— The Journal Times of Racine
“Star Wars” might be big at the box office, but drone wars are cropping up all over the country, including Wisconsin.
The latest initiative to drive the electronic beasts from the sky comes from Madison where Republican legislators are pushing a bill to fine people who fly a drone over a state correctional institution $5,000.
According to news reports the legislation follows a series of cases in which smugglers flew drugs, pornography and other contraband over prison walls. Last summer, according to an Associated Press report, a drone dropped a package of marijuana, heroin and tobacco into a prison yard in Ohio, triggering a fight among inmates. Other such instances have cropped up in Oklahoma, Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina.
We have previously called for regulations of drones, so we were all ready to jump on the bandwagon and back the legislative effort headed by state Sen. Richard Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, to stop this potential airborne crime wave.
Then we read a story that in Denver legislators rejected an ordinance to curb private drone use — for the third straight time.
It even rejected a watered-down version that would have banned only drones used to deliver contraband to prisons after opponents pointed out that prison contraband delivery is already a crime by any means.
“It’s really not a necessary bill,” said Vic Moss, owner of a suburban Denver photography business and a drone enthusiast, according to an AP report.
We would suspect that Wisconsin has similar prohibitions on sending contraband into a prison.
Disturbing, as well, is a provision in Gudex’s proposed legislation that would allow local municipalities and counties to establish areas where drones cannot be flown and to set fines of up to $2,500 for violations. We have no idea where that would go.
California bans paparazzi from using drones on private land, Arkansas bans drone voyeurism and News Hampshire bans their use for hunting, trapping and fishing.
We have previously endorsed the need for regulation of drones in order to make sure our skies are safe for air travel.
But we have also suggested that the current Federal Aviation Administration regulations that prohibit drone flights within five miles of an airport are too stringent. That rule essentially makes the entire city of Racine a no-fly zone.
Moreover, there are potentially many good uses for drones — from the delivery system posed by Amazon or their use in spotting forest fires to use by insurance companies in checking damage to roofs or other property — and even to detecting potato diseases by flying them over fields to find stressed out plants. And, of course, hobbyists love them.
While air safety is important for commercial and private planes and there are other legitimate concerns for things like privacy and individual rights, the stampede of proposed regulations and bans should slow down until reasonable plans can be made.
Drones are not inherently evil and they need a little air space.