Boeing is accused of halting legislation that would have regulated the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which it builds, March 13 out of a concern that the legislation was too narrowly defined and should focus on broader surveillance technologies.
March 13 was the last day policy bills could be heard in their chamber of origin. Thus the bill, HB 1771, failed to advance.
The measure received a hearing and passed out of the House Public Safety Committee by a 9-1 vote Feb. 21. Under the legislation, drone use would be prohibited by state agencies except for search-and-rescue, avalanche and other emergencies. Exemptions could be sought by a process outlined in the bill.
The bill arose as a result of a policy adopted by the Washington State Farm Bureau in November that regulated the use of drones when surveying farmland without the consent of the landowner. WSFB passed its policy after hearing word that the Environmental Protection Agency was using drones to survey farmland in Nebraska and Iowa.
Legislation sponsor Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee), was disappointed the bill did not advance this session, but is hopeful for its prospects next year. While Taylor and other sponsors cannot be sure as to why Democratic leadership did not bring the bill forward for floor debate Wednesday, some speculate that the concerns expressed by Boeing convinced the House majority to avoid floor action on the bill.
“We know Boeing was actively lobbying against the bill and I can only assume their opposition caused the Democrat majority to not bring the bill forward,” suggested Taylor.
Susan Bradley of the Boeing Company said Boeing lobbied against the bill due to the belief that regulating drone use would have been counterproductive since the technology is just beginning to develop.
“The UAV technology is so new that regulation…requires a lot of thought and a lot of consideration and, in our view, the bill as it was presented just lacked that thorough consideration and evaluation,” she said.
But Rep. Cary Condotta (R-Wenatchee), a co-sponsor of the bill, said that more protections are needed on use of UAVs now before the technology advances further.
The member voting against the legislation, Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle), echoed Boeing’s concerns, adding that the proposed bill should have considered a broader range of technologies than solely drone-specific technology.
Pettigrew also revealed that Boeing made arguments concerning the loss of jobs as a result of restricted drone use and development.
In order to address some of those concerns, a study is anticipated before the legislature reconvenes in 2014 to explore the use and possible restrictions of multiple surveillance technologies. Rep. Jeff Morris (D-Mount Vernon) is expected to lead that review.
Thirty-two other states have pursued policies that would regulate the use of drones, but no state has yet been successful in enacting legislation into law.
HB 1771 would allow use of public unmanned aircraft systems in criminal investigation situations provided a properly executed search warrant is obtained from a court.
Unless deemed necessary to implement the budget, the chances of this legislation making it through this session are slim. The session is scheduled to end April 28.