SALEM — Model airplane enthusiasts from around Oregon — some with their planes in tow— showed up at a legislative hearing Wednesday to ask that any legislation passed to regulate drones not force them to give up their hobby.
In its original form, Senate Bill 71 could have had this effect, but lawmakers have proposed an amendment that would exclude model airplanes from many of the bill’s provisions. Still, hobbyists were worried.
“This bill as written seeks to make criminals out of hobbyists and remove a very pleasant pastime from our reach," Salem Radio Controlled Pilots Association member Janice Williamson told lawmakers.
Oregon is among more than 30 states whose legislatures are considering bills that seek to regulate the use of drones in the United States. Use of the unmanned vehicles has been hotly debated because of their use by the U.S. military abroad.
The Oregon bill is primarily intended to protect citizens’ privacy as the use of drones by law enforcement agencies and others becomes more widespread.
The measure would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a criminal warrant before using drones for surveillance of private property, in all but emergency circumstances. State or local government bodies would be required to register with the state Department of Aviation to fly an unmanned aircraft in Oregon’s skies.
The legislation also has provisions that apply to private citizens’ use of unmanned aircraft. For example, citizens who use model aircraft to stalk or spy would be charged with crimes under current privacy laws, and could face tougher penalties than now exist for violating someone’s privacy.
Under an amendment introduced earlier this week, model airplanes would be exempt from many of the measure’s provisions.
Also Wednesday, several speakers took issue with the legislation’s language, saying it should use the term “unmanned aerial vehicle" instead of “drone."
“The word drone, I’d respectfully ask that the committee consider using the word unmanned aircraft," said Anthony Johnson-Laird, a representative from the Professional Association of Radio Controlled Aircraft Pilots.
“It has a relatively negative connotation, and because this industry is just getting started, I think the matter of the choice of words is important," he said.
As the country tries to figure out how to regulate drones, some at the hearing said they already are using unmanned aircraft in various ways.
Barbara Frederiksen-Cross, an aviation enthusiast from Hubbard, said her disabled husband flies a tiny drone around their country home when the dogs bark to see if someone is coming to the door.
“I would hate to think that he’s violating the law doing that," she told lawmakers.
Another person who testified, Andrey Kim, showed up with an unmanned, hand-built aircraft he uses for aerial photography.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski, the committee’s chairman, said the bill is a work in progress and the panel will take citizens’ concerns into account as it is being worked on.