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Quijano & Mazzeo Bill to Regulate the Use of Drones in NJ Clears Assembly Panel

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano and Vince Mazzeo to regulate and prohibit, under certain circumstances, the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

“Drones have become increasingly disruptive, causing near-misses with airplanes, interfering with firefighter operations and being used to smuggle drugs and other contraband into prisons,” said Quijano (D-Union). “This bill sets specific guidelines for how New Jersey’s residents are able to utilize these devices to establish some order and help prevent these dangerous situations.”

“Drones can be fun, but they have the potential to be dangerous if not used correctly,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “Establishing clear guidelines about how they can and cannot be used can help preserve public safety and prevent people from using them as criminal accessories.”

Under the bill (A-5205), it would be a disorderly persons offense to operate a drone:

  • knowingly or intentionally in a manner that could endanger the life or property of another;
  • to take or assist in the taking of wildlife;
  • or while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, a narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol. Disorderly person’s offenses are punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

The bill would provide that it would be a fourth degree crime for a person to knowingly or intentionally:

  • create or maintain a condition that endangers the safety or security of a correctional facility by operating a drone on the premises of or in close proximity to the facility;
  • operate a drone in a manner that interferes with a first responder who is actively engaged in response or air, water, vehicular, ground, or specialized transport.

Fourth degree crimes are punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Under the bill, it would be a third degree crime for a person to knowingly operate a drone to conduct surveillance of or gather information about a correctional facility. Third degree crimes are punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

The bill would prohibit a person from operating a drone for the purpose of hindering or preventing the lawful taking of wildlife, and would provide that it is a violation of a restraining order or any other court order restraining contact with a person or location for a person who is subject to that order to operate a drone within a distance of a person or location that would violate the order.

The bill would provide that an owner or operator of a critical infrastructure, including a political subdivision, could apply to the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pursuant to the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016,” in order to prohibit or restrict the operation of drones in close proximity to the critical infrastructure. Finally, the provisions of this bill would preempt any law, ordinance, resolution, or regulation adopted by the governing body of a county or municipality concerning the private use of a drone that is inconsistent with the bill.

The bill was released by the Assembly Homeland Security & State Preparedness Committee, which is chaired by Quijano.