- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana Senate has changed its mind on drones.

A day after rejecting the bill, senators voted 22-16 Tuesday for Sen. Dan Claitor’s proposal to restrict the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana.

The bill would make it illegal to use drones to photograph people on private property without their permission, with a list of exceptions, including for law enforcement.

Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the limits would keep neighbors and the government from snooping in backyards without cause. He said the technology was so accessible that a person can buy unmanned aircraft that can take pictures and record video for less than $400.

“Do you want your privacy? Do you think that’s something we should fight for?” he asked his colleagues.

Senators raised concerns about the bill’s scope, saying it could ban useful services that can be carried out by drones. Others questioned whether Claitor could really achieve his goal.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said people can mount cameras on a 10-foot pole or use long lenses to take photographs of someone’s backyard from the street.

“People can use these devices and accomplish exactly what you’re trying to prohibit, just not with a drone,” she said.

Despite the concerns, Claitor was able to persuade enough of his colleagues to change their minds and support the proposal. It next heads to the House for consideration.

Claitor’s proposal would prohibit the use of unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance on a person or private property and the possession or distribution of an image captured through such surveillance. That includes photos, sounds or other information recorded by a drone.

Violators could be fined up to $500 for using drones and possessing surveillance material captured by them. Distributing the material could carry a prison sentence of up to six months and a fine up to $2,000.

The measure includes a list of exceptions, including for the military, mapping purposes, film productions and maintenance of utility services. Law enforcement agencies could use drones if they have a search warrant, are documenting a crime scene or are searching for a missing person.

Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Covington, added an exception Tuesday to make sure the bill also didn’t cover model aircraft.

The Louisiana Press Association had raised concerns the bill would restrict news coverage, but efforts to carve out a specific exemption for the media have failed to gain support.

Claitor’s bill also would require law enforcement agencies to submit written reports to the governor and lawmakers every two years outlining the number of times they’ve used drones, the reasons for their use, the type of information gathered and cost of operations.

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