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Backed by Negron, drone bill picks up speed

Does the Senate budget chief get deference on his bills because he holds the purse strings?

It might look that way following SB 92, which is sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

His bill limits how law enforcement can use drones, prohibiting their use except in cases where there’s a warrant, there’s threat of a terrorist strike or there’s an an emergency such as a hostage crisis or a missing person.

By a 12-0 vote, the bill passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. It was the fourth committee the bill passed by a unanimous vote.

“In the wake of the budget allocations being released, I want to congratulate the budget chair on such a great bill, such an intellectual accomplishment,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. “It’s an honor to support this great bill.”

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, then asked Negron: “Can you present my bills?”

Kidding aside, its companion bill, HB 119, is doing just as well, having unanimously passed a committee last week.

Despite the vote, Negron did receive his toughest questioning yet. Only three law enforcement agencies have been authorized to use drones, and they follow rules by the Federal Aviation Administration and their own policies that limit them pretty severely.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, wanted to know why this bill was necessary.

Technology has made the drones that much more cheaper to use, and soon, there will be a massive marketing push for law enforcement to buy the unmanned vehicles, Negron said.

The FAA will revisit their rules and could make them more lax.

“Before we have hundreds of drones hovering over the state of Florida, following people into their cars or monitoring neighborhoods, let’s have some reasonable ground rules,” Negron said.

But Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, said he loves drones and worries about putting any limits on them. He thinks they’re handy to monitor large crowds at political conventions, Super Bowls. and World Cups.

Negron, however, said his bill would prohibit their use at such gatherings.

“There’s a delicate balance between security and freedom and over the last 15 years with all the cameras with all the monitoring i think we’ve gone too far in the direction of our privacy rights and our right to be left alone to be violated in this pursuit of security,” said Negron. “I don’t want a drone hovering above me while I’m lawfully carrying about my life.”

What about fixed security cameras? They’re ok, Negron said, because they’re fixed, visible and their photos aren’t as precise as those taken by drones, which he said could provide facial identification.

“The drone goes too far,” Negron said.