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Measure aims to regulate drone use over private property

February 11, 2019
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In this May 11, 2016, photo, Pontotoc County Sheriff John Christian launches an unmanned aerial vehicle in northern Byng, Okla. (Richard R. Barron/The ADA News via AP)
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In this May 11, 2016, photo, Pontotoc County Sheriff John Christian launches an unmanned aerial vehicle in northern Byng, Okla. (Richard R. Barron/The ADA News via AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma lawmakers are discussing proposed legislation that aims to ban the flying of unmanned aircraft — or drones — over private property in rural areas.

State Sen. Casey Murdock, who sponsored the measure, said it would govern drones flying at 400 feet (120 meters) or lower, and that the measure would not protect Oklahomans living in municipalities. Operators who violate the measure would face up to a year in prison.

“For me right now, this is a private property rights issues and a privacy issue,” Murdock said. “What I’m doing is just giving the local law enforcement the ability to basically write a speeding ticket for someone that’s not flying a drone within the FAA regulations.”

Exceptions are provided for drone pilots employed by the state or federal government, law enforcement, utility, oil and gas companies or who are part of a commercial operation authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration. A private landowner may also give a drone operator written approval, the news agency CNHI News reported.

The chances of the bill becoming law are unclear.

Rodd Moesel, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said his organization is closely monitoring the proposed legislative measure to determine any unintended effects. The bureau’s members feel any unknown drone flying below 250 feet (75 meters) is trespassing on private property, he said. Moesel also asserted members are worried about strangers using drones as “peeping toms,” or to case property to steal animals and trailers.

“When you live out in the country where a lot of these farms are, police could be many miles away,” he said.

Murdock said he believes landowners would provide access for universities undertaking weather research, but researchers warn that language used in the bill will be key.

“I know his intention is certainly to protect weather-related research and any other research that is utilizing (unmanned aircraft),” said John Woods, executive director of government affairs for the University of Oklahoma. “Knowing everything we can about weather has implications for a multitude of industries, including agriculture.”

The state’s multimillion-dollar unmanned aircraft industry employs over 550 Oklahomans, according to the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.

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