for potential damage to the drone.