A Senate measure that calls for banning the potentially deadly practice of aiming laser pointers at airplanes breezed though the Senate Thursday with unusually widespread bipartisan support — with one exception.
Newly minted Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and darling of the tea party movement, was the lone nay vote on an amendment supported by 96 of his colleagues. Three senators weren’t present for the vote.
Paul told reporters later he didn’t support the amendment — sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat — because he believed regulating laser pointers “should be handled by state law.”
He added that several states already have laws in place that prohibit beaming laser pointers at planes — a practice that could distract or even temporarily blind the pilot.
The number of reports of lasers being pointed at airplanes nearly doubled in 2010, to more than 2,800, the Federal Aviation Authority says. In 2010, Los Angeles International Airport had the highest number of laser cases of any U.S. airport with 102 incidents. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had 98 incidents —second highest in the nation.
Officials said the uptick in incidents appears to be caused by the increasing availability of new, high-powered laser devices.
The amendment would subject violators to fines or imprisonment for up to 5 years.
While a laser may project a millimeter-sized dot close up, at longer distances the beam can spread to several inches across, according to LaserPointerSafety.com. If a laser beam hits the windscreen of a airplane cockpit, or the bubble of a helicopter, it spreads further.
The laser pointer measure is one of several amendment attached to legislation designed to update the nation’s aging aircraft navigational system.