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Congress to city and states: You can’t say no to drones

Apr 08, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC - Smart Government reported this week that a new national poll found 68% of respondents do not feel the federal government knows their community well enough to be the sole lawmaker over drones. This news comes as Congress began debating the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, which contains many provisions regarding drone activity. One critical provision tucked within the bill would make the FAA the sole lawmaker over drones by allowing FAA rules and regulations to preempt state and local drone restrictions. If this provision stays within the bill there will be a single national policy for drones and state and local governments would be blocked from adopting measures to prohibit drones from encroaching on private properties in their communities.

Leading Municipal Organizations such as the National League of Cities and Conference of Mayors have voiced their opposition to this policy. In a joint letter to the Senate Commerce Committee it was stated, “municipalities must retain their longstanding authorities to impose reasonable and appropriate zoning regulations in the future. Much like automobiles and land use development regulations, local leaders know best how to regulate issues that affect their residents in their own backyards.”

This position is also shared by the majority of Americans, as found by a recent national poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. “Our poll results show that U.S. residents want their Mayors, City Councils, and State Legislators to have a say in whether a drone can fly through their back yards, over local parks, schools and pools,” said Jim Williams of Public Policy Polling. “For example, Americans are open to new innovations such as package delivery by drones, but overwhelmingly support their local and state leaders having a say in when and where drones can deliver these packages in their local communities.”

Key findings from the poll include:

• 69% of respondents believed that drones should be able to operate for legitimate commercial uses with a combination of reasonable federal and local restrictions;

• 68% believe that state and local government should make the rules because the federal government does not know the particular concerns of their community well enough to be the sole lawmaker over drones;

• 79% of those polled believed that their local government should be able to pass laws to restrict the use of drones in the event that drones were flying in the low altitude airspace above their property;

• 83% of those polled believed that there should be restrictions on when and where drones are allowed to deliver packages.

It would be a mistake for Congress to ignore the calls from city and state leaders and from the majority of Americans to remove the federal preemption language of state and local drone laws from the FAA Reauthorization bill. The notion that a patchwork of state and local laws will hurt the industry is simply untrue, as it has not harmed the automobile industry despite different parking and speed limits in cities and states throughout the country. Drones take off from city streets and land on city streets—they are not jetliners—they operate in low altitude airspace just feet from homes, businesses and public spaces.

Including federal preemption language of state and local drone laws in the FAA Reauthorization bill is a perfect example of the federal government overstepping its bounds to the detriment of its citizens. There is no logical reason for state and local governments to not have a voice in this process. Local officials know their communities best and must be able to respond to citizen concerns about how drones are flown near schools, prisons, hospitals, power plants, backyards, and other sensitive areas. Congress must not stop city and state leaders from doing what they do best—protecting the safety and well being of their residents.

Congress to city and states: You can’t say no to drones

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