By BRYNA GODAR
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislators are pushing a bill aimed at preventing drone operators from flying contraband into Wisconsin prisons like they have in other states.
Under the bill, anyone who flies a drone over a state correctional institution would face a $5,000 fine. The bill would also allow municipalities and counties to establish areas where drones cannot be flown. Local governments could impose fines up to $2,500.
The bill follows a series of cases across the country in which smugglers flew drugs, pornography or other contraband over prison walls. In August, a drone dropped a package of marijuana, tobacco and heroin into a prison yard in Ohio, sparking a fight among inmates. In October, a drone carrying drugs, blades and other contraband crashed into an Oklahoma prison yard. Other cases have surfaced in Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina.
Wisconsin has not yet reported similar issues with smuggling, but a drone that lost contact with its operator did land inside the walls of a state prison in Waupun in late December.
“This is really going after people and as a deterrent for people who want to commit crimes using drones,” said Shawn Smith, a staff member in the office of the bill’s author, Sen. Richard Gudex, R-Fond du Lac. Gudex was not available to comment Friday. Assembly sponsor Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, and Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab did not return calls for comment Friday.
Besides a fine, the bill would let police seize any pictures or video taken by a drone and turn it over to the Department of Corrections.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been developing regulations for drones, or unmanned aircraft systems. Almost 300,000 drone owners have registered with the FAA since it started requiring registration on Dec. 21.
But some local and state lawmakers across the country believe the federal rules are too lax and have been stepping in to regulate drones themselves. In 2015, approximately 45 states considered restrictions on unmanned aircraft systems, according to an FAA fact sheet. The FAA warns it could lead to a “patchwork quilt” of regulations and stipulates that local and state regulations must fit with federal rules.
“The FAA has been coming out with the rules slowly but surely,” Smith said. “We don’t know what they’re going to come out with, so we wanted to give the local authorities the ability to do so.”
Under current Wisconsin law, there is no express authority granted to municipalities or counties to establish no-fly zones, though Green Bay passed a ban on drone use at special events in August.
This bill expressly grants that permission and includes a provision that no political subdivision may enact an ordinance inconsistent with federal law, in order to fit with FAA regulations.
The bill has a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on Wednesday.