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Drone bills by Negron and Workman free and clear, so far

All is clear for legislation that would restrict the use of drones by Florida law enforcement -- though the use of the unmanned aerial surveillance devices are quite limited already by the Federal Aviation Administration.

And so far, a Senate and House bill seem to have wide support while avoiding any complicated amendments that might jeopardize their passage.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is sponsoring SB 92, which was discussed on the floor of the Senate Thursday.

“It’s important that as technology develops, we have protections to our privacy, our right to be left alone, and this bill tries to reach a delicate balance between giving our law enforcement an important tool but making sure that citizens are protected,” Negron said.

It bans 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. But one of the exemptions, for cases in which the secretary of the U.S. Homeland Security determines there’s a credible threat of a terrorist strike, rankled Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker.

“I’m really concerned with us giving that much power to an unelected bureaucrat to have the ability to determine what is considered credible intelligence and what isn’t,” said Evers.


Negron said he has those same misgivings, but reminded Evers that the Florida lawmakers can’t control how the federal government uses the drones.

“We can only control what law enforcement does in Florida,” Negron said. A House version of the bill, HB 119 sponsored by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, awaits a debate on the House floor before it goes up for vote.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, withdrew an amendment Thursday morning to Negron’s bill that would prohibit law enforcement from searching an arrested person's cell phone or other electronic mobile device without a search warrant, except in cases that include a terrorist threat, a missing person’s case involving someone 18 and under, a senior or someone with disabilities; is part of an internal affairs investigation. This deviates from a long standing legal exception to the warrant requirement  for searches incident to arrest. It also would prevent tracking someone's location through an electronic mobile device without a court order.

“Against senate rules,” Brandes explained in a text message. “Have hope, still working it.”

Brandes was referring to Senate Rule 7.1 (4) c, which prohibits an amendment derived from a bill in which the substance of which have not been reported favorably by all committees of reference. His amendment comes from his SB 846, which has two more committees to clear, Judiciary and Appropriations, with four weeks left to go. (A similar bill in the House, HB 797, is headed next to the Judiciary Committee after clearing two other committees). On March 4, Brandes’ bill cleared the criminal justice committee by a 5-2 vote. Like the drone bill itself, which has been unanimously supported so far, it’s not a partisan issue. While Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, supported Brandes’ bill, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, (who is a former prosecutor) and Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, (a former sheriff) voted against it.