Lawmakers consider host of bills to regulate drones

Published: Feb. 9, 2016 at 11:14 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2016 at 11:56 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With drone use taking off in Hawaii, lawmakers are reviewing several bills involving the popular gadgets, including several that would add privacy restrictions and one that would require users to have liability insurance.

State Sen. Clarence Nishihara said requiring drone operators to have insurance just makes sense.

"I don't think I should be injured because you flew and did something and the word is, 'Sorry, we don't have insurance.' You can't do anything about it. You can't get any claims on it," said Nishihara (D, Waipahu-Pearl City-Pacific Palisades).

But some opponents think only commercial operators need liability insurance.

"For personal and hobbyist use, it seems a bit excessive. We don't go to single out any other products that people use on a regular basis to have liability insurance -- surfboards, skateboards, bicycles," said Mike Elliott, owner of Drone Services Hawaii.

A Senate committee will hold a hearing on the  Senate Bill 2095 Wednesday.

Other drone measures deal with privacy concerns, including several measures that would prohibit drone operators from recording someone undressing or engaged in sexual activity.

(Lawmakers say privacy concerns with drones are real, pointing to the case of a Hawaii Kai woman who called police last August to report a drone was hovering outside her bedroom window.)

"These measures are an effort to keep up with the technology, and in effect, it makes it a criminal violation for someone to use a drone as a peeping Tom," said state Rep. Gregg Takayama (D, Pearl City-Waimalu-Pacific Palisades).

Critics argue that drone operators would be unfairly singled out.

"There's nothing that precludes you from buying a high-powered telescope in a condo in Waikiki and peering across at your neighbors, binoculars, sitting on the beach with a 500-millimeter lens taking photos of people and doing the same thing," Elliott said.

Some bills are also designed to permit UAV use for law enforcement investigations and water rescues.

House Bill 1914 authorizes counties to use drones to drop life preservers or personal flotation devices to swimmers in distress.

"It allows lifeguards to do search and rescue. Get your drones as a backup. Get your drones out there and find them and then help them," said State Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley).

Drone Services Hawaii recently donated a UAV to the city to help scan the ocean to prevent shark bites. Officials are still looking into using the new technology.

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