Friday, May 25, 2018
Politics

Lawmakers want drones grounded in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — The backlash against the use of unmanned drones has found its way to Florida, where lawmakers are fast-tracking legislation to limit their use by local law enforcement.

"It's fine to kill terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan with drones," said sponsor Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. "But I don't think we should use them to monitor the activities of law-abiding Floridians."

Negron's proposal, SB 92, would ban local law enforcement officials from using drones without a warrant or threat of a terrorist attack and prohibit information collected by drones to be used as evidence in courts.

For lawmakers, it's more of a pre-emptive strike. Only three Florida law enforcement agencies have authorization to use drones — to observe, not to shoot — and none of them have used drones in a real-life situation.

Negron's bill is similar to legislation filed in Congress by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who filibustered the confirmation of CIA director John Brennan over U.S. drone attacks on Americans.

Drones, or unmanned flying aircraft, have been used since the Vietnam War. They range in size from 6 inches to 246 feet and weigh between 4 ounces and 25,600 pounds, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates their use in the United States. While popular in delivering missiles abroad, drones are also quite adept at collecting information. They can be outfitted with cameras so powerful that they can track objects 65 miles away, according to a Florida Senate staff analysis.

Several U.S. government agencies have already used drones, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which began using them in 2004.

In Florida, the Miami-Dade Police Department became the first major metro police agency to get permission to operate drones — two Honeywell Corp. T-Hawk models — two years ago.

Sheriff's deputies in Orange County also have approval to operate two drones. As does Polk County, though the Sheriff's Office there grounded the program, citing costs.

In February 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which requires the FAA to safely open the nation's airspace to drones by September 2015. But stoked by Paul's protests, concern over drones continues to grow. Bills similar to Negron's are expected to be filed in California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana and Virginia. The politics of opposition makes strange bedfellows who obey no party taboos.

So libertarian Republicans such as Negron are finding common cause with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which in January issued a statement endorsing the bill for establishing "guideposts for how to keep Floridians both safe and free in this new era."

A third Senate committee unanimously approved the bill Tuesday. Its companion in the House, HB 119, has cleared two committees without a no vote.

For all its talk about getting tough on drones, the bill doesn't address two rather obvious areas: use of the drones by the federal government and by private individuals or groups.

Jennings Depriest, a freshman at Florida State University and a member of the FSU College Libertarians, expressed dismay Tuesday that the federal government was exempted from the bill.

"How can we say that it's wrong for our state and local law enforcement to use drones to spy on its law abiding citizens without warrant while allowing the federal government an exception to the rule of law?" Depriest said. "The Libertarian base is on fire. We saw it last week with Sen. Rand. We will continue to see it."

Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he's concerned about the private use of drones.

"I can see private investigators and the Tampa Bay Times, you name it, to having access to drones," Gardiner said. (The Tampa Bay Times does not own, nor has it ever used, drones.)

Negron said he wanted to narrow the focus of the bill to law enforcement but was open to target private use in the future.

Also, law enforcement's use of drones now is so restricted that the bill doesn't affect the Miami-Dade Police Department, said Lt. Aviel Sanchez.

In the two years that it has had permission to use a drone, it did so only once for a hostage situation that cleared up by the time the drone could take off. It took that long to get permission from the FAA, Sanchez said. FAA rules already prohibit the department from flying the drones at night, near high rises or crowded areas.

"Our concern with this bill is that this could make departments hesitate to use this tool," Sanchez said. "It could make departments second guess using them."

Contact Michael Van Sickler at [email protected]

Comments
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18