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Legislation Could Ground Drone Flights Near Facilities

Missouri lawmakers are creating legislation that could ground drone flights near state prisons, sports stadiums and mental health hospitals, aiming to ensure safety and prevent potential aerial contraband drops.

by Kurt Erickson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch / March 6, 2020

(TNS) — Legislation designed to ground drone flights near state prisons and sports stadiums zoomed out of the Missouri House on Thursday.

On a 133-11 vote, lawmakers sent the proposal to the Senate for further debate. A similar measure failed to advance last year.

The sponsor of the proposal, Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, said Department of Corrections officials have raised concerns about potential aerial contraband drops after several drone sightings near state prisons in recent years.

In addition, sports teams wanted stadiums to be covered by the proposed law as a way to ensure the safety of players and fans.

This legislation also prohibits drone flights near mental health hospitals.

The legislation classifies knowingly flying an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, within 400 feet of a facility as a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum yearlong prison sentence.

The law would only apply to open-air stadiums that can hold more than 5,000 spectators.

Pilots could be charged with a felony if they drop weapons or drugs, or if they use a drone to help an inmate escape.

The Department of Corrections supports the move, saying at least 11 states have enacted similar restrictions. The federal government has also restricted flights near federal prisons.

Rep. Tim Remole, R-Excello, said he supports the measure after a drone attempted to enter the state prison in Moberly, which is in his district.

“It will bring some clarity that we need,” Remole said.

In earlier debate, Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, expressed concern that the sports provision could trip up people who are merely flying a drone for entertainment purposes.

“I absolutely can see Missourians doing stupid stuff … and not realizing it,” Mitten said.

Rep. Shane Roden, R-Cedar Hill, said drones flying over a stadium could cause potential chaos.

“People can potentially get hurt,” Roden said. “And we’re putting in place a mechanism that says that you can’t fly over this stuff.”

The legislation is House Bill 1898.

©2020 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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