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Moratorium on law enforcement drone use clears Senate panel, nears OK in House

RICHMOND — A measure that would put a two-year moratorium on drones in Virginia while lawmakers work to craft regulations for use of the unmanned aircraft cleared a Senate panel Monday and is headed for a final vote in the House on Tuesday.

Del. Benjamin L. Cline(R-Rockbridge), sponsor of the House version of the bill, said Monday that time is needed to study the best ways to balance public safety and privacy concerns with the new technology.

“It’s important to remember that this is not just your average guy in an airplane with binoculars,” Cline said “These are highly technical, highly targeted devices ... In order to maintain those protections and update them for the 21st century, it’s important for us to modernize our codes.”

Currently, there are no drones in operation in the commonwealth, but local law enforcement agencies have expressed interest in acquiring the technology, which is being used in other states. Virginia Sheriff’s Association spokesman Thomas Jones told a House panel last week that the Russell County Sheriff’s Department has already purchased two drones and is eager to put them to use.

An amendment from Del. Jennifer L. McClellan (R-Richmond City) would allow an exemption for emergencies, like when a child is missing or someone is in imminent danger and inclement weather prevents a manned aircraft from searching for that person.

The Senate version of the bill cleared the Courts of Justice panel Monday by a 13 to 1 vote.

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