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Drone
Proposed state legislation would govern drone flights over someone else’s property. (FAA Photo)

Flying your drone over another person’s private property could get harder.

A bill to forbid privately owned drones from flying over someone else’s private property without the owner’s permission has been filed in advance of the Washington Legislature’s new session, which begins next week.

Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, pre-filed the bill last month. In addition to setting limits on overflights, it would require private owners to label their drones with their names and phone numbers.

If the bill becomes law, a property owner could file a trespass charge against a drone owner if the drone has previously entered airspace over the property at least once, and the property owner has told the drone operator not to do so. The bill contains an exception that would allow the drone to fly above private property in order to land.

Rep. Jeff Morris

This will be the seventh bill filed since 2015 to address private drones flying over someone else’s private property. Three of the bills have been proposed by Morris. Previous proposals have been made in the Senate and in the House, by Republicans as well as Democrats. None ever made it to a full floor vote in either chamber.

Morris said this new bill is written differently — stressing privacy and private property rights rather than aerospace control. He believes this new approach will make the legislation more palatable to the Republican caucus that controls the state Senate.

“It has a property rights take on enforcing it,” he said.

Morris’ bill has not been assigned yet to a House committee. But he chairs the House Economic Development and Technology Committee, which has handled drone issues in the past.

Morris said the topic has picked up extra interest since last June, when the Federal Aviation Administration issued a set of regulations for commercial drones weighing less than 55 pounds.

Under those regulations, an operator must be able to see the drone at all times. Such drones must not go higher than 400 feet in altitude or fly faster than 100 mph. Night flying is forbidden. Private drones are not to be flown near airports or large sporting events, or in a way that interferes with emergency operations.

Before the FAA issued its regulations, people flying drones for commercial purposes needed pilot’s licenses. Today, a person older than 16 can take an aeronautical test at an FAA-approved site and pass a background check for a remote pilot certificate.

The FAA is currently working on additional rules that would govern commercial drone flights over people who aren’t involved in operating the drones.

More than 600,000 private drones have been registered over the past year, and the FAA expects millions more to be sold in 2017.

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