Proposed drone regulations draw fire

Published On: Feb 04 2014 08:10:00 PM HST

On any given day, you can see people operating drones at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Click here to watch Catherine Cruz's story.

They have even been used at surf contests on Oahu's North Shore.

But as lawmakers begin hearing proposed legislation to try and determine what is the best way to regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The first line arguments against restricting drones in Senate Bill 2852 and 2608 come from Honolulu Police.

Drones can go where officers can't, and police said if you limit drones, you limit investigations.  That, they argue could affect public safety.

Police point to the case of a dismembered body found near Ka Uka Boulevard last year. The crime scene stretched over a large area.

"To put a blanket where we need a search warrant over every use of the UAV it doesn't make sense to use. It's cost prohibitive. A helicopter is over $500 an hour," said Maj. Kurt Kendro.

Speed also matters.

Police like to get up in the air as soon as possible after fatal or critical car crashes like one  in Kalihi that killed an elderly woman Tuesday morning.

"For us night or day  we could deploy a UAV to get overhead pictures  and we could open up the roadways quicker," said Kendro.

The state's land department wants to be left alone because it believes drones are vital to managing vast resources.

One of its mapping partners, the Nature Conservancy said it is not against being regulated.

But it worries it will lose a valuable efficient tool for protecting the native forests from invasive species, especially in remote areas.

"Our staff can go right back to that location with a precise treatment or control of that weed before it spreads to a great extent in the forest,” said Executive Director Mark Fox.

The two Senate bills proposing drone regulation heard Tuesday drew opposition even as Hawaii is poised to become one of six states selected as a federal drone test site.

The Department of Business and Economic Development urged lawmakers to  proceed with caution since the FAA is drafting regulations of its own. 

"This would help ensure our laws compliant and comply with federal guidelines currently under development," said Richard Lim, DBED director

"If we enact something before then, before they preempt us, we may have more local control, that's why I think it’s something it is important to consider," said Sen. Kalani English, chair of the Transportation Committee which heard the two Senate bills Tuesday.

Lawmakers are considering more than a half a dozen different bills calling for the oversight of drones as they begin buzzing in our skies.



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