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Suffolk County, N.Y., Lawmakers Place Limits on Drones

The measure bars flights of any UAV equipped with a camera above any county facility without authorization, and bans flights over county parks without a permit.

(TNS) -- The Suffolk County Legislature voted Tuesday to put the first limits on camera-bearing drones, requiring permits to fly them over county buildings and parks and barring all such flights above county beaches in summer.

The local law, sponsored by Legis. Tom Muratore, R-Ronkonkoma, and Legis. William Spencer, D-Centerport, was approved 15-2, with Legis. Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, abstaining.

However, some critics said the law may be unconstitutional and questioned how it will be enforced.

The measure bars flights of any unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with a camera above any county facility without authorization of the public works commissioner, and bans flights over county parks without a permit issued by the county parks department.

The measure also bans any flights over county beaches from May 15 to Sept. 15 each year in an effort to protect beachgoers' privacy.

"It's time to have something in place with the technology progressing so rapidly," said Spencer, who received a drone as a Father's Day gift and is an avid enthusiast. "I love flying these things, and it's a very good first step in creating rules of the road."

Muratore said the measure protects constitutional rights and allows the news media to to use drones in newsgathering. He said journalists "know how to use the equipment so they won't cause problems" in emergency situations, while hobbyists "who don't know how to fly could cause problems."

The measure also exempts vendors with contracts to provide aerial photo services to the county.

Legis. Sarah Anker, D-Mt. Sinai, declined to support the measure without more details, saying such restrictions would "limit people's ability to enjoy our parks."

Legis. Rob Calarco, D-Patchogue, who also voted no, said the beach ban in particular is a reach given that people with cameras are free to take photos at the beach or in county parks.

"No one in a public place has an expectation to a right of privacy," Calarco said.

Justin Meyers, spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said Bellone has taken no position on the bill and looks forward to public input at the executive's public hearing. Bellone has 30 days to sign or veto the bill.

Nassau County officials said there are no county laws that specifically address the use of drones.

Also Tuesday, the Legislature voted 14-3 to allow the nonprofit Hudson River Health Inc. to take over operation of the county's Riverhead health center, the only Suffolk clinic staffed by county employees.

Officials said the takeover by Hudson River will reduce county costs because the nonprofit, as a federally qualified health center operator, receives higher rates of federal aid than the county. Also, the federal government covers the cost of malpractice cases.

The health center, located in the Riverhead county center, is the last of Suffolk's eight clinics to be transferred to Hudson River Health. Most of the other clinics had been run by local hospitals under contracts with the county, with a handful of county employees providing specialized services.

Legis. Kate Browning, WF-Shirley, sought unsuccessfully to delay approval until health officials tell the 44 county employees at the clinic where they will be moved. Health officials say workers will get 30 days notice of new assignments before Hudson River Health takes over Nov. 2.

The county's union contract bars layoffs.

©2015 Newsday. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.