California State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, says his legislation granting civil immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in the course of firefighting, air ambulance or search-and-rescue operation has passed the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection.
The senator introduced a similar bill last year – S.B.168 – that was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in the fall. According to an analysis from the Assembly committee, this new bill, S.B.807, removes the “criminal penalty provisions” that were in S.B.168, which would have made it a crime for UAS operators to interfere with firefighting efforts and brought jail time and/or fines up to $5,000.
The text of S.B.807, which was first introduced in January, reads as follows:
“This bill would further limit the exposure to civil liability of an emergency responder, defined as a paid or an unpaid volunteer or private entity acting within the scope of authority implicitly or expressly provided by a public entity or a public employee to provide emergency services, for damages to an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system, if the damage was caused while the emergency responder was performing specific emergency services and the unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system was interfering with the provision of those emergency services.”
Echoing the same statement he used with the previous bill, Gaines says, “To think that someone would interfere with firefighting or emergency response situations to get a sneak peek or to post a drone video on YouTube is an outrage that is deserving of punishment and condemnation.
“I look forward to Senate Bill 807’s continued support as it makes its way through the Assembly,” he says.
As Gaines also said with the previous legislation, he explains that the bill stems from alarming reports of private, unauthorized drones causing mission-critical aircraft to be grounded during firefighting and medical response operations – putting pilots, firefighters, civilians and property at unnecessary risk.
The senator notes that drones hold great promise for wildfire suppression and other emergency services when used properly by the appropriate agencies but does not want rogue drones to interfere with the most effective response to time-sensitive crises.
“California’s dangerous wildfire season is upon us, and I want everyone to know that interfering with firefighting or other emergency activities is reckless and wrong. Let’s get the word out as far and wide as we can – immediately – to help keep our people and emergency personnel safe,” he continues. “But this bill will help ensure our skies are protected. People can replace drones, but we can’t replace a life. Public safety should be our absolute number-one priority.”