- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A bill that places the unlawful use of an unmanned aerial drone into the state’s trespassing code moved through the Legislature on Tuesday after approval by a Senate subcommittee.

The House passed a much more restrictive drone bill last week. The Senate’s version replaces that bill with an amendment that would allow someone who believes they’ve been spied upon by a drone to seek criminal charges instead of pursuing the drone operator by filing a lawsuit, Sen. Rich Taylor, a Mount Pleasant Democrat said.

“By putting this code into the trespass law, a person won’t have to go fight their own battles in court and they won’t have to spend the money out of their pocket,” he said. “If they think their neighbor is invading their privacy, the county attorney will take care of it and I think that’s a huge step.”

The bill considers the use of a drone trespassing if it “intrudes upon the legitimate privacy interests in, on, or around private property that is not normally open to the public” or places where the public is not typically invited.

It also allows information gathered by a drone to be used in court if a search warrant is obtained or it is operated within constitutional guidelines.

The bill requires the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the Department of Agriculture, local agencies and other organizations to develop model guidelines for the use of drones and submit a report to the Legislature by the end of the year.

Business lobbyists approved of the changes from the House version, which many considered too restrictive.

Marc Beltrane, representing Nationwide Insurance and the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, said it’s dangerous to let fear take over when it comes to new technology such as drones.

“The property casualty insurance industry and the agriculture agribusiness sector, I think, have a lot of plans for how this technology can be purposed,” he said. “We don’t want to put undue burdens to make those efficiencies go away.”

MidAmerican Energy Co. lobbyist John Davis said the company envisions using drones to inspect windmill blades, saving the cost of bringing in expensive cranes. Drones could also be used to inspect storm damage over large areas, he said.

He asked lawmakers to leave out anything in a law that would have to be changed or removed when the use of drones becomes a viable business option.

The bill advances to the Senate Judiciary Committee, likely on Wednesday, and to the Senate floor. If approved there, it must be passed again in the House.

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