Politics

State senator whose 3 California drone bills were vetoed calls Gov. Brown's reasoning 'dumb'

File: The scorched remains of a truck are towed at the North Fire, which caused people to abandon their vehicles and flee as flames jumped the 215 freeway on July 17, 2015 near Victorville, California.
File: The scorched remains of a truck are towed at the North Fire, which caused people to abandon their vehicles and flee as flames jumped the 215 freeway on July 17, 2015 near Victorville, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

California state Sen. Ted Gaines, a Republican from El Dorado Hills, told KPCC that Gov. Jerry Brown's reasoning for vetoing Gaines' three drone bills is "dumb."

One of the bills, Senate Bill 168, sought to address the issue of drones flying near fires and keeping firefighting aircraft from flying in the area.

"We're fighting forest fires throughout the state, and when a hobbyist drone gets in the way of firefighting and Cal Fire and their ability to use air support on a fire, we're putting lives at risk," Gaines said. "We're putting firefighters' lives at risk, the pilots, air ambulance individuals, paramedics, search and rescue, and even our citizens."

Gaines cited the fire at the I-15 Cajon Pass, where five hobbyist drones in the air led to Cal Fire calling off air support. The fire crossed the freeway and burned 15 cars.

"We were really lucky — in fact, I think it was a miracle that no one was seriously injured or killed in that incident. And those things are happening on a very regular basis, much more often than in the past, because the market continues to grow for hobbyist drones," Gaines said.

Drone sales are set to hit over 1 million sold in the U.S. this year, Gaines said.

"A couple years ago, it was 200,000, so it is increasing geometrically, and I think it was a mistake for the governor not to see ahead into the future in terms of the chronic aspect of drone use, in the wrong way, in the state of California," Gaines said.

Brown said Saturday in a veto message that California's criminal code has become too complex without adding additional laws that he says would provide little benefit to the public. Gaines disagreed with Brown's reasoning.

"I think it's dumb," Gaines said. "Aren't we supposed to be protecting the public? If I'm an elected official — he's the governor, I'm a senator — isn't one of our key roles that we play in public service to protect the public, and certainly Cal Fire employees?"

Gaines said that he hasn't had the chance to talk to the governor about these vetoes. He said that he isn't sure if he will reintroduce these bills, but that he is deciding on a strategy going forward.

"This battle is not over," Gaines said. "I'll continue fighting on, because I think I'm right on the issue."

Gaines said that the public is interested in drones as an up-and-coming technology, and said that drones have gotten ahead of the law and that lawmakers are playing catch-up to figure out the right use for drones.

The other two drone bills vetoed by Brown banned flying drones over public schools when classes are in session, and another banned flying drones over prisons and jails. Gaines said that the school bill was meant to keep a drone from being used by a child molester to identify a child, or someone trying to identify the layout of school buildings with ill intent.

"This is a big issue, and it's going to hit us like a ton of bricks, not just in California, but around the world," Gaines said. "And I am not anti-drone by any means. I think it can be used in public safety, they can be used for commerce, they can be used for recreation, but we better have some guidelines on how they're going to be used, because our constitutional rights are at risk."

The school bill would have left the decisions about how to handle drones up to school principals, Gaines said.

The other bill made it a misdemeanor to fly drones over prison yards in order to keep drones from dropping contraband, Gaines said.

"That's already happened in Canada and across the nation, where you've had weapons that have been released by a drone — contraband like drugs, tobacco, cell phones, things of that nature," Gaines said.

Gaines noted that his bills were passed by the Legislature unanimously, with bipartisan support. He said that Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who he worked with on drone legislation, had her own bill that had to do with drones flying over private property — a situation which she had personal experience with.

"She had an incident where she was in the backyard of a home and had a drone just hovering, with a camera on it, and basically violating their privacy. And so those issues will continue to irritate Californians and citizens I think across the country, and they're going to get fed up with it, and they're going to want this addressed," Gaines said.