Drone bills in the Texas Legislature

What’s still alive with only 5 days left in session?

The Texas Capitol captured, appropriately enough, by a drone. Source: Christopher Sherman

You might assume that public policy related to drones — or “unmanned aircraft systems” — is strictly limited to the Federal Aviation Administration, but a number of bills were filed during 2017 Texas legislative session that could impact the technology.

With session ending on May 29, there’s no better time to get an overview of what bills are still alive these final days and what’s likely dead.

HB 106 / SB 840

What does it do?
It’s currently against state law for unmanned aircraft to take photographs of individuals or privately owned property with the purpose to conduct surveillance. There are a number of exceptions to this law, however, including educational research, investigation by law enforcement, with consent of the landowner, and taking pictures of properties that are situated within 25 miles of the U.S. border. HB 106 and SB 840 — companion bills, meaning the they’re the same legislation simply filed in different chambers — would eliminate the U.S. border exception.

In addition, the legislation adds three new exceptions: 1) when telecommunications providers take pictures for utility purposes; 2) when insurance companies take pictures for underwriting or claims purposes; and 3) when the operator is authorized by the FAA to conduct operations within that airspace.

Will it pass?

Most likely. SB 840 has passed both chambers, but the Senate needs to agree to the changes made in the House. We’ll know in the next few days.

HB 1424

What does it do?
It’s currently a criminal offense to intentionally or knowingly operate a drone over critical infrastructure facilities like power plants, ports, and refineries. HB 1424 would add sports venues that seat more than 30,000 to that list of facilities — unless the drone operator is a part of law enforcement, a governmental body, is the owner of the venue, or has the owner’s permission.

The #txlege wants to avoid this.

The bill also adds correctional facilities to the areas that unmanned aircrafts cannot fly over.

Finally, the bill — in the form that it passed the Senate — also includes an additional exception to the ban against unmanned aircraft taking photographs of individuals or privately owned property: if an image is captured “for the purpose of delivering consumer goods that were ordered through an Internet website or mobile application and the operator of the unmanned aircraft is authorized” by the FAA. You should be picturing Amazon’s drone delivery right about now.

Will it pass?

Most likely. The bill has passed both the House and Senate, and the House just needs to agree to the additional language that the Senate added.

HB 638

What does it do?
HB 638 would add correctional facilities to the areas that unmanned aircrafts cannot go near unless the operator is part of law enforcement, a governmental body, the owner of the venue, or has the owner’s permission.

Will it pass?

The bill won’t, but the language likely will. The changes to law that HB 638 would make are also contained in HB 1424 (see above).

HB 1643

What does it do?
This bill adds to the list of “critical infrastructure facilities” over which flying a drone is a criminal offense. Specifically, it adds concentrated animal feeding operations, cell towers, and oil and gas drilling sites.

The bill also grants an exemption from criminal liability if the drone’s operation is in compliance with all applicable FAA regulations.

Will it pass?

Most likely. The bill has passed both the House and Senate, and the House just needs to agree to the additional language that the Senate added.

Source: Wired

HB 3238

What does it do?
HB 3238 would prevent political subdivisions like cities, counties, or school districts from passing regulations about the ownership or operation of an unmanned aircraft. That would make the state and the federal government the sole governmental entites that would regulate drones.

Will it pass?

Doubtful. The bill failed to pass the House, where it was originally filed, and an attempt to amend the language onto another bill doesn’t seem likely to stick.

SB 838

What does it do?
This is the drone delivery language that was discussed above in HB 1424. Specifically, the bill add another exception to the ban against unmanned aircraft taking photographs of individuals or privately owned property: if an image is captured “for the purpose of delivering consumer goods that were ordered through an Internet website or mobile application and the operator of the unmanned aircraft is authorized” by the FAA.

Again, think Amazon’s drone delivery:

https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2FvNySOrI2Ny8%3Ffeature%3Doembed&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DvNySOrI2Ny8&image=https%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FvNySOrI2Ny8%2Fhqdefault.jpg&key=d04bfffea46d4aeda930ec88cc64b87c&type=text%2Fhtml&schema=youtube

Will it pass?

The bill won’t, but the language likely will via HB 1424.

Austin Tech Alliance is a member-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting civic engagement in Austin’s tech sector. We focus on:

  • Educating the tech grassroots on issues that impact them
  • Advocating for tech-forward solutions to community challenges
  • Activating the tech community to speak up, participate, and vote

Learn more about becoming an ATA member.


Drone bills in the Texas Legislature was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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