Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Lawmakers mull drone safety, emergency response

Lawmakers on Tuesday will hear from state emergency responders and drone industry representatives on the dangers and potential benefits of flying unmanned aircraft in fires and other emergencies.

Firefighters and state legislators have raised concerns over recent incidents across the state in which drone activity near fires have halted or paused emergency operations.

Last week, a drone nearly collided with a helicopter taking a patient to a hospital in Fresno. In San Bernardino County last month, officials offered a total of $75,000 in rewards for help in finding the operators of drones that interfered with firefighting during three recent wildfires.

“It is against the law currently to interfere with police, with the duties of firefighters, the duties of EMT or ambulance personnel,” said Philip Horner, consultant to the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management, which will hold the hearing Tuesday with the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Yet now we have these drones doing that and they’re unregulated.”

Representatives from state agencies such as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Emergency Medical Services Authority will speak at the meeting on the risks and benefits of drone use in emergencies, as well as representatives from the National Press Photographers Association and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone advocacy group.

Speakers from NASA, drone manufacturer DJI Technology and the Academy of Model Aeronautics are also scheduled to discuss safety and best practices in drone use.

Horner said the hearing will address whether or not current bills regulating drone use should be expanded. Several bills in the Legislature would curtail drone use by law enforcement, or by civilians flying aircraft over schools or private property.

SB 167, sponsored by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, specifically targets drone use in emergencies. The bill would increase fines for drone operators who interfere with firefighters.

PERSON OF THE YEAR: Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins is the Pride Awards’ person of the year. Sponsored by the Sacramento LGBT Center, the award is for people who’ve worked to create a “safer, more welcoming, collaborative, socially just, culturally rich, and stigma free community,” according to the organizers’ web page.

Atkins, who is the Assembly’s first openly lesbian speaker, championed legislation last year making it easier for people who have had sex change surgery to get a new birth certificate, and for all transgender people to change their name.

SOLAR WORKERS: Solar energy industry groups will gather for a rally on the Capitol’s north steps at 11:30. They say the industry is being squeezed by moves to stop reimbursing people for energy rooftop units fed back into the grid and proposed rate changes from the Public Utilities Commission.

WELCOME BACK: A back-to-session social hosted by Capitol Network will welcome legislators returning from the break. The event is free and runs from 4:30-7 p.m. at Chops, 1117 11th Street.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Sen. Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake, who is 45, and congratulations to Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who married Sue Lemke, his girlfriend of fourteen years, on August 8th.

Bee reporter Andrew Holzman contributed to this report. Contact Jeanne Kuang: 916-321-1188, @jeannekuang